Practical Deep Drop Fishing–on the cheap.

Deep drop fishing in a relatively new frontier for the recreational angler. Different people have different criteria for how “deep is deep”, but in my book “deep” starts at about 400 feet, and can go down far below that. We routinely fish as deep as 1100 feet.

Fishing “down there” opens up a wide range of species that most anglers rarely, or never, see. Snappers, groupers, tilefish. Some of the best eating fish that swim, swim where the sun never shines.

A delicious Silk snapper pulled up from 400 feet off the southern end of Acklins Island in the Bahamas

The biggest limitation has always been the physical labor needed to recover lines from that depth. It is really hard work recovering the heavy sinkers and tackle from almost a quarter mile under your boat, even if there are no fish attached!

As this type of fishing has become more popular, the number of electric reels on the market has proliferated. While this kind of gear makes this kind of fishing practical from the standpoint of physical labor, the high cost ($2000 and up to however much you have to spend!) of this gear puts them outside the pocketbook range of most fishermen.

The rewards of fishing where other people don’t or can’t. A brace of assorted snapper from one drop. Five hooks, four fish. A pretty good ratio!

When I first learned about this type of fishing, I tried it by hand. I learned that it was a great method for putting great tasting fish in the freezer, it was fun–and it was such hard work that I wasn’t likely to participate very often without some mechanical assistance. Since this is done to put fish on the table, I really couldn’t justify the cost of even a basic electric reel. So what to do? Invent! Here is what I ended up with: A Penn Senator Star drag 9/0 115L2 reel, and my high torque cordless drill.

Bringing them up–the easy way!

This series of Penn reels has a simple construction feature that makes this trick possible. Unlike any other offshore fishing reel I am aware of, the handle is held on the spool by a standard 1/2 inch hex nut. This means that I need no special adapter or modifications to make it work, just a socket and extender in the drill chuck. Any of the Penn Senator and Special Senator reels work with this technique. These are not the fanciest reels on the planet, but your grandfather probably used one, and they are inexpensive, the 9/0 size retailing for about $150. The 9/0 seems a good size for this kind of work.

There is nothing special about the drill, except it is a low speed, high torque, variable speed model with a 1/2″ chuck. A fully charged battery brings gear up from 600 feet three or four times. I have two batteries, and the boat’s inverter can recharge one in 20 minutes, so I am good to go for as long as I care to fish.

As an alternative, if you have one of the supported reels you might look into the Reel Crankie®, a machined adapter for popular reels that lets you use a drill in the same manner. It is a more elegant, and more expensive, solution

Remove the cover indicated to expose the nut.

To prepare the reel for this operation, you have to remove the plastic cover on the handle axel that covers the nut. It is held on by one screw. The purpose of this cover is to lock the nut so it can not loosen. It would be a good idea, although not strictly required, to remove the nut, and reinstall it with a drop of blue Loctite® to help keep it from spinning off.

Now, chuck the socket in the drill, and you are good to go! The drill makes easy work of pulling your gear up from the bottom. Do not expect the drill to battle a large fish. If you hook a big grouper, wreckfish, or swordfish you’ll be fighting it manually.

Other details about my setup, the Senator is spooled with 1700 yards of 80 lb dyneema braid. The line is expensive, but is essential to deep-drop fishing success. It is used on a bent-butt, short deep-drop rod. It does double duty as our heavy trolling rig, minus the drill, of course!

Deep drop fishing at the rail of our sailboat.
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