WE’RE FORTUNATE TO HAVE SOME of the most rewarding bottom fishing north of the equator. If the Sunshine State’s countless reefs, wrecks and ledges aren’t enough to keep you entertained, then you should know about a unique deep-water coral community that exists within a day’s boat ride from Key West. For adventurous anglers lucky enough to have experienced these rich waters, the area has proven to yield a bottom fishing bonanza beyond anyone’s imagination. However, the approach at Pulley Ridge has changed dramatically since we first started exploring the depths nearly a decade ago.We first learned of this mysterious Gulf gem from Captain Greg Mercurio, a reputable skipper who is credited with originating and pioneering Dry Tortugas head boat fishing (yankeecapts.com) nearly three decades ago. Stretching north to south for more than 60 miles, Pulley Ridge is one of the most impressive underwater terrains in the entire Gulf of Mexico. Named after Thomas Pulley—a famous malacologist—Pulley Ridge was discovered in 1950 by research vessels equipped with remotely operated vehicles. The drowned group of barrier islands is widely recognized as the deepest photosynthetic coral reef of the continental United States. Because of its distant location so far off the southwest coast of Florida, few vessels dare venture to these fabled grounds.
Our first excursions to this natural wonder nearly 150 miles west of Key West consisted of a simple recipe for success. We relied on lightweight power assist outfits for deep drop duties. Clamped to a fully charged deep-cycle marine battery, these power assist reels would crank for days and provided plenty of pulling power to subdue trophy grouper, snapper, and tilefish. Starting with 48-inches of 150 lb. extra-hard monofilament leader, a pair of swivel sleeves were evenly spaced to where the branching lines could not tangle with the hooks above or below. On the centerline of the sleeves was a 6-inch branch of the same 150 lb. leader crimped to an 8/0 inline circle hook. What we found was that the bottom was literally carpeted in life and bait worked wonders. Some anglers still choose to fish with squid and elongated strips of fresh flesh, and not to say that the fish have sniffed us out, but bait is no longer a necessity and many of the most impressive catches react best to metal, not meat.
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