Golden Tilefish: What You Need to Know

The golden tilefish is a unique saltwater fish with an incredible lifespan of 39 to 50 years. It is a highly prized deepwater fish due to its size and tasty meat. Whether you want to eat or fish for them, it is crucial to learn about the species. 

Fish Profile: Golden Tilefish

picture of a golden tilefish
Source: Wikimedia
Scientific NameLopholatilus chamaeleonticeps
Other namesGolden bass, Golden snapper, Rainbow tilefish
AppearanceWhite belly, blue-green along the back, golden spots, and rose pink hue to the head with blue patch beneath the eyes 
DietSea cucumbers, shrimp, snails, clams, worms, crabs, and anemones 
Average size (weight and length)7-9 pounds and 24-27 inches
Tilefish habitatDeep water canyons, vertical burrows on the canyon walls, rocks, and boulders
Spawning seasonApril to June 
Depth range250 feet to 1,500 feet deep
Conservation statusNot extinct/ endangered

What is a Golden Tilefish?

A golden tilefish is a medium-small deepwater perciform closely related to a perch. It is part of the Malacanthidae family, known for its thin, flexible spines on its dorsal fins. 

Some anglers refer to this fish as golden bass, great northern tilefish, rainbow tilefish, and golden Snapper. 

What Does A Golden Tilefish Look Like?

Golden tilefish is often called the “clowns of the sea” due to their bright colors. Their backs are usually a shiny blue or blue-green with a smattering of brilliant yellow and golden spots all over their body. There are also blue patches beneath their eyes. The scales of their stomach are white, while their head takes on a rose-pink tint.

You can also distinguish this species of tilefish from others by its large crest-like fin on top of its head. They have sepia-colored pectoral fins as well as a purplish-blue anal fin. 

In terms of weight and size, females are smaller than males. However, they can live up to 46 years! 

Where Are Tilefish Caught?

You’ll discover that tilefish prefer deeper waters and often occupy a wide range of depths from 250 to 1,500 feet. You’ll often find tilefish in deep canyons that offer vertical burrows. You’ll notice they favor areas with rocks and boulders too. 

They hide in sand or mud within their chosen burrows to ambush prey and hide from their natural predators. They are often preyed upon by monkfish, sand and dusky sharks, conger eels, and spiny dogfish. 

The golden tilefish spans the entire east coast of the U.S. all the way to the Gulf of Mexico and Venezuela. However, you can find the densest populations in the northeastern waters off Massachusetts and New Jersey coasts, specifically around Nantucket Island and Cape May.

Fun Fact: NOAA Fisheries mandates management measures like annual catch limits of tilefish fisheries. 

What Do They Eat?

Tilefish are bottom feeders. Typically, this species feeds during the day and primarily consumes a variety of crustaceans like clams, crabs, and shrimp. They also feed on snails, sea cucumbers, worms, mollusks, urchins, and even anemones.

When Is the Spawning Season of Golden Tilefish?

Their spawning season differs depending on the waters they are found in. Golden tilefish of the Atlantic spawn in March through to November, and Mid-Atlantic populations reach peak spawning in June. 

The Gulf of Mexico population peaks spawning in January and continues through June, while the South Atlantic ones take place from April to June. 

Fun Fact: When Golden Tilefish spawn, females release an astonishing number of eggs ranging from 2 to 8 million!


Can You Catch Tilefish in Florida?

Yes, you can catch tilefish in Florida. In fact, it is quite popular to go fishing for this species around Miami and other parts of south Florida. However, the tilefish caught in Florida waters are smaller than those in the mid-Atlantic. 

You can take a charter boat or hire a fishing guide to target golden tilefish. 

What Does Golden Tilefish Taste Like?

Tilefish are a popular table food used in many seafood dishes, but sushi is one of the most common. They have a flavor reminiscent of crab or lobster, and the meat goes from a light pink to a flaky white once cooked. You can prepare this fish with lemon, garlic, salt, pepper, and butter and fry it in a pan. 

What Is the Best Bait for Golden Tilefish?

The best bait you should use when golden tilefish fishing is live bait. This can include whole bait or cut bait. Popular cut bait would be Bonito strips, Barracuda strips, or fish chunks. Squid and sea claims are also great because these are naturally part of their diet. 

The End of the Line

Golden tilefish is an incredibly unique fish whose conservation is important for the recreational fishery, food industry, and biodiversity. They are long-lived deepwater fish that many anglers target to admire their beauty, flavor, and challenge. Next time you plan a vacation to Florida, you can book a fishing charter and try catching these incredible “clowns of the sea” for yourself!