While there are a dozen or so saltwater fish that keep our boat anglers active all season, there are three that generate the most trips and interest. Striped bass, fluke and sea bass. The striper season opened this year on April 15 and the fishing continues to improve through the traditional “big fish” month of June when the increasing water temperatures move the majority of the stripers offshore to deeper waters
This year anglers began targeting fluke on May 17. Many anglers will fill in the summer gap
of stripers fishing fluke, and will continue to fish steadily for them through the season’s close on September 21. While stripers and fluke make up most of the spring and summer action, many anglers will also target sea bass beginning July 15. Sea bass are a very versatile fish. What I mean is that sea bass can be caught by inshore boaters fishing bridge piles, artificial reefs in the bays, in Long Island Sound and over mussel beds. Offshore anglers target them on the ocean artificial reefs and the deep-water wrecks throughout the season. A good resource for artificial reef locations is the NYSDEC website (http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/71702.html).
Sea Bass Love Structure
Sea Bass are very predictable in that they reside near structure or over mussel beds, especially if
the mussel bed is close to structure. Unlike blackfish that cling tight to structure, sea bass will stray a few yards away and are much more likely to feed near smaller structures, such a few rocks or a patch of mussels, than blackfish. Sure you can catch them away from structure, but that’s not where you want to concentrate your efforts.
The most common way to target sea bass is baitfishing. Sea bass will readily eat clams, mussels, squid strips, crabs and one of the most productive big fish baits is live killies. Fresh skimmer clam has probably accounted for more sea bass than any other bait. When using clams each piece should have a meaty portion to place your hook into as well as a few thin strips that will dangle in
the current attracting the attention of the fish. Top anglers change their bait every time they reel up; regardless of if they have a fish on the hook.
The typical sea bass setup is a high-low rig made up using a 2/0 hook for inshore areas to a 5/0 hook for offshore fishing, tied on 2-inch dropper loops 6-inches and 18-inches above a sinker loop.
The most common hook choices are beak baitholder and sproat style hooks. But any regular shanked, hooks works well as sea bass are not hook shy. If you intend to dead-stick a rod, a light-wire circle hook is a good choice.
The weight of the sinker depends on the depth of the water, the current and the sea condition.
Choose a sinker that is heavy enough to hold the bottom with the line as vertical as possible. A vertical, tight line allows for the detecting even lightest of strikes and improves hook sets. Here, braided line
One of my favorite ways to target large sea bass is using a diamond jig on a drifting boat. Depending on conditions, I use either a 2- or 4-ounce single hook jig. Sometimes I’ll tip the hook with a small squid strip. To diamond jig for sea bass, r the jig quickly to the bottom, hold your thumb on the spool if using conventional tackle or close the bail on a spinning reel, and lift the using a long upward sweep of the rod. When you reach the top of the arc, lower the jig back to the bottom. Repeat the jigging until the line angle makes contact with the bottom difficult. Reel in the jig and repeat. Most of the time sea bass hit the jig or bait on the drop. So, be prepared to strike back and set the hook quickly.
Let’s Go Fishing
As I mentioned, sea bass love structure. Often the best way to locate fish on structure such as an artificial reef, the Cholera Banks, a hard spot in the Long Island Sound or on wreck, is to drift over the structure while fishing. Once you hook-up, mark your location on the GPS. After you catch a few fish you can either continue drifting, usually best on spread out structure, such as an artificial reef, or set the anchor, the most common way to fish a wreck. Easy to find structure, such as a bridge column, is best fished at anchor.
One thing I’ve noticed both while fishing and while scuba diving is that sea bass tend to school-up in similar sizes. So if you’re catching a lot of small sea bass, you’ll likely to continue doing so until you find an area with larger fish.
Also, there are larger sea bass inshore and on the easy to locate structures early in the season. A few weeks after opening day, many of the larger fish have been caught. As the season progresses the best fishing is found on the harder to find wrecks and structures located in waters deeper than about 80 feet. Closer to the end of the season, this year December 15, a fresh batch of sea bass work their way inshore as the water cools.
Porgies and blackfish share the same structure as the sea bass, creating the opportunity of some great mixed-bag fishing. Expect the blackfish to be tight and high-up on the structure and the porgies to be on the fringes in the sand or on the mussel beds. The porgy fishing has been outstanding the last few seasons, the blackfishing less so. Many anglers will fish for stripers, then when the tide slackens, head over to the sea bass grounds to complete their trip and to add some tasty fillets to the cooler. Whatever your method of fishing is, give sea bass a shot this season. You won’t be disappointed.
I’ve noted some opening and closing dates of various fish species. The NYSCEC will occasionally
modify the season dates as well as the catch limits and minimum sizes throughout the season. So it’s best to check the NYSDEC website for the most up to date regulations or better yet visit check with your local tackle shop on the latest regulations.