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A summer structure dweller whose range has expanded as the overall stock size continues to increase, the scup or porgy provides outstanding light tackle action by anchor or drift.
By William Muller
Targeted primarily for its table qualities in the New York Bight and throughout much of New England waters, porgies like this are fun by anyone’s standard on light tackle.

Anglers who fish for porgies know there are two main techniques used to locate and catch the feisty critters. In some places and in some situations, fans of the tenacious fish drift, while in other situations anchoring and chumming is de rigueur. I generally prefer to cruise over likely bottom, study the depthfinder, anchor up, and then set up a chum slick.

However, that approach doesn’t always work. I have fished and done well with captains who prefer to drift. In fact last summer on a trip out of Montauk with Capt. Tom Mikoleski of Grand Slam Charters we drifted for an entire tide and caught more big porgies than anyone could ask for. Then again, Montauk boasts a very large congregation of porgy schools, but that standard may not apply to other areas.

Although porgies are generally not picky eaters, they, like all fish, have off days. The smaller the porgy schools, the fussier they can be. The fewer schools of porgies, the fussier they can be. Although there are currently lots of scup in our waters, there will still be off days. Although porgies can be caught as long as there’s moving water, when fishing bays, harbors or places like Long Island Sound, I prefer the incoming tide during the summer. I believe porgies that retreated to deeper water on the ebb tide eagerly move shallow with the flood tide and gang up on shell beds and around rocks. I’ve always believed their eagerness to bite during the early hours of the incoming tide supports this point of view. So, that’s where we begin: at the start of the flood tide, when the current begins to move.

Electronics, so crucial to the process of locating porgies and anchoring, become less significant, although still useful, when drifting. When we drift, the role of our sonar is to find the right depth. Knowing the right depth comes from previous experience, and local reports are also helpful in this regard. In this scenario the angler doesn’t fish among the rock fields, but works bottoms that support mussel growth and small softball size rocks.

Obviously knowledge of local bottoms is helpful, or you can fish with a captain who is familiar with the local terrain. I like to set up for a drift so that I can remain on the same depth contour, but obviously that isn’t always possible. In general, you will pick fish as you are drifting, and from time to time you will likely be treated to a short flurry of fish.

I never take my eyes off the depth recorder while drifting because I’m always looking for a cluster of dots signifying porgies. Most days we drift for much of the tide, returning to the original starting point to repeat a drift. However, when a cluster of fish dot the screen, it’s time to set the anchor. The first step is to hit a waypoint on the recorder. The second step is to reel up the lines. Next, start the motor and swing around towards the waypoint, and then relocate the cluster and move about fifty feet up-tide of it. Set the anchor and let out enough line so that the boat is positioned about ten or so feet up-tide of the porgy school. Load up the chum pot and lower it to the bottom.

The drift and set technique doesn’t always work either. Sometimes, unbeknownst to the anglers, the porgy school is on the move and by the time the boat is anchored, the school is far away. Sometimes, the anchor drop is miss-timed or miss-aligned so that the porgy school isn’t behind the boat. Don’t settle for a bad anchor setup, instead retrieve the anchor and reset it. However, when the school stays put, the anchor is set properly, and chum disperses into the current, it is possible to pull the school to the boat and keep it there. Just don’t forget in the frenzy of catching fish, to keep the chum pot full. You’d be surprised how fast a porgy school can disappear when a chum pot runs dry.

Unfortunately, until you’ve pulled the school to your boat you can’t know whether or not you’re wasting your time. The first fifteen or twenty minutes can be tense as you wait for the chum to do its job. If you fail to catch fish, you’ll need to drift again. Should you put several failed anchoring attempts back to back, the productive tide could be lost. Fortunately, there are times the past couple of seasons that it seems some areas are knee deep in porgies so your odds of setting up on a pile of fish are probably better than at any time before. And, to make porgy fishing even more enticing, the size of some of the porgies being caught these days dwarfs the scup most of us were accustomed to catching in the past. Some areas in the Northeast are consistently producing scup topping the 3-pound mark and 4-pounders are frequently sprinkled through the fishing reports.

I still prefer to anchor and drift, but I accept a reality that the approach may leave me wanting on some trips. Drifting isn’t a panacea for an empty cooler, but on some days it will allow you to locate scup simply by covering lots of water. Drifting over featureless, flat sandy bottom will probably yield very few fish, but finding isolated pieces of structure could yield a bonanza of fish. I guess what I’m suggesting is that anglers need to be flexible in order to maximize their chances for success, and being ready to drift, anchor, or drift then set is one way to improve the odds.