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Late summer and early fall is the best time to hop aboard your local head boat in search of slammer scup!
By Toby Lapinski

Whether you call them scup, porgy or saltwater panfish, one thing is for sure and that is they provide a great bounty to fishermen in the northeast in the early fall. While they are available throughout the summer, and most states open up their season some time in late spring, the end of the season offers some of the best opportunities to target the feisty inshore gamefish. The early run of fish in Long Island Sound generally consists of some very large specimens as they move inshore to spawn, but as the summer progresses a solid body of fish from throw-backs to just-keepers dominate catches. While some anglers specifically target them all season long for bait or food, they are often more of a bycatch and play second fiddle to more glamorous species like fluke, striped bass and sea bass throughout the summer.

As the calendar changes from August to September, head boats begin to pursue scup more frequently as their target species. Gone are the fluke/sea bass/hey maybe we’ll catch some scup along the way trips, and in their place are cooler-filling, fun-filled outings for the entire family with the plentiful scup as the king of the show.

While I enjoy targeting scup any time I hit the beach by day during the summer with my family, when it’s time to get serious about things I find that hopping aboard a local head boat is the only way to go. Some states increase the bag limits for scup on head boats in the fall—45 fish in Connecticut, 45 fish in New York and 45 fish in Rhode Island for example—which serves to greatly increase the interest in such trips as well.

The actual act of fishing involves little more than dropping a baited hook to the bottom and waiting for the machine-gun-like tap-tap-tap-tap hit to follow.
So what should one know if they are a newbie to this fishing? Well for starters it is saltwater fishing at its simplest. The boats supply the bait and just about all the gear that you could possibly want, all you need to supply is a cooler of ice and an angler ready to haul in dinner. The actual act of fishing involves little more than dropping a baited hook to the bottom and waiting for the machine-gun-like tap-tap-tap-tap hit to follow. Really the only difficult part of the equation is in knowing just when to set the hook. It’s a fine line between too early and you’ll pull the hook away, too late and you’ll lose your bait or being almost psychic as you set the hook at just the right time.

While the head boats all offer perfectly suitable rental gear for a day on the water, there is a pretty good chance that you already have something in your arsenal which will work just fine even if you only do a minimal amount of saltwater fishing. I generally just use my inshore fluke outfit when targeting scup, but I have seen other anglers using spinning gear, conventional gear, surf rods and freshwater rods. It all will work but I find the average 6- to 7-foot conventional boat rod provides the perfect combination of function and sport when targeting these surprisingly strong fish. Spool up with some lightweight braid of about 30 pounds, top it off with about 20 feet of 30- to 40-pound monofilament and you have a well-rounded outfit.

Rigging up for scup is a cinch as well. Most of the time clams are used as bait so a simple hi-low rig tied with two dropper loops addorned with bait-holder hooks in the 2 – 2/0 range is optimal. On the bottom of the rig a bank sinker ranging anywhere from 2 to 10 ounces is used. Weights will obviously depend on the conditions of the day and location chosen by your captain, but I find that I use 4 to 6 ounces most of the time. Some anglers add fancy additions to their scup rigs in the form of glow beads, spinners, lights, bucktail hair, flash-a-bou and a lengthy list of other extras, but I have never found them to be necessary. I do just fine with a simple two-hook rig and bait.

At times the fishing can be so fast and furious that anglers are able to score with artificials as well as bait rigs. Small bucktail jigs or diamond jigs that are just heavy enough to tend bottom can be extremely effective and also provide the opportunity for the occasional sea bass, fluke, striped bass or bluefish to top off the day’s catch.

For a list of the boats currently targeting scup/porgy in your area, give the printed reports section of The Fisherman Magazine a look or visit the Weekly Fishing Reports section. There you will find just about all you need to choose the right boat for you!

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