Hit New Jersey’s midshore grounds starting October 8 to load the cooler with black sea bass.
Black sea bass are on the move. During autumn months, sea bass begin their migration out to the continental shelf where they winter over in warmer waters December through February. October and November are the months to intercept them halfway out as they pass over the midshore grounds.
Generally speaking, in October the fish are staging off the New Jersey coast around the 15- to 30-mile wrecks, reefs and humps in the 75- to 150-foot range. By November they will have moved out 40 to 50 miles in water up to 180 and even 200 feet. Structure is the key to finding loads of sea bass.
Low profile wrecks and rock piles that rise 5 to 10 feet up hold considerably larger humpbacks, those 4- to 7-pound knuckleheads, as they tend to stick close to the bottom and feed on larger meals. For sheer numbers of fish, high profile wrecks hold fish all the way up through the water column as sea bass magnetize to any structure that shoots up from the sea floor. You can be 40 feet off bottom holding a rig steady in the water column as fish hang around a pilot house or mast sticking up from the ground.
Wherever you set up, both bait and jig fishing will dial you into a bucket full of sea biscuits.
The Great De-bait
Sea bass are opportunistic feeders and feed on a variety of creatures including crabs, squid, sea scallops, sand eels and shrimp, but without a doubt, the best way to score a bite is by dunking fresh clams.
Many captains swear by using conch and crab baits to target larger model humpheads. Whatever bait you choose, start with the right bottom bouncing rig. Bait up with a three-hook dropper rig consisting of a 100-pound Spro barrel swivel, a 60-inch piece of 40-pound Triplefish leader with three dropper loops tied 18 inches apart and an overhand knot tied on the end for a bank sinker of 6 to 16 ounces. Loop on size 3/0 Gamakatsu octopus hooks or size #2/0 Mustad baitholder hooks and slip on red, lime green or orange beads ahead of the hook.
When using clams, don’t gob up a clam on the hook, but lance a bait on through the tongue only once; the current down below spins a gob bait but a streamlined tongue hooked bait flutters naturally in the current. Half green crabs or white legger crabs get struck viciously, as will squid strips, sand eels and spearing baits. Before you lance any bait on, for insurance, slip on a 3-inch Berkley Gulp! swimmin’ minnow or new penny shrimp for added scent that won’t be as easily picked off by smaller fish.
Sea bass oftentimes “haystack” up in the water column above structure, so don’t overlook reeling up a few cranks with the dropper rig and holding it steady 20 to 30 feet up in the water column where sea bass will attack it in the open ocean. For baitfishing purposes, use medium to heavy action rods with moderate flex when bouncing sinkers around the structure piles. I use a Lamiglas 7040CT matched with a Shimano Torium 20 reel spooled with 50-pound Power Pro with a 10-foot section of 40-pound TrikFish leader connected via Albright knot for a shock leader to prevent pulled hooks. The rig is then tied to the monofilament leader.
If you do get whacked by a sea bass, leave the rig down there and wait for the second and third hookup on the other two hooks before reeling in. After a few hits, you’ll be able to tell what a legit biscuit is and what you can leave down there to wait for another hit.
Jigging set ups are determined by the depths you will be fishing. If you are shallow in the 80- to 110-foot or so range, you don’t need any real heavy duty gear; you can get away with a medium/fast action spinning set up. Easy to use jigging set ups include a Shimano 7-foot Terramar TMSE70MH, matched with a Quantum Iron 50 reel, spooled with 30-pound Power Pro braid line. The light set up allows you to work bucktails effectively on the sea floor. Light 1-ounce Andrus round head bucktails, tipped with a 5-inch strip bait or long slender sand eel can be walked vertically over a wreck or rock pile. Always tie a dropper loop about 18 inches above the bucktail, and lance on a size 1/0 O’Shaughnessy bucktail hair hook in white or pink.
When fishing waters over 120 feet, up your jigging set up to a 7-foot medium action moderate flex rod rated for 20- to 40-pound like a Daiwa Saltist, matched with an Avet MXL reel. For aggressive strikes in deeper waters, drop down heavy metals that can get to the bottom quickly and hold such as an 8- to 12-ounce hammered diamond jig, Vike jig, Ava 87 jig, or Deadly Dick #4 Long. Let the jig hit the seafloor and tap it on the ocean bottom, lifting only one foot off the ground and down. Sea bass will inspect and pounce on the shiny attraction with full aggression, and many times the true trophy humpbacks of 5 to 8 pounds take the jig before a bait.
Don’t worry about swooping the jig in broad strokes; simple taps on the sea floor get the attention of humpbacks. Rigs are tied simply with a 50-inch section of 40-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader with a dropper loop up 36 inches from the jig. On the dropper, loop on a teaser that can consist of a 4/0 baitholder hook lanced with 6-inch Berkley Gulp! grubs in red or greenish natural colorings or even slip on a squid skirt above the hook to garner attention.
Bait and wait? Or sling the jig? Pick your poison. With the most liberal sea bass limits of the year upon us now, matched with the fact that sea bass aren’t all the way out to their 50- to 80-mile wintering grounds just yet, now’s the perfect time to hit the midshore humps, lumps and wrecks to land a limit of sea biscuits.
|NY, NJ & DE REGS|
|Black sea bass season reopens in New Jersey from October 8 to October 31 with a 10-fish bag limit at 12-1/2-inch minimum size, then from November 1 to December 31 it bumps up with a 15-fish bag limit at 13-inch minimum size.
In Delaware, black sea bass is now open for an uninterrupted season from May 15 through December 31 with a 15-fish bag limit and 12-1/2-inch size limit.
New York’s fall black sea bass season is open from September 1 through December 31 with a 15-inch minimum size and seven-fish bag limit.
Remember, know where you’re fishing and where you’re bringing fish back to port; while Capt. John Raguso’s Focus On Fall Sea Bass article in the glossy section makes reference to the regulations in federal waters, you’re always bound by what’s in your fish box inside whatever state waters in which you’re fishing or transiting.