New Jersey anglers are back in black sea bass this month.
October is the peak transition month of the year with so much change happening. Water temps begin to drop in earnest, cool nights prevail and migratory impulses settle in with fish.
It’s also a transition time for party boats as the summer days of half day fluke trips are over and a new adventure begins – bottomfishing for sea bass and porgies. If you’ve bailed sea biscuits before, you know the action can be fast and furious; throw porgies into the mix, the rod will be rat-tatting nonstop. The machine gun hits of both species insures plenty of action as well as providing mucho fillets for the cooler.
Rock & Roll
Rock piles and rolling bottom structures attract both sea biscuits and porgies. Black sea bass are starting to make their way offshore and can be intercepted in close before they split to the 50- to 80-mile wrecks and rock piles. In early October, water temps should be in the high 50’s and mid 60-degree range, keeping fish localized anywhere between 5 and 20 miles. You’ll be hard pressed to find any true “knuckleheads” of 5 to 8 pounds, but a lion’s share of sea bass from 1 to 3 pounds will be laying up on the structure.
Chris Lido, former editor of The Fisherman and now first mate on the party boat Gambler out of Point Pleasant, likes a lot of flash in his rigs. “Spring and fall, sea bass are more aggressive and I find flashy rigs get the attention, especially ones using feathers with mylar flash,” Lido said, adding “Mainly we use a hi-lo dropper rig and size 5/0 Mutu Circle hooks with the flash attractant.” As Lido explains, “The rod bends over, the angler starts crankin’. You don’t need to set the hook as the circles work perfectly.”
Clams and squid strips are usual baits, but if you can find large sand eels, Peruvian spearing and bergall strips you will be ahead of the game in targeting larger model humpbacks. Lido notes many times when bait fishing, spiny dogfish can take over an area but suggests “If spiny dogs become a problem, a small adjustment on the anchor can elicit strikes form sea bass,” he advised.
A more dynamic approach to hook sea biscuits is through jigging. Metal jigs such as hammered diamond jigs, Shimano Vortex, and rubber baits such as Savage Gear sand eels and RonZ baits. The key to success is to keep that jig tapping the sea floor and not necessarily swooping it in long broad strokes. Let the jig hit bottom, then tap-tap-tap it lifting only inches up and down. “Casting out with butterfly jigs and slow pitch systems are a productive method in October,” said Lido, while advising anglers to be observant and watch what’s happening during the feed. “Some days all they want is bait, other times only the jig will get them to hit. If you’re not catching, switch it up to see what they are keying in on better,” Lido added.
Sea bass hot spots are determined upon water temp, though generally speaking, in October they will hang anywhere from 75 to 130 feet of water, setting you around 5 to 30 miles off. Mud Hole wrecks like the Lillian and Arundo, the Resor Wreck, 28 Mile Wreck and Garden State North and South Reefs all fall within that range. In South Jersey, Wildwood Reef is typically consistent with black sea bass in October, while Del-Jersey-Land Reef at a significant distance offshore is usually a good bet for those giant knuckleheads.
Poke Chop Porgies
Porgies have a pet name in bottomfishing circles – poke chops. When porgies get big, like 3 pounds and greater, they earn the name “dinner plate” due to their remarkable oval-like resemblance to giant dinner plates. Porgies, aka scup, will follow water temperatures of 54 to 77 degrees to feed comfortably. By October, you can find porgies clambering about the inshore rock piles, reefs and wrecks that lay within 3 to 15 miles off the coast. Typical porgy haunts include North Jersey grounds such as 17 Fathoms, The Farms, Shark River Reef and Mud Hole Wrecks, though good-sized scup have been trickling down into southern waters at the Deepwater Reef, Wildwood reef and Garden State North and South reefs in recent history.
While sea bass have wide, vacuous mouths, porgies have tiny grunt-like mouths so hook size is a main concern if switching over from the wide gap hooks of sea bassing to porgy hunting. A solid porgy rig consists of two to three dropper loops on a 40-pound leader, spaced about 24 inches apart; then lance on small gapped, snelled size# 1 to #2 gold beak hooks. The extra-long snell allows for some slack to hook the porgy mouths better as it does it’s hit and run style of attack. Bells and whistles such as small orange, red or green bead above the shank of the hook definitely attract porgies to bite.
Though considered bottomfish, porgies will not only feed on the bottom but dozens of feet above and over any structure as well. If you aren’t getting hits near the bottom, reel in a good 10 to 20 feet to see if they are staging up above the wreck and let the rig simply waft in the current. Use tiny bits of clams or squid as baits, nothing longer than a half inch as anything longer the porgy will grab onto the excess and rip it off the hook. You want baits to be tight on the hook to prevent any bait stealing.
The one-two punch of sea bass and porgies insures meat on the table in October. As both species hunker down on the same structures, pack the gear bags with adjustable terminal tackle to deploy for shots at both types of fish.