Are you ready to slay some sea bass right before the holidays?
As winter sets in on the South Shore of Long Island, many anglers may be inclined to stow away their fishing gear and wait for the warmer months. However, for those in the know, December offers a unique and rewarding opportunity to target one of the most prized catches in the waters off the South Shore and Montauk — sea bass. Venturing out into the deep colder waters can yield not only a memorable fishing experience but also a chance to hook some impressive sea bass which in turn, for me at least, being a traditional Italian, puts those holiday sea biscuits on the dinner table for Christmas Eve dinner
Understanding The Target
Black sea bass are a staple for Northeast bottom fishermen. They are known for their delicious taste, making them a great pick of the dinner table this holiday. This time of the year, when fishing the deep, you will usually come across some XL specimens that will put up a good fight. Mix that with the real possibility of double-headers with the addition of a teaser or second hook and you have some lock and load fishing on your hands. I’ve seen double headers of 4 pounds each come mover the rail on charter boat trips back to back when the bit is really good.
While warmer months see sea bass closer to shore and even some possibilities of catching them off the shore, during the winter months these fish migrate to deeper waters and offshore structures, sometimes in excessive of 200 feet.
Preparing for a winter sea bass expedition requires some specialized gear depending on how you want to go after them. Start with a sturdy saltwater rod and reel combo capable of handling the deeper waters and the potential size of sea bass. Remember, you will be fishing in over 200 feet at times on head and charter boats so having a reel capable of holding enough line as well as being able to retrieve line from over 200 feet deep is the first part of the equation.
I’ve found that the Accurate Tern2 400 to be a good size for this type of fishing. If you prefer Penn, you can go wrong with a Squall or Fathom Star Drag in a 30 size. One other reel that I have used successfully for this type of fishing is the Shimano Torium in a 30 size. With any of these reels I’ll use a braided line and wouldn’t have it any other way. The thin diameter of the braid allows me to get a lighter sinker down to deeper depths quicker without having to pay out more line. For example, if I were to use 30-pound monofilament in 200 feet of water I’d have to use a 12- ounce sinker to reach the bottom while with 30-pound braid, I would only end up using about a 6 ounce give or take depending on the current. The use of the braid also allows for the use of lighter rods, resulting in a better fight from the sea bass from bottom to top. St. Croix’s Rift conventional series has an impressive lineup with a few suitable options for this type of fishing. If I were to choose one model in particular it would be the RIFSC70MF rated from 15 to 40-pound line.
Dress to Last
Given the colder temperatures, layer up with appropriate winter clothing, including waterproof gear to stay dry and warm. The one thing I’ve learned from my time fishing on the ocean in the winter is if you get too cold, your trip will be ruined quickly, meaning more time inside the cabin as opposed to on the rail swinging sea bass over it.
I’ve broken the way I dress down to 10 tips to make it easier to follow.
- Start with a moisture-wicking base layer to keep sweat away from your skin.
- Add an insulating layer, such as fleece or down, to trap and retain heat.
- Top it off with a waterproof and windproof outer layer to protect against the elements.
- Insulated Jacket:
- Wear a high-quality, insulated jacket to provide warmth in cold conditions. Look for materials like down or synthetic insulation.
- Waterproof Outerwear:
- A waterproof and windproof jacket and pants are essential to protect against spray and rain. Gore-Tex or similar breathable materials are ideal. So many manufactures make great outerwear combos. Just make sure its water and windproof. A good wind when fishing this time of the year is enough alone to put you in the cabin.
- Warm Hat:
- A warm hat helps retain body heat, especially if it covers your ears. Consider a waterproof or water-resistant option if rain or snow is in the forecast.
- Wear waterproof and insulated boots to keep your feet warm and dry. Ensure they have good traction to prevent slipping on wet surfaces. I’ve had good luck with the Xtratuf insulated boots for long days standing and fishing in the cold.
- Neoprene or Waterproof Gloves:
- Consider wearing neoprene gloves or waterproof gloves to keep your hands dry and functional for handling fishing gear. Wool is another great option and will do a great job wicking away moisture, keeping you warm. Bring several pairs in the even that one get too wet or cold.
- Thermal Socks:
- Invest in warm, moisture-wicking thermal socks to keep your feet warm. Even consider bringing an extra pair of these too in the event that one isn’t enough.
- Baseball Cap or Beanie:
- Protect your head from the cold wind with a cap or beanie. A baseball cap can also shield your eyes from the sun’s glare. I like the Grundens Watch Cap for its warmth.
- Polarized sunglasses not only protect your eyes from the sun but also reduce glare on the water, making it easier to see.
- Hand and Foot Warmers:
- Consider bringing disposable hand and foot warmers for extra warmth, especially during extended periods in colder conditions.
Remember to check the weather forecast before heading out and adjust your clothing accordingly. It’s better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed when fishing in winter conditions on a boat.
Leave It To The Pros During December
Sea bass tend to congregate around underwater structures such as wrecks, reefs, and rock piles. Montauk tends to have rocky structure holding sea bass during this time of the year in shallower depths south of the point and South of Block Island but along the South Shore it’s typically a wreck game. My number one piece of advice would be to please fish with a larger charter or party boat. Montauk, Shinnecock, Moriches, Fire Island, Jones and even some of the inlets west of that all have a select number of head boats heading out of them throughout December to these deep pieces. Hopping on one of these boats is much safer than trying to take a small private boat out to one of these spots. Some of these runs to the deep will be over 50 miles and doing that in a smaller center console during December is downright dangerous.
The best way to find out whose sailing is to keep an eye on The Fisherman Magazine’s online report section during the month. Every Tuesday there will be updates from these boats and how they did for the week.
Bait and Lures
While sea bass are opportunistic feeders, they tend to favor squid, clams, and small baitfish. Fresh or frozen squid and clams on a hi-lo rig is a classic setup, but experimenting with a mix of natural and artificial baits can increase your chances. Still, if you decide to still with the real stuff, a piece of clam fished on 4/0 baitholder hooks will temp sea bass most of the time. The rig is simple for bait. It’s a sinker loop at the bottom with two Dropper Loops, spaced a foot apart above that on 50-pound leader. The entire leader length should be about 5 or 6 feet and directly tied to the braided main line with a Uni-to-Uni knot
I personally have a lot of fun jigging these fish in the deep during this time of the year. The thump of a large 4-pounder hitting a jig on a lighter rod is exhilarating. A popular choice for sea bass jigging is the diamond jig. The fish during this time of the year don’t seem to be picky most times so dropping down a plain diamond jig usually gets their attention. You can always add a Gulp grub on the bare hook of the jig as a little extra teaser or even tie in a Dropper Loop a foot and a half above the jig and put a Gulp or Fishhbites grub on that bare baitholder as well. The two hook approach might land you an impressive double header.
December may not be the traditional fishing season for many, but for those who dare to venture out into the winter waters of the South Shore or East End of Long Island, the rewards can be substantial. Sea bass fishing during this season offers a unique challenge, requiring the right gear, tactics, and knowledge of the fish’s behavior. Embrace the cold, gear up appropriately, and embark on a winter sea bass fishing adventure to put some of those ‘holiday biscuits’ on the dinner table.