SUMMER SEA BASS – FEED ‘EM A JIG!
Anglers looking to both fill the freezer and enjoy some thrills while bottom fishing this time of year need look no further than the nearest mussel hump, rock pile or local wreck. Better still, with good numbers of the sea biscuits in relatively shallow, near shore waters, you don’t’ even need bait to score as jigging with bucktails or diamond jigs will bring the sharp strikes from knob-headed lunkers that have a way of generating the biggest of smiles.
Whether fishing from private, charter or open boats, summer sea bass action is first rate in our waters, especially on the east end, and generally sees a selection of other bottoms species like porgy, fluke and the occasional weakfish, bluefish or striped bass crash the party.
BAIT VS. JIGS
Most Long Island anglers have given sea bass fishing a try at some point. Usually, the modis operani centers around squid or clams for bait fished at anchor or on a slow drift. Slip your offerings on a high-low rig, lower it to the bottom around a potential piece of structure and hold on as the bites ensue. With a little bit of experience, you'll be able to gain a feel, lift at just the right moment, and haul up enough fish for dinner. It's bottom fishing at its most basic and the steady action plus a nice pile of fillets at the end of the day make it ideal for anyone who simply wants to bend a rod.
Jigging, however, can be just as productive and provides a more active approach to catching dinner. It demands total concentration, a developed feel for the bottom and your lure's action, plus a willingness to experiment with jig types and jigging techniques until you find a combination that works. Jigging also tends to produce bigger sea bass on average than bait fishing because smaller fish are less likely to be hooked on a jig or bucktail, and bragging-sized sea bass that have turned their snouts up at bait can be startled or provoked into striking at the flashy, unpredictable action of a hard-bodied offering. Jigging also works up fewer sea robins, dogfish, skates and bergalls, making it easier to concentrate on your main target – big CB’s that can tip the scales at 3 pounds or more.
CLASSIC JIGGING TECHNIQUE
While those with a little jigging experience have an edge at this game, even anglers using a jigging approach for the first time can be successful at this game. The key to getting started is to keep it simple at first.
Start with a 6-1/2 to 7-foot rod with a medium-fast action and conventional style reel spooled with 15- to 20-pound test mono or 20- 30-pound test braid. (Bryce, you might want to suggest a specific rod and reel outfit here. I just left this as basic because I’m not sure what you are able to get in stock at the moment.) Connect the main line to a small barrel swivel using a Palomar knot and then attach 4 feet of 30- to 40-pound-test mono or fluorocarbon leader. Tie a 3/4- to 2-ounce bucktail jig (Spros are popular) directly to the leader using an improved clinch or Palomar knot and your set up is complete. Alternatively, you can use a small diamond jig, such as an AVA 27 or 47, in place of the bucktail. Either way, sweeten the offering with a slender, 2- to 3-inch pennant of squid or, with a 3-, 4- or 5-inch Berkley Gulp! Swimming Mullet or Alive shrimp hooked once through the head from bottom to top. If using the squid, split the end of the strip to give it more action and to keep it from snagging on the hook during the jigging process.
Photo by Felicia Scocozza
As for lure color, it is hard to go wrong with a white, pink or chartreuse bucktail and the diamonds work best if you use silver on sunny days and gold when overcast.
The technique is simple, get your line to the bottom, reel up eight to 12 turns at a medium pace, free-spool back down and repeat. Increase or decrease the weight of your lure based on what you need to stay tight to the bottom given the current, wind and drift speed.
SOFT TIDES RULE
When fishing with jigs you’ll want to concentrate your efforts during periods of minimal current. Too quick a drift is the primary enemy as it lifts your line off the bottom so try this at the start or end of a tide, or even during slack water if there is enough wind to push you gently across some scattered structure. Be aware, as you look for typical sea bass structure - scattered rubble, wrecks or simply hard bottom - that your quarry doesn't stick tight to structure like blackfish. It may be on a piece, near a piece or between two pieces. It might be up-tide or down-tide; there are no hard, fast rules to sea bass positioning so if you don't get a quick response on your first drift, keep moving.
As for working your jig, this is different than fluke fishing. Quick snaps are the key. Keep your lure tight to the bottom, snap it to life, let it fall, then snap it again. In general, you’ll want to pick a calm day when trying this technique. The slower the drift, the easier it is to keep the fishing line as vertical as possible and the jig close to the bottom. If strong winds are pushing the boat too fast, making it difficult to keep the jig down, a sea anchor or even a 5-gallon bucket tied to the boat can help slow the drift.
- Bryce Poyer