Sea Bass Opener Saturday in South Jersey
The second most popular, angler number-wise, opens Saturday when black sea bass once again become legal quarry.
With the exception of summer flounder (fluke), sea bass rule the inshore waters when it comes to lines in the water. The first portion of the season will run through June 22 with a daily limit of 10 fish at a 12.5-inch minimum.
Sea bass numbers are beyond plentiful, with the stock rebuilt in excess of 230%, and on the wrecks, rocks and reef structures, they’ve become so numerous as to be a bother to fluke fisherman as they nip off Gulp! tails and otherwise put the chomp on meat meant for flatties.
As one South Jersey charter captain put it, “There are so many sea bass out there that they’re eating the paint off the bottom of my boat!”
To be sure, the sea bass are thick, and the opening segment of the season exemplifies the term “Drop ‘n reel” fishing.
Simply put, these always-hungry fish will put the bite on a variety of baits and will also clamp the jaws on bucktail and metal jigs. Favored fleshy offerings include a wad of fresh or salted clam, squid (either on a hook or on a bucktail) and chunks of green crab. We’ve even caught them on chunks of cooked shrimp. One of our go-tos without the muss, fuss and goo is the Fishbites baits, namely the E-Z Clam, E-Z Squid and E-Z Crab trio. Easy peasy, if you will.
No doubt the larger sea bass (“knuckleheads” in fishing parlance) are caught on jigs, such as the AVA series in 007-17, 27 and, if really on the big fish hunt, the 47. Either plain or adorned with a tube tail (yellow and chartruese are hotties), they are wantonly assaulted by the bigger fish.
It’s a toss-up as to why the sea bass is so popular. From these corner it’s a 50-50 tie between being easy to catch, and its superlative table qualities that, in our opinion, is rivaled only by the triggerfish, especially when it comes to that favorite summertime repast, the fried fish sandwich.
The Garden State’s artificial reef system, no doubt one of the best in the coastal USA, is a hotbed of sea bass activity. During the May 8 Rack & Fin Radio broadcast (available as a podcast by downloading the WPG Talk Radio app), Peter Clarke, senior fisheries biologist and artificial reef coordinator with the NJ Bureau of Marine Fisheries discusses sea bass biology, the population and status of the fishery, and highlights the Atlantic City and Cape May reef sites as prime locations for early season sea bass tight lines mayhem.