BLOCK ISLAND SEABASS – FEED ‘EM

Lightweight Spro bucktails tipped with Gulp! and small diamond jigs tipped squid really turn the heads of lunker sea biscuits.
Lightweight Spro bucktails tipped with Gulp! and small diamond jigs tipped squid really turn the heads of lunker sea biscuits.

Anglers looking to both fill the freezer and enjoy some thrills while bottom fishing this time of year need look no further than the waters surrounding Block Island. During October, black sea bass set up on just about every mussel hump, rock pile and wreck in these fabled waters. Better still, they often stack-up in relatively shallow water allowing would-be clam dunkers to switch to jigging, a technique that brings hard strikes, knob- headed lunkers and huge smiles all around.

Whether fishing from private, charter or open boats, the action is first rate and will usually see a selection of other bottoms species like porgy, fluke (which must be returned as the season closed back in September,)triggerfish and even an occasional small cod. Toss in a roving bluefish or striper for good measure and you’ve got a mixed-bag day that hard to beat.

You’ll find big sea bass on the high points in 35- to 50-foot depths all around Block Island. The area around the Hooter Buoy is a great starting point.
You’ll find big sea bass on the high points in 35- to 50-foot depths all around Block Island. The area around the Hooter Buoy is a great starting point.

JIGS VS. BAIT

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. 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 fish on average than bait fishing because smaller sea bass 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, allowing anglers to concentrate their main target: hump-backed sea biscuits.

STANDARD 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-pound test mono or 20-pound test braid. Connect the main line to a small barrel swivel using a Palomar knot and then attach 4 feet of 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 2-inch or 3-inch Berkley Gulp! 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.

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 it is overcast outside.
The technique is simple, get your line to the bottom, reel up about eight 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 ARE BEST

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 uptide or downtide; 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.

The author’s son, Ryan Schlichter, with a nice sea bass caught on light jigging gear.
The author’s son, Ryan Schlichter, with a nice sea bass caught on light jigging gear.

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.

If you have your own vessel capable of heading over to The Block, you’ll find plenty of suitable sea bass bottom in these waters. Start your search in 35- to 50-foot depths just inside the Hooter Buoy and you shouldn’t need to look anywhere else. If looking for a charter boat on which to sail, contact Block Island Fishworks Bait and Tackle (www.sandypointco.com; 401-466-5392) to find out who is sailing this time of year.

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