It’s no secret that prog fishing peaks in the fall but that’s no reason to pass on the scup action in June, which can be absolutely super as well. While it’s tough to beat the lock-and-load porgy catches of September and October that seem to almost encircle Long Island, I find my focus at that time of year tends to be on bigger game like ravaging stripers in the rips, marauding bluefish in the surf and white-chinned bulldog blackfish on wrecks and rocks. The scup, for as suicidal as they are once the water cools down, bat in the lower part of the order once the fall run gets under way.
Each June, however, I like to lead off with a trip or two for the tasty, silver panfish. In fact, there’s nothing like a trip or two where some good ol’ rod-bending fun ensures a stack of fillets in the cooler to fall back on should the linesiders be picky, fluke run short or bluefish vanish as they have from time to time in recent years.
June porgy fishing can be ultra-productive and super fun while also serving to sharpen your hook-setting skills. After a day of trying to put the point to a limit of aggressive scup, hooking fluke isn’t as much of a mystery. You can shake off the last of the winter dullness with just a single trip for these fast-biting panfish and be ready for bigger challenges ahead after a single day on the water.
Best of all, the past two or three seasons have seen some real slab scup invade our waters. Last year, May and June saw reports of porgies stretching the tape to 21 inches in some areas, and honest 3-pounders were often needed to take a party boat pool. This year has started off even better with reports of huge scup to 4 pounds already tallied in the Peconics, off Montauk and even in Shinnecock Canal!
LOOK SHALLOW, LOOK DEEP
Whereas fall porgy fishing tends to be a deep-water affair with the feisty scup bunching up on wrecks in 40- to 80-foot depths as they prepare to migrate offshore, June’s action can range from 50 feet of water right up onto the shoals and flats in 10- to 15-foot depths. When they come in close, as is often the case in Long Island Sound and the Peconic estuary, you can have a blast using lines as light as 10 or 12-pound test. Better still, you can catch them on one-half- and three-quarter-ounce bucktails tipped with squid.
Fishing shallow for porgies is a blast, but you’ll still need to do a little homework to find the right spot. In very rocky areas or where there is a lot of bottom debris, proxies have plenty of places to use as their living quarters and, thus, tend to spread out. Find one or two big rocks, a hump or mussel bed off by itself, however, and the fish – especially the bigger ones – tend to concentrate around it. Thus, you want to look for fairly isolated pieces of structure as opposed to simply one big section of rough bottom.
Another point to keep in mind when targeting scup in water depths of less than 20 feet is to approach as quietly as possible. Shallow fish can be spooky fish. Drop the anchor loudly and they scatter. Back your stern up to the hump and the turbulence from the engine might be enough to blow them away. Clang around the boat after you’ve set up and the porgies will simply vanish as if they were never there in the first place. For these reasons, I find it best to cut the engine, drift into position, drop the anchor gently – and stay far enough off the structure that you need to flip your bait to the expected hot spot. As a rule, the fish will set up down-tide from structure so you can pull up parallel and cast behind the target. If you’ve picked a good piece around which to anchor, the porgies will be tightly schooled and you’ll have no need to chum. If the fishing is picky, though, you might want to try tempting the schools with a little bit of ground bunker or clam.
Pick your days carefully when looking for shallow water porgies. Low pressure systems, dark, drizzly mornings and foggy afternoons generally bring good luck while northwest winds with high pressure and bright sunshine tend to dull the bite. Sun-up and sun-down often see the biggest fish hit the deck. In addition to Peconic Bay and Montauk, you’ll generally find great porgy action in Long Island Sound waters off City Island, Hempstead Harbor, Lloyds Neck, Eatons Neck, Port Jefferson, Mount Sinai, Rocky Point and Mattituck.
HAVE A PORGY PARTY
While shallow water porgy action is the ultimate in scup fun, fishing in deeper water is generally more reliable, tends to produce bigger fish and is less influenced by bright sunshine, high-pressure systems and boat noise.
In this instance, you’ll want to look for the same porgy attracting bottom features as in shallow water fishing. In short, a hump on the bottom, a mussel bed, a wreck, a large boulder should be your targets. These you’ll find over time as you gather GPS coordinates and keep an eye to the bottom. If you don’t have your own numbers – or your own boat – taking a party boat is a furrier way to join the fun. In this instance the skipper puts you right over the fish and all you have to do is start setting the hook.
“One tip I can offer when it comes to scup fishing that applies to every situation,” says Captain Dave Brennan of the Greenport open boat Peconic Star, “is to not overload your hooks with bait. A huge piece of clam just provides these fish with an edge to pull at until it becomes a free meal. Use a single slice of clam or a segment of worm. Keep it simple and you’ll connect with ease. Also, keep an eye on the veteran anglers. Notice how they lift rather than snap the rod when they get a bite. Most beginners are too quick to set the hook and they tend to set it too sharply.”
Another point to keep in mind if you decide to take a party boat progy trip is that help is readily available. If you are having trouble setting the hook, need a hand tying the right knots or simply don’t know how to get started, simply ask the mates and they’ll get you up and running. For this reason, party boating is a really great bargain for novice anglers and fishing families.
The Terminal End
Whether you fish shallow or deep, from shore, small boat or party boat, a standard two- hook tandem rig seems to work best for porgies on a day-in, day-out basis. On days when the fish prove picky, you might want to switch over to a hi-low rig. Place the low hook two to four inches above the sinker and the high hook no more than a foot above the low hook. While clam strips are the everyday bait, bloodworms can really turn the fish on, especially on those tough days. For shallow water aciton, expect to need 2- to 3-ounce sinkers. For deeper action, you might need 4, 6 or even 8 ounces on some occasions.
Current porgy regulations allow New York State anglers to keep up to 30 fish per day with a minimum size of 10 inches. The full season stretches from May 1 through December 31. From September 1 through October 31, however, party boat and charter anglers are allowed to keep 45 scup per day.