IMPORTANT MESSAGE REGARDING 2017 BOOKINGS
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Fishing here in New Jersey exposes us to a full four seasons of weather, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.
While some people gauge the changing seasons by temperature, true fishermen gauge the changing seasons based on the different species that bite during each season.
Spring and Fall are striped bass seasons, the Summer is flounder (fluke) season, and the Winter is reserved for hard-core cold-weather cod and pollock fishing.
We are lucky enough to have one of the best eating fish we have here in the Mid-Atlantic, the Black Sea Bass, available to us throughout all 4 seasons.
By varying your locations and techniques a bit through the year, you can enjoy the four seasons of Sea Bass.
The Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata in Latin, meaning Striped Spine-Saw) ranges from Maine to Florida and into the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.
While all fish throughout the range are considered biologically the same, it is believed that there are separate stocks that occur North and South of the North Carolina/South Carolina border.
Sexually maturning in their 2nd year (approx. 7"-8" long), Black Sea Bass are protogynous hermaphrodites, that is they change sex from female to male sometime during their life.
A 12" fish is approx. 5 years old, and a 15" fish is about 8 years old; Black Sea Bass are known to live for up to 20 years, with the NJ state record being 8 lbs. 2 oz.
The migration pattern of these fish is primarily inshore/offshore, but there is definitely some north/south movement as noted by tag returns.
Spring - The Pre-Spawn
The Spring run on the Black Sea Bass is one of my favorites, as the fish are the prettiest of the year as they get ready to spawn.
The fish begin moving inshore of 100' sometime in April depending on water temperature (mid-50's is what I look for to get them started in the Spring).
By the middle of May the fish have moved into 50'-70' of water and are ready to chew.
Most of the fish you catch this time of the year are the humpback males, full of colorful blues and greens as they put on their best "peacock show" for the females.
Keepers generally far outnumber the throwbacks, and 2-3 pound fish are the norm as opposed to the exception.
In recent years, the only thing that will slow the bite is the presence of the ever-increasing-in-numbers Spiny Dogfish, and when they move in, it is time for you to move on.
The best defense I've found against the Dogfish is to stick to bigger structure as the Dogfish seem to favor lower profile bottom in the nearshore depths for Spring fishing.
Just about any soft bait will work now, with salted clams being my personal favorite, although squid strips and fresh baits (i.e. - mackeral) take their share of fish.
A simple two hook top and bottom rig with a sinker down at the bottom is all you need to catch, with a size 2/0 - 3/0 hook working just fine; lead can range from 4 - 12 oz. depending on depth and current.
Summer - Crossing the Picket Line
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Sometime in June one of the nice males will fall off the hook onto the deck of the boat, and you'll find yourself standing in a puddle of milk.
This is what the male Sea Bass needs to fertilize the females' eggs.
Once the Sea Bass have gone into full fledge spawning mode in July, they become tougher to catch.
You'll find a couple places where they will bite, and you'll see big piles of them on the sounding machine, only wishing you could catch a fraction of what you are seeing.
Quite simply, the fish are busy doing other things and are "on-strike" from eating.
In order to catch them now, you need to seek out the lower profile structure, especially around artificial reef sites.
Keep working fish that you see on the machine, and you can pick a few.
I find that fish baits work better than the clams in the summer, and putting on a small squid skirt or adding a grub tail seems to help entice the bite as
Don't worry, the spawn only lasts about 6 weeks and in sometime in August you'll go back to the same spots and now the fish will begin biting.
You get a shot of decent fish as the spawned out fish want to eat, then you'll find a lot of little fish, mostly the females you weren't catching earlier in the year, throwing back more than you'll keep.
Fall - On Fire
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For sheer numbers, there is no better time to catch a Black Sea Bass than the fall.
The fish are bulking up for their migration to deeper waters and readily eat.
Just about any piece of bottom will hold fish, with the main challenge being finding better fish that haven't been picked over by the heavy pressure the reefs/wrecks get this time of year.
Any bait you put down will work, I like to fish bigger pieces of bait to get the bigger fish.
The key is to wait out the smaller bites waiting for the stronger bite of the better fish; pull now!
Small jigs like small crippled hearing and hammered diamond jigs in 1-2 oz. work very well, work them either above the structure or around the edges so as not to get hung up.
Fishing is good in 45'-80' of water, but sometime in October you will fish an inshore piece and not hardly get a bite.
You'll now have to begin working your way offshore to some deeper water.
Fish will hold there for a week to 10 days, then you are chasing them again.
By mid-November the fish are in 90'-100' of water near 20 miles offshore, and you really need the good weather days to get to them.
Winter - Go Deep
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December, January and February can provide some fabulous Black Sea Bass fishing on the biggest Sea Bass you will see.
These 3 - 7 pound fish tend to stay offshore in 180'-250' off our coast in the winter, moving as far South as Virginia in colder years.
If you run your own boat off here (targeting large wrecks or rock piles), you need some excellent weather.
It's hard to beat a large party boat with heated hand rails this time of the year.
Due to the deeper water, ideal conditions are the days you can drift, although anchoring can really put a catch together quickly.
Jigs and flies work very well on the calm days when drifting (large chrome bucktails in 4-6 oz. and 4 oz. hammered diamond jigs produce).
When bait fishing, be prepared to fish weights of up to 16 oz., and I prefer a 3 hook rig with bigger hooks, 4/0 octopus style hooks with green/pink/white skirts seemingly just about right.
You will want a 3/0 high speed reel, and 50-65 pound braid can let you fish some lighter weights than mono will.
Some cod, pollock and good sized porgies often add to the catch.
So there you have it, four seasons of Sea Bass.
Whenever you may read this, it's always time to go fill a box with these tasty eating bottom fish.