WINTER COLUMN: Black sea bass back on the menu
The recreational season for black sea bass started Friday, and you can bet that after a few years of decreased bottom-fishing pressure, Charleston's nearshore wrecks and reefs are swarming with big, knobby-headed blackfish.
This year, the reopening of the recreational season comes with a bonus: For a month we weekend anglers will have the blackfish all to ourselves.
Federal fisheries managers have pushed back the start of the commercial fishing season until July 1. This one-time delay gives regulators time to put in place new restrictions meant to reduce the commercial take and address derby-fishing conditions.
The new regulations include an endorsement program for the commercial black sea bass pot segment, a limit of 35 pot tags issued yearly to each endorsement holder, a requirement to bring black sea bass pots back to shore at the end of each trip, decreased trip limits and increased size limits.
It's all shaping up for a banner year for big blackfish. So get out there.
Know the rules
The new minimum size limit for black sea bass was increased from 12 inches total length to 13 inches total length starting July 1. Anglers also must use non-stainless steel circle hooks when using natural baits (squid, cigar minnows) to target any snapper-grouper species. Anglers also must have a dehooking tool onboard.
The bag limit is five blackfish per person, per day, which is a significant decrease from years past. So make 'em count, and bring a few friends along.
Most folks use common double-hook rigs, also called chicken rigs, when dropping down for blackfish. These rigs are easy to make, and a Google search for “chicken rig” yields many videos showing how to tie them.
I usually make at least a dozen or so in advance, to save time and frustration when we inevitably start breaking off on a reef. I typically use 80-pound-test monofilament, though I might step it up to 100-pound-test if I'm at a likely grouper spot.
A small but stout circle hook works wonders on just about everything out there, from sea bass to large grouper. Just make sure that whatever circle hook you use has an eye wide enough to accommodate the chicken rig's dropper loop.
Drop a bucktail
A heavy bucktail like the 6-ounce varieties from Spro (pictured) seem to draw strikes from larger blackfish, whereas a chicken rig baited with squid will catch anything and everything.
These big bucktails are a personal favorite, and I usually have at least one tied to a stout casting set-up when I hit the reefs or roll offshore. They're fun to use and give you a break from the grind of constantly rebaiting your chicken rigs with squid. I've also caught a few nice grouper jigging these around reefs and live-bottom spots (I even caught an octopus with one). To be ready for anything, I tie on a few feet of heavy mono or fluorocarbon leader.
These bucktails also come in handy if a big cobia cruises by the boat, which is a distinct possibility at the nearshore reefs in June.
And if you toss one of these into a swirling school of monster amberjack — hold on tight.
Reach Matt Winter, Tideline magazine editor, at 843-937-5568 or firstname.lastname@example.org.