Black sea bass have been the bane of many trips for anglers fishing off the South Carolina coast; they are usually caught while fishing for other species, and they often bite so prolifically that anglers can have a hard time getting their target species to bite. But these fish are excellent table fare and fun to catch as long as they have some size to them. The secret to getting the big ones, according to Capt. Rob Bennett of Charleston’s Lowcountry Inshore Charters, is to stay away from the artificial reefs.

“The artificial reefs are covered up with black sea bass, and tons of them are undersized fish. Fishing over livebottom is the way to go for keeper black sea bass,” Bennett said.

While using squid as bait, Bennett noticed the bigger sea bass he was catching were all throwing up Spanish sardines, which closely resemble cigar minnows. Bennett didn’t have any cigar minnows on his boat, but he did have some live mud minnows. He switched over to those and slayed the big sea bass.

“They will bite cut squid as fast as you can get it down to them, but for the big sea bass, mud minnows are definitely the way to go,” said Bennett (843-367-6875), who has been catching the big fish on livebottom around shelves that vary from 60 to 85 feet deep.

Bennett said the best way to find these livebottoms is by using a good chart that shows them. He does most of his fishing off Kiawah and Edisto islands, but he said livebottom in areas up and down the coast are all excellent places to fish for big sea bass this time of year.

For gear, Bennett uses 4000-series spinning reels, 7- to 7 ½-ft medium heavy rods, 60-pound braided main line, 50-pound fluorocarbon leaders, 5/0 circle hooks, and 4-ounce sinkers. He strongly suggests spinning reels over casting reels. “Spinning reels are just a lot easier to use and faster to reel in,” he said.

Bennett said anglers should also be cautious about throwing the first few sea bass they catch on ice. With a 5-fish daily creel limit, he said anglers should be selective on what they keep. He’s been catching sea bass up to 4 pounds and said anglers should shoot for these big ones rather than throw 15-inch fish into the cooler.