Even though the sub-freezing temperatures at dawn keep reminding anglers that winter is still chugging along, the offshore bottom bite is as strong as ever. From legal species to out-of-season throwbacks, bottomfish are feasting right now, and for a local captain out of Murrells Inlet, the black sea bass are as big as ever and about to break the scales.
It may be the offseason for many captains, but not Jay Sconyers of Aces Up Fishing Charters. He motors past the jetties every chance he gets, and the bluewater is where he’s concentrating. While wahoo and the occasional bluefin tuna trip are filling up his schedule, his bottom-fishing option is filling up his client’s coolers.
“On the way back from offshore trips, we have been stopping short to catch some bottomfish,” said Sconyers (843-492-5759). “After 45 minutes, we have been getting our five-fish limit on black sea bass, with most of the keepers running between 15 and 20 inches.”
In cold weather, black sea bass migrate into shallower water as a whole, covering up every underwater hazard available from the nearshore reefs out to 100-plus miles.
“The reefs and ledges from 3 to 10 miles out are full of sea bass, but you have to catch nearly 100 fish to get your five-fish limit,” said Sconyers.
In South Carolina, black sea bass must be 13 inches long to take the icebox ride back to the dock, but it is a much-different story further out and in deeper water.
“If you want the big ones, you have to go out deeper, from 85 to 105 feet,” Sconyers said.
There are many keeper-sized fish at 85 feet, but there aren’t many snapper or other species available, so Sconyers also likes to target 100 to 105 feet to get an opportunity at a mixed bag with a limit of silver snapper and beeliners to add to his icebox collection.
These fish are extremely hungry, with very little bait around to satisfy their hunger, so a wide range of baits will get attention from these bottom-dwellers. Sconyers starts off with a box of cigar minnows and will switch to cut squid. Also, any ringtails and other undesirable fish can quickly turn into fresh cut bait that will not be rejected in these waters when pinned to a 5/0 circle hook.
Sconyers uses the typical two-hook dropper rig to double his chances, but he will use an exceptionally heavy terminal sinker to keep his clients fishing directly under the boat on the structure where the fish are holding.
“I like to use a 10- to 12-ounce weight to prevent tangles. If you use a lighter rig in this deep water, your lines have a tendency to slide in the current and get tangled,” said Sconyers.