Black sea bass give Little River a great bottomfish option

Big black sea bass invade the reefs and hardbottoms off Little River Inlet once cold weather arrives along the Carolina coast.
Big black sea bass invade the reefs and hardbottoms off Little River Inlet once cold weather arrives along the Carolina coast.

Don’t stow that fishing gear

When January arrives, many anglers go into winterizing mode and put up their fishing gear. But they are missing out. Some of the best fishing arrives when it gets cold along the Carolinas’ coast.

Cold weather sends some saltwater species on a migratory train to sunny Florida, but others will reposition and overwinter right here. Black sea bass are among those, and anglers with cold-weather gear can have triple-digit catches just a short run from Carolina beaches, especially those around the state line.

Tom Cushman of Cush’s Calmwater Charters in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., fishes hard year-round. He targets a variety of species during winter. Big, black sea bass out of Little River Inlet are tops on his list.

“Black sea bass congregate at our ledges, wrecks and other places off Little River that have lots of livebottom growth,” said Cushman (843-997-5850). “We target them from nearshore places out to 100 foot.”

They congregate around deep structure offshore

Black sea bass evacuate nearshore and inshore structures when the water gets cold, congregating in offshore waters. For bigger, keeper-sized fish 13 inches and longer, Cushman heads to deeper structure. Often, nearshore reefs will be covered in massive schools of black sea bass with many more small fish than larger ones.

“Once the ocean water dips below 60 degrees, the bigger fish are in 50 to 80 feet, and usually, the deeper the water, the bigger the fish. I usually catch the biggest ones as soon as we drop down. I’ll drift from rock to rock picking out the bigger fish,” he said.

“I use 20- to 30-pound spinning combos with 2- to 4-ounce diamond jigs tipped with curlytail grubs, or I will use a little heavier 20- to 30-pound setup with chicken rigs, a 4/0 circle hook and one-inch chunks of cut bait. Any bait will work for black sea bass, because they are real hungry,” he said.

Both natural bait and artificial lures will quickly get the attention from a school of black sea bass. But Cushman prefers artificials to avoid catching sharks.

“Any bait will work, but using artificials will reduce chumming up sharks that will ruin a spot,” he said. “Black sea bass are a lot of fun in the winter. They are hard fighting and very tasty.”

Jeff Burleson
About Jeff Burleson 1355 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.