- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
With the eastern seaboard’s population concentrating more each day in coastal regions, it is no surprise that a boom in angling for near-shore saltwater game fish is occurring. Not long ago, the average angler could dream of a quality saltwater excursion during a week's vacation. These days, the chances are around 50 percent that today's angler lives within a few hours drive of the coast—if not on the coast itself.
Despite the influx of people to these regions, quality fishing opportunities abound for anglers with access to a small boat—or no boat at all—and a modest tackle selection. With a basic understanding of the game fish that inhabit saltwater backwaters and the role the tides play in marshes, lagoons, bays, tidal creeks and other estuarine waters, an angler can experience some incredible saltwater action.
Getting To The Fish
Along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, anglers can catch a multitude of saltwater species from small boats, by casting from the bank, and by wading in the shallows. Flounder, red drum, spotted sea trout, weakfish, striped bass and bluefish are some of the game fish available to anglers who fish the shallow marshes and tidal creeks. Many styles of boats are built that are tailored to fishing in shallow water coastal conditions. However, while the price of a "flats boat" equipped with below-the-deck storage lockers and poling platform can strain a meager budget, angler's who own aluminum or fiberglass johnboats and skiffs find they can catch just as many quality game fish while making an affordable payment. Depending on the shoreline terrain and its accessibility, even a pair of waders or wading shoes can put an angler on plenty of fish.
Most gamefish found in the backwaters will be a good test for light to medium weight tackle.
The evolution in fishing tackle and lures, which has made freshwater bass angling a premier sport over the past two decades, has not gone unnoticed by saltwater tackle manufacturers. In most situations, light to medium duty spinning, baitcasting, and fly rods and reels used in freshwater work just as well in the marshes. However, anglers must be careful to select gear that is made to withstand the corrosive effects of salt. Any casting rod and reel combination that has a smooth drag system and holds 200 yards of 12-pound test monofilament line works well in most backwater fishing situations. A fly rod and reel combination should be of at least 7 weight and have a minimum of 100 yards of 20-pound backing.
Finding fish is always the key to catching fish. For inshore fishing, finding the fish means locating fish-attracting structure. Inshore structures that attract game fish include rock formations, oyster shell beds, sunken boats, docks, sand bars, deep holes, jetties, docks and piers. Anything that breaks the homogenous monotony of acres of marsh grass and sand flats is likely to hold fish.
Finding structure is aided by the tidal fluctuation of estuaries. Searching a tidal area on low tide reveals deep holes and channels as well as structure that is visible at low tide, yet is covered by water at high tide. Structure that is submerged on all tidal stages is often revealed by the presence of a shifting in current flow or an upwelling as the water rushes across. Oyster beds and bends in deepwater channels are often found by only by the anglers who learn to read the tales told by the current flows.
Many fish can also be found by "hunting" the marshes. Red drum often feed in the shallows where they stir up mud or show their tails while cruising in the grass. Bluefish, striped bass and spotted sea trout can be found by watching birds diving into schools of baitfish that the predatory fish have driven to the surface. Schools of baitfish always deserve attention. Even if game fish are not breaking the surface, they often lurk below a school of prey.
Live, Natural Or Artificial?
Natural baits or live baits are the choice of many anglers, though most anglers are also proficient at using artificial lures. All types of baits and lures are available at local tackle shops, which are the best source of information on the productive baits in any area. While all saltwater game fish range widely along the coast, successful anglers tailor their baits and presentations to local conditions.
Live baits can also be caught from the backwaters. Menhaden, mud minnows and mullets are some of the finfish used as bait. Shellfish that make good baits include shrimp, blue crabs, rock crabs, fiddler crabs and mole crabs. Mud minnows can be caught in minnow traps set in the marsh while other finfish and shrimp are caught in cast nets. Blue crabs are caught in traps while the smaller crab species are gathered by hand. Mole crabs or "sand fleas" can be caught by hand or by using a basket rake from the ocean surf.
Casting baits to structure is a sure way to catch inshore game fish. Natural or live baits are presented on two different types of rigs. A bottom rig consisting of an egg or pyramid sinker with one or two appropriately sized hooks for the species in the area is preferred by most anglers as the most productive rig. All inshore game fish feed along the bottom. Red drum and flounder are especially vulnerable to baits presented on bottom rigs. Float rigs are popular for highly mobile species such as spotted sea trout, weakfish, bluefish and striped bass. A small float is used to present live bait at a depth the fish are feeding. Float selection depends on the size of the bait. Large baits require large floats. Popping floats with concave tops are often used to add extra attraction. By chugging the surface in the same manner as with a topwater popping lure, an angler can attract game fish to the bait suspended below.
When searching a marsh for highly mobile species, most anglers prefer to use lures. Lure selection depends upon the cover conditions and species sought. In dense grass or oyster beds where fouling is a problem, spoons with weed guards work well for trout, red drum and flounder. Flies that are miniature versions of weedless spoons or that are designed to float in a point-up position are also good choices to prevent snags. Multiple hook lures work well for free-swimmers like bluefish and spotted sea trout.
Jigs are among the most productive lures in the backwaters, due to their sheer versatility.
Many anglers prefer lead-head jigs with soft plastic tails because they are made in a variety of colors. However, in the presence of bluefish, dozens of soft plastic tails are clipped off in a hurry. In this situation, jigs with tinsel or bucktail dressings are more durable. All-metal lures are the best choice for bluefish, with heavy casting spoons preferred by many anglers. When bluefish are feeding, a wire leader is required. Bluefish snip off even the toughest braided superline with their razor-sharp teeth.
Large landing nets are important for fishing in the skinny water. An angler never knows when a 10-pound flounder may strike and it takes a net two feet wide to corral such a prize. A gaff is also handy to have on board. Many a landing net has been ruined when the mesh was cut through, dropping a chopper bluefish to the deck.
Autographed copies of Mike Marsh's new book Inshore Angler - Coastal Carolina's Small Boat Fishing Guide are available by sending a check or money order for $23.45 to Mike Marsh, 1502 Ebb Drive, Wilmington, NC 28409. Inshore Angler has dozens of color maps and photos and shares the secrets of the coast's top inshore fishing guides.