How to Catch Black Sea Bass

Start small and learn the basics of black sea bass fishing. Where to find black sea bass, the best bait, how to tie a rig, tackle, and more.

Start small and learn the basics of black sea bass fishing. Where to find black sea bass, the best bait, how to tie a rig, tackle, and more.

Black sea bass are a popular sport fish for fishermen along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Massachusetts. They readily hit jigs, bait, and lures and can grow to over 8 pounds. They are good fighters, however most fishermen try to catch black sea bass because they are excellent to eat. They have delicate, white fillets that can be used in a variety of recipes and are also delicious prepared as whole black sea bass.

➤When is the best time for black sea bass fishing?

You can catch black sea bass year round, but whether you can keep them depends on local regulations. In the spring, black sea bass migrate inshore to spawn in the shallow waters of southern New England. By mid-May, you can find excellent black sea bass fishing around Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay, Martha’s Vineyard Sound and Nantucket Sound. Narragansett Bay, Block Island Sound, and Long Island Sound also hold black sea bass in spring. In June, black sea bass fishing in southern New England is in full swing and the fish complete spawning in 20 to 40 feet of water. You can slo find black sea bass during spring and summer in nearshore waters off New Jersey and Long Island. Come fall, the black sea bass that spawned in New England travel south and west to spend the winter in deep water off the mid-Atlantic region. If you want to catch jumbo sea bass in the 5- to 6-pound range, book a wintertime black sea bass party boat trip during the months of November, December, and January.

Where is a good place to catch black sea bass?

Some of the most productive places for catching black sea bass are:

  • Buzzards Bay
  • Cape Cod
  • Narragansett Bay
  • Rhode Island
  • Block Island
  • Long Island Sound
  • New Jersey (offshore in winter)

Black sea bass are typically found around structure, including piers, jetties, shoals, reefs, rockpiles, and wrecks. In spring and summer in the Northeast, they can be found in shallower water, from 20 to 40 feet deep. Later in the summer, black sea bass–particularly larger specimens–move into slightly deeper water and hold on shoals, reefs and wrecks in 60 to 120 feet of water. In winter, they move offshore to depths of 120 to 240 feet and even deeper.

What are the best black sea bass lures?

There are many ways to catch black sea bass. While the most popular way is with bait rigs, black sea bass will also hit lures. Leadhead jigs or bucktail jigs, which can be tipped with natural bait, soft-plastic trailers, or scented artificial bait (like Berkley Gulp), are one of the best black sea bass baits. Metal jigs also catch black sea bass when fished near the bottom. In recent years, jigging for black sea bass with lightweight spinning gear has become a popular and fun way to catch them.

Jigging for black sea bass

To jig for black sea bass, start with an assortment of leadhead or metal jigs from 1/2 to 4 ounces or heavier, depending on the area you will be fishing. Deeper water and faster current will require heavier jigs.

Drop your jig to the bottom. When it hits the ocean floor, crank the reel one half-turn to keep it 12 to 18 inches off the bottom, which is where sea bass tend to feed. The key to jigging is keeping your fishing line vertical (straight up and down). If your line is swinging away from the boat and off the bottom, try a heavier jig. Lift the rod tip make the jig dart up from the bottom, then lower it back down, and repeat. This motion will attract the attention of black sea bass feeding in the area.

If the fishing line is swinging away from the boat, or the jig is not hitting bottom, switch to a 1-ounce jig. Continue to swap out the jigs until your fishing line is vertically straight up and down. Sea bass are aggressive fish and you will feel a distinct thump when they eat the jig. When you feel the hit, quickly snap the rod tip up to set the hook, and reel the fish to the boat.

Black sea bass
One of the best baits for black sea bass is a metal jig, like the Daiwa jig in the photo. Note the crab that this sea bass recently ate.

What is the best black sea bass rig?

High-Low Rig for Black Sea Bass

Using natural bait for black sea bass on a bait rig is tough to beat. The basic high-low rig is the most popular way to fish with bait for blakc sea bass and it works well in deeper water or where there is moderate to heavy current that makes it difficult to fish a jig.

Materials Needed to Tie a High-Low Rig

  • 40-pound-test monofilament leader material
  • 75-pound barrel swivel
  • 4/0 straight-shank or baitholder hooks
  • Bank sinker (2 to 6 ounces depending on depth and current)

How to Tie a High-Low Rig

  1. To make a High-Low Rig, take the 40-pound leader material and cut a 30-inch piece with a pair of scissors or pliers.
  2. Next, in the center of the leader, tie two dropper loops roughly 6 inches apart.
  3. At one end of the leader, create a sinker loop by tying a Surgeons Loop Knot.
  4. At the other end, tie on the 75-pound barrel swivel using an improved clinch knot.
  5. To attach the bank sinker, pinch the Surgeons Loop and thread it through the bank sinker hole, also known as an “eye”. Pull the loop over the entire sinker, and cinch it tightly. You now have your weight secured on the rig, but can change it out without cutting and retying.
  6. The final step is to attach the two hooks. Pinch the Dropper Loop, thread it through the eye of the hook, pull the loop over the hook, and cinch it tightly over the eye of the hook. The High-Low Rig is finished!
high low rig black sea bass
A High-Low rig is one of the best bait rigs for black sea bass because it presents the baits near the bottom and allows you to easily change your sinker.

➤What is the best black sea bass bait?

The best bait for black sea bass is disputable because they eat many kinds of crustaceans, mollusks, and baitfish. Squid is the most popular bait because it is easy to find, inexpensive, and can be trimmed to strips. Black sea bass will also eat clams, crabs, bloodworms, and sandworms. Artificial baits with natural scents, like Berkley Gulp and Z-Man Scented Baitz, also work well. Check out this video on fishing with Z-Man DoormatadorZ for black sea bass.

What is the best black sea bass fishing tackle?

The type of fishing gear you use depends on the scenario and conditions. Spinning setups are often used with lures like jigs or bucktails in 10 to 60 feet of water. When fishing in heavy current or depths of 60 feet or more, conventional setups are preferred because they make it easier to click into freespool and drop the lure or rig back to the bottom.

Spinning Tackle for Black Sea Bass Jigging

  • Rod: 6′ to 7′ 6″ Medium/Heavy Power Rod with Moderate Action | example: Tsunami Slimwave 
  • Reel: 3000 to 4000 sized spinning reel | example: Penn Battle III
  • Line: 20- to 30-pound braided fishing line for low stretch, toughness, and sensitivity | example: PowerPro Maxcuatro
  • Leader: 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader (low visibility, which will help you catch more fish) | example: SeaGuar Blue Label Fluorocarbon
Jigging with lightweight gear has become a popular and fun way to fish for black sea bass.

Conventional Tackle for Deepwater Black Sea Bass Fishing

➤Can I catch black sea bass from a kayak?

Black sea bass fishing from a kayak can be fun and productive, especially when black sea bass are closer to shore in spring and early summer.

Check out this video on kayak fishing for black sea bass.

For help choosing a kayak, view our Fishing Kayak Buyer’s Guide.

➤Can I catch black sea bass from shore?

Catching black sea bass consistently from shore is tricky because they typically live in deeper water, but it is not uncommon to find them in the shallows during the months of May and June. They will typically be on the smaller side, but it is worth trying jetties and areas with steep drop-offs. Try a High-Low Rig with fresh bait (clams, squid, or seaworms) and various sinker weights.

View the latest fishing reports

➤How to cook black sea bass: recipes

Many consider black sea bass to be one of the best-eating fish in the Northeast. Their meat is flaky, mild in flavor, and not oily – for that reason, sea bass can be cooked in a variety of ways.

Video: Sea Bass Fish Tacos

Video: Whole Black Sea Bass

Video: Baked Black Sea Bass with a Traditional Portuguese Sauce

Related Black Sea Bass Content

Article: Cape Cod Black Sea Bass Fishing

Article: Black Sea Bass Fish Facts

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