Black sea bass season in Rhode Island opened Thursday, June 24 and runs through August 31 with a three fish/person/day limit and a 15” minimum size. The bag limit increases to seven fish/person/day from September 1 to December 31. In Massachusetts the season runs from May 18 to September 8 at five fish/person/day at a 15” minimum size.
Anglers have been catching keeper size black sea bass since early spring before the season opened while fishing for tautog and summer flounder. So this should be a good year for black sea bass. It’s one of those species that is here in the northeast in great abundance due to warming water and climate change. Black sea bass are a great eating fish, often found on the menus of fine dining restaurants. So they are fun to catch and eat.
Black sea bass facts
Black sea bass are primarily black (sounds odd), but they have the ability to adjust their color to blend in with the bottom with colors ranging from grey, brown, black to a deep indigo hue. They spend most of their time around the bottom and be found near rocky areas, jetties, rips, like a lot of bottom fish, they like structure.
Black sea bass are hermaphroditic fish… they begin life as female turn male. Researchers aren’t sure why this happens, but one hypothesis suggests the relative scarcity of males in a spawning group may be the stimulus for a female to switch sex. Ideal water temperature for black sea bass is 59 to 64 degrees.
Black sea bass put up a feisty fight but they do not grow to be huge fish in the Northeast. The official Rhode Island State record for black sea bass is 26” and 8 pounds, 7.25 ounces. The Massachusetts record is 8 pounds 15 ounces.
How and where to catch them… rigs and bait
Rigs often used to catch black sea bass have two hooks set-up about 12” apart with a bank sinker to hold bottom. Squid, small crabs and sea clams are often used as bait. Anglers often catch them while fishing for fluke, because you are on the bottom and likely fishing with squid. When targeting black sea bass I use small pieces of bait as they are master bait stealers and large pieces of bait enable them to take your bait without getting hooked. However, I have found that when fishing the bottom for fluke, larger hooks with larger baits tend to catch larger black sea bass. They can also be caught with jigs and many prefer this method.
Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle said, “My favorite sea bass rig is a bucktail jig tipped with squid with a small teaser above tip with Berkley Gulp. Anglers should remember you have to find the bottom to catch these fish. Other popular jigs are epoxy, resin or soft plastic jigs. Best colors are white and pink.”
Any underwater structure including ledges, rocks, wrecks, piers and jetties will attract black sea bass. The larger males are generally found in deeper water.
Cooking black sea bass
Black sea bass is a delicate, sweet-tasting saltwater fish. The firm, white flesh of this species is a favorite of many. Bass are more easily filleted when chilled, and yield a small but reasonably thick slice of meat. Some fillets are thick enough to slice lengthwise or to cut into nuggets for frying. Larger fish can be cut into steaks and cooked like striped bass.
Angler Steve Burstein of West Warwick (a trained chef), said, “One of my favorite ways to cook black sea bass is whole. Gut, scale and cut off fins. Stuff and roast either in the oven or in a tin foil tent on the grill. Black sea bass taste great cooked whole and make eating fish more of an event.”
When broiling, fold under the thin section from the tail area to allow more even cooking. Place the fish in a greased pan, sprinkle with fresh ground pepper and paprika, and dot with butter or olive oil. Broil 4 to 6 minutes on each side, depending upon thickness, until the fillets are golden-brown. Be careful not to cook too long, as the fillets will dry and become somewhat leathery.
Where’s the bite?
Striped bass and bluefish. “We had 30 to 40 boats fishing in the upper Providence River last weekend but customers said no one seemed to be catching. Albert Bettencourt, his son and grandson caught multiple slot sized fish between 28” to less than 35” off Bristol along the shipping channel live lining Atlantic menhaden or using menhaden chucks,” said John Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside. “The bluefish were thick off Barrington Beach, you couldn’t catch a striped bass as the bluefish keep stealing your bait.” Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence said, “Some anglers were still catching 40” fish from India Point Park. The bite was good too along the channel edges.” Expert fly fisherman and fly guide Ed Lombardo said, “We had positive striped bass results fishing in the Narrow River, Narragansett on Sunday. Multiple school bass and a keeper.”
Black sea bass, scup and summer flounder (fluke). “Fluke fishing in the bay was holding up with anglers hooking keeper fluke fishing off Warwick Light this weekend,” said Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle. “The bite off Block Island was mixed too, when conditions were right anglers hooked up.” Optimum conditions for fluke include both the wind and current (or tide) be in line, meaning the boat should be moving the same way as the tide so your bait is dragged over the front of fluke as they set up looking into the current. Henault said, “The scup bite this week was not good at Rocky Point but large scup were caught from shore off Tiverton.” John Littlefield of Archie’s said, “Anglers were catching 14” scup at Haines Park, East Providence and Lavin’s Marina, Barrington.”
Freshwater fishing for largemouth bass is good with pike and trout fishing slowing down as water heats up. “Customers are doing well fishing for largemouth at Turner Reservoir, East Providence; Olney Pond, Lincoln woods; and Stump Pond, Coventry,” said Dave Henault.
Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and charter fishing license. He serves on a variety of boards and commissions and has a consulting business focusing on clean oceans, habitat preservation, conservation, renewable energy, and fisheries related issues and clients. Forward fishing news and photos to email@example.com or visit www.noflukefishing.com.