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April 27, 2011

New England Sabiki-Style Sea Bass

This expert uses sabiki cod rigs to catch slammer black sea bass in southern New England.

Catching over 60 large black sea bass on one tide is enough to excite any angler. That's exactly what my wife, Carol, 16-year-old daughter, Maggie, and I did with friend and sea bass pro Capt. Ned Kittredge late last May. The action, at times, was rapid-fire.

"Capt. Ned!" called Carol. "I've got one almost to the surface. Hey, it's a double!"

"Be right there," said Capt. Kittredge as he unhooked and dropped his humpback on ice. Meanwhile, Maggie and I had set up on our own hard strikes. Moments later Kittredge leaned overboard, grabbed Carol's leader and deftly swung her pair into the cockpit. "OK," he said, glancing at his electronics. "Get those fish in! We're drifting off the spot and into the weeds. Time to run back up-tide."

Finding Hot Spots
Although sea bass occasionally suspend in the water column and eagerly chase lures up from the seafloor, they are a type of grouper (Serranidae family) and are true reef fish who love structure. The pros find them concentrated on rock piles, reefs, ledges, wrecks, shoals and shell beds from mid-May through September in southern New England. But real experts refine their search even further.

"When targeting sea bass," says Kittredge, "I use Furuno MaxSea Planner software for locating specific areas to fish. Generally I look for deepwater rock piles in the 50- to 100-foot range that are surrounded by a sandy bottom. I'll also cruise along contours, like steep gravel banks, looking for clusters on the fish finder."

Our exciting trip began from Mattapoisett Harbor, in southeastern Massachusetts, and we made the quick three-mile run across Buzzards Bay to one of Kittredge's favored black sea bass locations. This one happened to be on the west end of Cleveland Ledge, a popular hot spot a short distance from Cleveland Light, where the bite was strong. The light sits in shallow water on the eastern side of the two halves of Cleveland Ledge, excellent sea bass terrain.
The area is large and is no secret, and you'll find a fleet here almost any day during peak season. But pros like Kittredge seldom anchor with the fleet, preferring to find their own productive location. For trophy sea bass, Kittredge recommends several other hot spots too, such as around Cuttyhunk's outer rock piles, where he routinely wrestles up 7-pounders well into August.

"The prime sea bass areas are loaded with lobster and gill-net gear," he says, "and I think that helps keep the headboats away. Usually, any spots marked with lobster buoys are good areas to try."