Be a Porgy Pro
by Stephen Fragano
When and Where
During the winter months, scup are not the usual fish of choice for many anglers in the Northeast unless one takes an offshore trip anywhere between New Jersey and the Carolinas. However, during late April and early May, the migration northward and inshore begins. When the mass of fish make their homes during the early summer, they can be found both in larger bodies of water like the ocean and sounds, and also in smaller bodies of water like bays and harbors. When in open water, wrecks, reefs, and rocky bottoms are porgy magnets for their amounts of food and protection. Bays and harbors also hold numbers of porgies with their ample amounts of sandy/rocky bottoms and beds of mollusks which supply various kinds of bait. Rapid changes in temperature also change depths where porgies can be found because deeper, cooler water contains more dissolved oxygen. Just as for any species, going at the right times, and going where the fish live will lead to scup success.
Groups to Which Porgies Appeal
Frankly, porgies are ideal for every category of angler. Experienced anglers who have been fishing for many years will find extreme enjoyment in porgy fishing. When it comes to anglers who are learning to fish and are working on fishing techniques, this species allow repetition to practice the sport while acting as a foundation for improvement. Porgies are also perfect for small children due to the fact that when the bite is on, the usual lock-and-load action keeps kids amused and enthused about fishing, and possibly even furthering their drive in such a way that fishing stays a sport near and dear to their hearts throughout life.
Versatility is mentioned a lot when discussing porgies due to their versatility in many subjects. One major area where scup are versatile is the way to reach them. Both party boats and private boats have potential to strike successfully at this species. Porgies are great for privately owned boats, especially skiffs, because of the large areas these fish inhabit, and the fact that you don't always have to travel long distances to reach large bodies of fish. Party boat captains especially love scup because the large amount of fish in a single school can give action for hours to come for a number of anglers. Since some schools of scup are in close proximity to the shore in bays and harbors, surf anglers also have a chance to cash in on these tasty fish. Porgies are the ideal fish for any angler.
Porgy Equipment and Terminal Tackle
The only criticism I've ever heard about porgies from others is that they're small fish which don't give enough of a fight. Though the porgy is a relatively small fish, we must observe things in proportion and compare apples to apples. Since some species of fish like striped bass get quite large, their unique fight is comparable to their size which calls for heavy equipment. Compared to the usual size to which porgies grow, they too have their own unique fight which compared to body size can arguably be said to be pound for pound greater than other species by far. Selecting the perfect equipment for the situation turns many skeptics into believers.
A wide range of possible equipment exists. For bays, harbors, and other smaller bodies of water, a light to ultra-light rod is necessary for the porgies. Such thin and flexible rods bring out the true colors of the fight and allow a better feeling for the initial hit. With these types of rods, a quality spinning reel outfit is suggested. For scup in larger bodies of water, light to medium rods are needed which can be paired with either spinning or conventional reel outfits. The difference in rod stiffness in larger bodies compared to the smaller is not based upon the size of fish since some of the largest porgies I've ever caught have been in bays. The difference is based on the water depth and since porgies usually stay around bottom structure in the ocean and sounds, backbone to stop the fish from reentering the wreck or reef is essential to fish free of constant snags. A bit stiffer rod is also needed on party boats in order to keep more control of the fish resulting in less tangles and a better fishing environment for all.
There is no set thickness of line, whether braid or mono, which is said to be best for porgies. This is also true for sinker weight. A rule of thumb for any fish, especially porgies, is that line and sinker weight should be as low as possible based on the rod in order for the sometimes light tap of the porgies to be easily felt. Versatility also is appropriate when discussing porgy rigs. Anglers can use so many different rigs and be successful for scup. Of the popular ones stand single hook rigs, tandem rigs, and hi-low rigs.
Both pre-made rigs and self-made rigs work equally as well. When it comes to hook size, I personally use a Mustad size four hook, but larger hooks can be used to fend off smaller fish from getting hooked. Being prepared is always half the game.
Technique and Bait Selection
Though the porgy is not one of the hardest fish to catch technically, a proper presentation is still necessary. Usual protocol while fishing for scup is one that is quite easy and similar to flounder fishing.
One necessity in porgy fishing is that the bait must be in the porgy's line of vision. A safe bet is always having the sinker on the bottom, but if electronics like a fish finder are ready for action, large schools sometimes off the bottom can be found. Putting the bait in the correct depth range can trigger an almost immediate strike. Once on the bottom or in the appropriate depth range, quick snaps using your wrist elevating the bait and returning it to the bottom shows movement of the bait and will catch the porgy's attention. After a few seconds of this motion, let the bait rest and feel for any hits. Try always to keep the line tight since a few seconds of slack is enough times for these speed demons to steal your bait.
This species of fish has a wide variety in its diet. Popular baits include worms, primarily sandworms and bloodworms, and clam. Despite the fact that live baits, such as the ones mentioned, have withstood the test of time, new, artificial baits are being produced such as Berkley Gulp! plastic sandworms and bloodworms. These new, fake worms emit a smell which drive porgies crazy, and added benefits come with these artificials like a decrease in the amount of times needed to re-bait after a fish since the firm plastic stays on the hook better than the softer live worms or clams. Whether presenting live or artificial bait, it is important to keep in mind the targeted species. In a porgy's case of being a comparatively small fish, they naturally have small mouths. Therefore, no matter how large the porgy, placing a huge glob of clam or a whole worm on the hook is going to result in feeding the porgies rather than hooking them. This will lead to more fish and much more bait available throughout the day.
To Chum or Not to Chum?
A much debated technique among scup anglers who fish from boats is the use of chum. Though some believe that chum is a waste of time and money, I personally would not bother going unless I had my trusty chum. This is especially true when fishing over any bottom not containing a wreck or reef. Anchoring for porgies is a usual method while boat fishing, and although porgies come in large schools, a large section of water provides a large possibility for either hit or miss. A chum slick reaches out and attracts the fish to the boat. In the words of Big John DeCuffa at Jack's Bait and Tackle, "It brings the fish to you and keeps ‘em under the boat."
There are many ways to chum, however two popular ones come to mind first. The first is cracking whole clams overboard. The opened clams give off scent and also give a visual food source to nearby fish.
The second method is using frozen clam chum. The preferred method is using frozen logs of finely chopped clams which can be purchased at a local bait shop. By placing the log into a cylindrical chum pot and lowering it to the bottom or appropriate depth range with ample rope, a continuous scent stream releases from the pot bringing the fish to the boat and arousing their appetites. A tip for the use of chum logs involves its packaging. During early season when the water temperature may be a bit cooler, taking the entire log from the sleeve and placing it in the pot will allow more scent to be released. As the temperature of the water grows warmer, leaving the log in the sleeve and simply slitting holes in the packaging allows enough scent to be released without too much leaving at once and/or feeding the fish. Chum is a virtual fish magnet.