Anglers along the east coast of the United States have the little Porgy to thank for much of their fishing fun. When this hungry denizen of the deep comes along he usually brings a few million of his brothers and the action is fast and furious. As soon as you pull one in, drop your hook and another will grab it. The commercial deep-sea netters account for the greatest haul; over 20 million pounds of Porgy reach the fish markets annually. This will give you some idea of the Porgy's value as a table delicacy. If you've never tasted one, you don't know what you're missing. And they taste even better when you catch them yourself and cook them fresh from the water.
The commonest Porgy of this country is called the Scup, and you'll find him in the Atlantic from Texas to Maine with the exception of Florida. But anglers of that state have Porgy, too, because he has many cousins. There you'll catch the Jolthead Porgy, which ranges throughout the Caribbean south to Brazil, the Saucereye Porgy of the Florida Keys and Bermuda, and the Littlehead and Grass Porgies of the Keys and the West Indies. Other species, numbering 100 in all, are scattered throughout the world. The largest—the Musselcracker—is found off South Africa and reaches 100 pounds. Our Porgies run about a pound although a 2- to 4-pounder might occasionally surprise you. You can catch the Florida species all year 'round. Summer and fall are the best times for Scup.
The Porgy is oval and looks almost like a big fresh-water Sunfish because of his high forehead. His front teeth are "incisors," which means they have sharp edges designed for cutting. When feeding, he uses them to crack small crabs, squid, clams and mollusks which are the principal items on his menu. Although his tropical cousins are brilliantly colored with shades of blue, lavender, purple and gold, the Porgy that will most frequently reach your frying pan, the Scup, doesn't look quite as much like a rainbow. His back and sides are black or dark brown, his fins brown and his belly silver. But he's just as much sport to catch and even more delicious to eat.
The Porgy is classified as a "bottom" fish, which means he prefers to search the bottom for his food. During an incoming tide he follows the rising water into the shallow bays to feed. When the tide recedes, he follows it out again. To catch him, you must fish in the path of his in-and-out migrations with the tides. Your fishing spot may be a dock which extends into a deep channel, or a small boat anchored in the channel, or a bridge that spans it. Your tackle can be anything from a drop line, which is just a length of linen line with a hook and sinker, to an elaborate rod and reel. But if you want the most angling pleasure, use a light spinning or fly rod for these small fish and the fight they'll put up won't disappoint you. The only objection you might have to this tackle is that it won't let you pull them in as fast as a drop line would since you'll have to play them. Use small hooks, about No. 7, on short monofilament leaders or snells, and attach three of them to your line with a light pyramid-shaped sinker on the end. With spinning tackle, your line should be monofilament also. With fly tackle, use a short, level monofilament leader of at least 6-pound-test. Your rod should be the glass type which is less apt to be damaged by the salt water, but in any case wash everything thoroughly in fresh water—rod, reel, line and hooks—after each use.
Bait will catch more Porgies than artificial lures, but when these fish are feeding they'll take almost anything small enough to eat. Clams are excellent, as are crabs. Break the shells and place a small piece of meat on each hook, burying the hook completely in it if possible. Sandworms and bloodworms are probably the most widely used tempters for Porgy when they can be obtained. Almost all tackle stores near good fishing docks carry a supply of various baits. Since the Porgy is a bottom feeder, your bait should be on or near the bottom. The usual method is to cast out, let your rig lie still a few minutes, then reel it in for a short distance. The moving bait helps draw the fish if they are around.
As with most fishing, the first thing you have to do is find the fish. And the more territory you can cover with your bait, the better your chances of finding them. Therefore, in Porgy fishing especially, spin-casting has the advantage. It lets you cast your bait farther and in any direction, whether you're fishing from dock or boat. Artificial lures have some appeal for Porgies, although this species usually isn't crazy about them. But all fish are curious, and the Porgy is no exception. Use the lure as an attractor! For example: 3 feet above your baited hooks, insert a large spinner on your line, about a No. 5. Make several long casts, each time retrieving the spinner and baited hooks steadily, so the spinner revolves and flashes in the water. The next time, cast and retrieve only a short way—perhaps a dozen feet—then let the rig sink to the bottom. Wait several minutes before repeating. If any fish are around, not only Porgies, they'll come to look over the strange attraction. Your bait will do the rest. And don't be surprised if you snag something big, perhaps a Fluke or even a Striper, when your spinner is flashing while you're reeling in.