The Sea Bass is familiar to salt-water anglers of our Atlantic and Pacific Coasts—and, as a matter of fact, to anglers of almost every coast because his family of more than 400 species roams the tropical and temperate waters of the world. He grows the largest in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific where, known as the Giant Black Sea Bass, he's been netted at weights up to 1,000 pounds. Two of his family every angler will recognize are the Striped Bass and the White Perch. Along the Atlantic from Maine to Florida there is a variety known simply as Sea Bass—no giant, but a favorite of dock and inshore anglers. They like the greedy way he goes after a bait. The only thing they don't like about him is the place he chooses to call "home"—it's usually the rockiest hole in the ocean, just the spot for snagging hooks and lures and losing them. Whenever an angler hauls in one of these fighters, however, he seldom realizes what a fantastic little fish is flopping at the end of his line. This Sea Bass is one of the world's few creatures that can change its sex! It spends part of its life as a mother and part as a father. Researchers were amazed to learn that many Sea Bass function as egg-producing females until they are about 5 years of age, after which they become normally functioning males for the balance of their lives (about another 15 years).
The Sea Bass of the Atlantic is a chunky fish with large eyes and mouth, and is distinguished by a flat tail which is square on top and curved on bottom, a sort of half-round shape. He (or she) has a checked appearance due to a network of black lines across his back and sides, and this is emphasized by a white spot on each scale. His background color is usually a dark green-gray or blue-gray. Weight averages between one and 2 pounds; 4-pounders are rare. The world record is 8 pounds. The rod-and-reel record for the Giant Black Sea Bass in the Pacific is 514 pounds. For the Gulf of Mexico it's even larger: 551 pounds. But this fish also comes in not-so-giant sizes. A Pacific angler can spend many a busy afternoon pulling in the one-pound youngsters which feed in the shore waters. They show an interesting color difference, however. When fully grown the species is a dark brown-black with occasional light spots beneath chin and tail. But the angler's small Bass looks different enough to be another fish; its "baby" color is red with black spots!
Giant Sea Bass take no prizes for scrappiness on tackle. They're lumbering fighters that soon tire themselves by their own weight. But the small Bass of both coasts will put on a good show if you give him half a chance, which means catching him on a fly rod or light spinning rod. He's around from May till October but the hot days of July and August are best because then you'll find him feeding inshore. For the 2- to 3-pounders, you'll have to fish the deep rocky holes or a sunken wreck. And you might have to use a heavier rod, line and leader because the first thing a Sea Bass does when he feels the hook is streak for his lair, and if you can't stop him before he reaches it he'll break off among the snags. The smaller fish, however, come into the rocky shores, breakwaters, jetties and piers. They like to feed on the barnacles that cover the pilings. Half-pounders will gather by the thousands under a pier where fishing boats come in, waiting for the entrails of the day's catch when it is cleaned and tossed overboard. And here a fly-tackle angler can have as much sport as he can handle. Use a single small No. 1 hook on a 6-pound-test leader—not two hooks because two Sea Bass at one time are too much for fly tackle. Any bait will do. Even artificial flies will work when the Bass are in a feeding frenzy.
For the larger fish found off jetties and long, deserted docks and in deep rocky holes, Bass anglers consider bait the best taker. They use the meat of shrimp, crabs, clams or squid, and also sandworms or bloodworms. And they lose a lot of tackle when they fish for these bottom-feeding fish with a regular bottom-fishing rig, such as several hooks with a heavy sinker on the end, because the sinker often becomes wedged in the rocks. Usually they tie the sinker to the line with a weak leader so it will break free more easily, without taking the hooks with it, when it must be sacrificed. Sea Bass will take spinning lures, but the difficulty here is keeping the lure at the right depth—the top level of the rocks. If it's too high, the Bass won't touch it; too low, and you'll snag it among the rocks.
An almost sure thing for Sea Bass was shown to me some years ago and it hasn't failed me often. Tie a spinning lure (preferably one with red, white or yellow feathers) to the end of the line, and about 3 feet above it on 3 feet of weak leader tie a "dipsey" sinker (a shape least likely to snag). On the retrieve after casting, let this combination sink until you can feel the sinker bouncing across the rocks; the spinning lure then will be working at just the right distance above them. Should the sinker snag, break it off by pulling the line hard; you still have your lure! Tie on another sinker. Cast carefully because sometimes the lure and sinker will tangle in the air during the cast, then on the retrieve the lure won't trail above and behind the sinker the way it should. Work this rig right and it'll get 'em every time!