As I sit and type, my thoughts are almost exclusively of the opening day of Black Sea Bass. In New Jersey, this Sea Bass season is one of heated contention. It seems that a shift in fisheries management in this region has neighboring states like NY fighting for quota, and anglers and captains in NJ screaming about seasons and limit. It is quite a mess, and with good reason! According to the fishery managers themselves, the species is 240% rebuilt! But all politics aside, opening day is here. Am I exited? You bet I am!
Black Sea Bass are the epitome of biological excellence. In the biological world, there is a basic tenant of “Form Follows Function”. All this means is that nature will waste nothing, and if an organism looks the way it does, or acts the way it does, it is because it is perfect for that function. Otherwise it would not exist! These fish are perfect examples of this rule. First, this species is what marine scientists call sequential hermaphrodites. All that really means is that all the sea bass are born with both male and female gonads, with only the female sex organ functioning at first. After three to four years, their female parts go dormant, and their male gonads become active. It is pretty wild in and of itself, but what function is this form? As a rule, a female is usually the most fertile and the most productive during their early sexually mature years. So, it makes perfect sense to have ALL the species start out breeding. After that 3-4 year mark, the males become large with big blues humps on their heads, and extremely territorial, vigorously defending their piece of structure, and their harems of younger females. Since a male can fertilize millions of eggs from many females per season it makes perfect biological reproductive sense, and probably explain why there are 240% rebuilt, and why we wait anxiously for opening day!
Opening day of seabass is not for the sport of it all. They don’t jump like marlin, they don’t fight like Stripers, and they don’t pull drag like a tuna, but what they lack in these departments they more than make up in flavor. Few fish taste as good as a freshly fried sea bass fillet. So, the goal is to box as many as we can legally can. Now make no mistake, they don’t just come to surface for the taking, they do hold their own in the ring, but the goal is to hook ‘em to cook ‘em, which is why opening day is such a special day. These fish have been untouched since the season closure on December 31st. That’s right, these fish have had 4 and ½ months to grow, fatten up and repopulate wrecks and reefs, sparking angler’s visions of teeming schools of 5-pound fish on every wreck and reef off on the NJ coast, all waiting for the proverbial starting gun to sound. My crew and I have been prepping my boat, the “Salty Lady” for battle. On my boat, my clients use the BV-300 exclusively to tackle these fish (the BV-300, another perfect example of “Form following Function”). The rigs are tied, the bait ordered, and we are ready as we are going to be. Now if we could just speed up time and go get those boys! (see what I did there?)
By Darren Dorris
Captain Darren Dorris has been fishing /mating and working NJ waters for over 30 years. From Raritan Bay all the way to Cape May. He is a prolific outdoor writer and photographer whose work has been published in Saltwater Sportsman, Field and Stream, On the Water, and many others, in addition to a popular seminar host. But Capt. Darren is most remembered as the former salt water editor of the NJ Angler Magazine, and perhaps the most visible as the former Co-Host of the award winning NJ Angler Video Magazine.
While fishing is his passion, so is teaching. A Marine Science teacher for over 20 years, a day out on the Salty Lady is a learning experience for sure.