Current Waters: In Praise Of Scup

Capt. Carl Bois •

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The striped bass fishing is still incredibly good. If you like striper fishing you have no excuse. We’re still looking forward to that big batch of bluefish to show up. They have been caught but they haven’t been reliably repeatable.

The tuna bite has its good days and bad days right now. They haven’t settled into a pattern that is easily repeatable. Hopefully, with some stable weather patterns along with slower tides, I would expect it to take shape. If I had to guess, I think it will be multiple areas, not just one tuna spot, which is great because it will spread people out.

Honorable mention this week goes to Nantucket sharks. Several have been reported from Great Point recently. Really, they’ve been around a while now, but there are more eyes on the water so they’re being noticed. The expected sharks to have around Great Point and near shore are great whites, dusky sharks, sandbar, and brown sharks among others (that’s in no particular order with the great whites actually being less often seen). You can read more details about these sharks and Nantucket-based research on them from a previous article.

As a charter captain and longtime fisherman, I often talk about the big game fish: the species like bluefin tuna which keep things interesting for me – the thrill of the hunt. With other sport fish too - striped bass for example - we tend to talk about them a lot because that’s what so many people are interested in when they cast a line in the water. However, there are lots of other fish in the sea, as they say.

I am reminded of that this time of year when many of those booking charters are families on vacation together. They often come with varying levels of experience fishing and usually we have a few who have never fished before – kids as well as adults. It’s pretty awesome to be able to get people on their first fish.

And for most first-timers, any fish on the line is exciting. Feeling that tug, reeling in a fighting fish, and then landing it on the boat – well, there’s nothing like it.

Keep in mind, if you’re not the one fishing (parent, boat captain, friend), your reaction to the catch can make a big difference in how a new angler (kid or adult) feels about their own catch. I’ve seen a kid change from excited to bummed out when a well-meaning adult on the boat says, “Oh well, it’s just a scup (or some other by-catch). You’ll catch a striper next time.”

When my own son, Charlie, was about to turn five, he wasn’t new to fishing, but newer to Nantucket waters and the ocean. For his fifth birthday inOctober, his only request was to go fishing. We hopped in my old boat and headed out just past the jetties. We’d been fishing for a bit when he felt the tug on his line and the fish pulled it a bit. He looked at us on the boat and gasped, “I got one, I got one!” He slowly reeled in as the fish put up a little fight. He had caught three scup on the one drop (there were three small hooks on the rig). The pure joy on his face; how proud and surprised he was when he landed the fish; well, that’s hard to match. We worked together to take them off the hooks and put the keepers in a bucket. We got a few more that afternoon and we talked to Charlie about the fried fish dinner we’d make with his catch – providing for his own birthday dinner. We could see Charlie turning this over in his head. It suddenly clicked that we were going to eat these fish. Charlie made the connection between where his food was coming from and he had to process that. He then decided that a few had to go back to the ocean. None of us knew what his criteria were, but we respected his decision to keep a few and release a few. We sure did have a great fish fry that night; scup are delicious.

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Charlie Bois with a scup back in the day.

Scup is what is also commonly called a porgy. They are relatively small fish growing up to 18 inches. They are a great introductory fish. They can be found in the harbor and out near structures around docks or on the bottom. To fish, we typically jig for them with small lures or hooks with a little bait. A typical rig has a few small hooks on one rig. Any of our local tackle shops will have the basic setup. Scup are fun on the line since they're energetic fighters and they taste pretty good too! Charlie, now 14, still remembers that birthday trip and his scup success.

Another species that’s a hit with kids are dogfish. Dogfish are small, bottom-dwelling sharks. What kid doesn’t want to get up close to a real shark?! For me, let’s just say that one man’s treasure is another man’s tangled line. They can be sort of a nuisance to us when we’re targeting other species, usually the bottom fish like black seabass or fluke. But they do make it exciting, especially with kids on board. They can put up a good fight on the line and be cool to see up close. You don’t have to worry about their teeth, but their tail can whip and be a pain to deal with – it’s how they can tangle up line pretty good. I’ve never eaten them, but there is a fishery for them and they are said to make great fish and chips.

Another bottom feeder we typically dismiss, but that’s actually pretty cool is the sea robin (aka gurnard). We usually toss them back as strange-looking bycatch, but bringing them on board when there are new anglers you can see how interesting they are. Sea robin are sort of prehistoric looking with wing-like pectoral fins and leg-like feelers that make them look like they’re walking on the sea floor. When you bring them to the surface, they sometimes croak or grunt which has something to do with their swim bladder. People do sometimes eat them, but I think they have relatively little meat for the size of fish. Apparently they are delicious! Rather than target them, you’ll probably catch sea robins when you’re going for something else. For example, you are very likely to catch a sea robin around schools of scup and black sea bass.

Remember to check the fishing regulations for size and catch limits for each species. Anyway, this was my reminder not to take any of our fish for granted especially with new anglers.

Current Waters is presented by Topspin: 

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