Drifting scup for striped bass
With the ban on using live herring for bait and the unpredictability of menhaden in Northeast waters, many anglers have turned to using live scup (porgys) for bait. These ubiquitous little bait stealers are irresistible to stripers, especially big bass that are always on the lookout for a big meal. Fishing live scup is not complicated and the most difficult part may be catching legal size ones for bait. Be sure to check with the latest regulations for the waters you intend to fish with live scup.
One of the most popular methods for fishing scup is with a 3-way rig (see the article on this site for an overview of using this rig). This allows the bait to be presented in deep water and at the same time lets the scup swim in a natural manner.
If possible, catch at least a dozen or so scup for bait. They are quite hardy but are also very desirable to bluefish, which can destroy your bait supply in short order. Keep the scup in a live well with circulating water for best results and be sure to have a small net handy to avoid having to grab a swimming scup and being stabbed by its sharp dorsal fin.
That dorsal fin is clipped by some anglers, the idea being that this makes it easier for a striper to swallow the bait. Some anglers also snip the tail a bit or one of the side fins to make the scup swim in a manner that says: Come eat me, I’m wounded! Others feel that the most natural swimming action is best and do not alter the bait in any way beyond inserting the hook.
There are a couple generally accepted ways to hook up a scup. Some fishermen use a standard wide-gap bait hook in sizes 5/0 – 8/0, hooking the bait in the mouth and out one nostril. Others use a circle hook such as the Hogy Soft Circle in size 4/0 – 7/0 with the circle rigged up through the lower jaw of the scup and out the mouth. In all cases be sure not to drive the hook through both the lower and upper jaw, which will keep the bait from breathing.
Scup can also be cast into shallower water using the same rigging techniques. This requires careful observations to be sure the bait doesn’t swim down and hide among rocks. You can even use dead scup to cast and (slowly!) retrieve when fishing in shallow water. Be sure to “lob” the bait to avoid having the hook tear out. Let a striper swim with the bait for a few seconds before setting the hook (with a standard bait hook) or tightening up with a circle hook.