Scup, or as they are usually called, a porgy, are a fun fish to catch and bring home for dinner.
Commercial and recreational fishermen have been told for what feels like generations that this fish is boney and doesn’t make for good table fare. However, if you have had a chance to fillet one, you’ll see that they don’t have a crazy amount of bones that would make them not good to eat.
It’s not uncommon if you’re up in Rhode Island going after striped bass to be able to catch a for scup on the side for a quick catch and cook.
With that being said, let’s figure out the best way to catch some good size ones for you to bring home!
Recommended Fishing Gear:
- Fishing Rod: Ugly Stik Elite
- Fishing Reel: Penn Battle III
- Fishing Bait: Berkley Gulp! Alive Waxies + 1/0 Hooks
Also known as porgy, scup is known for its fine flavor and the intense way it goes for the bait. A lean and tall fish, it is silvery in color and has light blue specks as well as horizontal stripes. They occur primarily in the Atlantic from Massachusetts to South Carolina. Scup can live up to 14 years and can grow as large as 18 inches.
Scup is a benthic feeder that consumes small crustaceans, worms, small squid, insect larvae, sand dollars, zooplankton, and smaller fish. It is often used as live bait for targeting larger scup, but it is usually caught to be eaten because of its delicious flesh. It is often called panfish because of its light flavor.
When it comes to the scup spawn, they do so along the inner continental shelf. Once the eggs hatch, the scup spawn tends to move to inshore waters along the coast. They are relatively quick to mature and only take two to three years to reach maturity.
If you’re going to try and catch them from shore, you’ll need to wait for the water temperatures to warm up, as that’s when they migrate nearer to the coast.
Scup is related to the sheepshead, which we’ve covered in-depth in another guide. Back in 1929, scup was one of the most abundant fish. The most common predators of scup are black sea bass, striped bass, and bluefish.
|Scientific Name||Stenotomus chrysops|
|Identifying Characteristics||A lean and tall fish, it is silvery in color and has light blue specks as well as horizontal stripes. Most scup caught by commercial and recreational fishermen are less than 10 inches.|
|Depth Range||0 to 200 m|
|Habitat||Occurs primarily in the Atlantic from Massachusetts to South Carolina|
|Limits||Check your local regulations|
|Largest Recorded||4 lbs 9oz|
|Predators||Striped bass, bluefish, black sea bass, and other larger fish|
Where to Catch
Adult scup lives in areas that have smooth and rocky bottoms around piers, rocks, mussel beds, offshore ledges, and jetties. Smaller ones can be found in shallow waters, and both move into harbors and along sandy beaches during high tides and to deeper channels during low tide.
However, due to overfishing and habitat loss, the fish has reached dangerously low numbers and may be more difficult to find now.
How to Catch Scup
Scup or porgy fishing can be tricky, but with the right gear, you can fish for them more efficiently. A simple 6 to 7 ft-long lightweight rod will do. A lot of bait and a ton of smelly chum will attract the fish in droves near your boat. The fishing rod should be flexible enough to ensure that the scup doesn’t tear out its lips and you can feel light bites at the same time.
Since scup is a bottom feeder, use a reel that can hold enough lines to reach the bottom of the body of water you are fishing in. Plus, use a 14 to 20-lb fused line since these are resistant to abrasions and will not knot in the wind easily. A fluorocarbon leader that is at least 4 ft long and can withstand 30 lbs in weight will also make a great addition to your porgy fishing gear.
Best Porgy Rig
The easiest way to catch porgy is with a dropper loop, a single hook, and just enough weight to get your rig to the bottom without the current taking it.
Tip your hook with either a Berkley Gulp! Waxie or some live or cut bait, and you should be getting bites if you’re over a porgy hotspot.
Since they aren’t heavy fish and only get to an average of a few pounds, they can be caught on lighter tackle. Therefore, you can use whichever saltwater rod and reel you feel comfortable with. If you want a more sensitive bite detection, throw on some braided fishing line. Otherwise, you’ll be fine using some monofilament. If you’re a beginner, we always recommend that you start with mono just because it tends to be easier since braid can be finicky. We’d rather see you fish!
- Hit the kayak and head out so some natural structures like mussel beds. That’s where they tend to hang out.
- The best bait for porgy or scup includes squid strips, sea worms, and pieces of clams or fish.
- Once you’re on the boat, jig bait slowly up and down off the bottom.
- If you’re going shore fishing, let the bait sink to the bottom after you cast out.
- Even though scup takes bait aggressively, they are notoriously difficult to hook. To increase your chances, set the hook as soon as the rod tip dips a bit. If you don’t want your bait stolen, drop the hook in a school of feeding scup, wait a few seconds, and then set it.
- Fish for scup from the middle of a bay or sound. Scup moves with the tide and can be found over rocky bottoms looking for food, so they will often gather in deeper waters in the middle of bays and sounds.
Scup is abundant in areas where the water temperature is just right for them. Typically, you won’t find the porgy in water that is under 45° but you can find them in waters that are about 55° to 77°. Scup migrates inshore waters during spring and summer and offshore waters to the south during fall and winter.
How to Clean
When it comes to cleaning a scup, you’ll approach it like any other fish. The only added step to making your life easier is that once you’ve filleted the scup, you’ll cut out the bones in the center of the fillet before cooking it.
- Place the scup on a clean cutting surface with the head facing to the right.
- Make a cut along the belly from the head down to the anal fin.
- Open the cavity and pull out the guts with your hand and discard them. Then rinse the empty cavity out thoroughly under running water.
- Cut off the pectoral fins of the scup with sharp kitchen shears along the sides of the fish and use a scaler to remove the scales using short strokes.
- Remove the head by cutting behind the gills. Then place the tip of the knife above the spin and slide the blade sideways through the bottom and all the way to the tail, making sure the knife remains parallel to the spine.
- Peel the flesh open as it detaches from the body while you are cutting. Remove the fillet by making small cuts through the connecting tissue at the base and set it to one side.
- Flip the scup and repeat the process to get the second fillet.
How to Cook
For scup, treat them like you would any other panfish. They have delicious white meat that can be fried, grilled, smoked, or whichever method you prefer. To improve the porgy fish taste, you can cut out the blood meat to remove some of the fishy taste, but overall, they are great if you’re looking to make a small meal.
- Place a handful of cornmeal in a plastic baggie and place the scup into it. Shake to coat it evenly.
- Heat oil in a skillet and place the coated scup in it after shaking off excess cornmeal.
- Adjust the heat so the scup can cook evenly without burning.
- Flip when the edges turn brown and crispy.
- Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more before placing the scup on a paper towel to dry.
- Pour some butter or margarine on the scup immediately so it can melt and go into the flesh.
- Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and some lemon juice, and serve.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. Treat them like any other panfish you catch. They can be fried, grilled, smoke, and more.
Cook them like any other panfish you catch. They can be fried, grilled, smoke, and more.
Porgy such as scup have white and tender meat that has large flakes and is mild/sweet in flavor. It has often been compared with snapper for its taste.
Even though scup doesn’t spoil as quickly as other fish, the meat can degrade in taste with time. Prevent that from happening by cleaning and icing your catch immediately.
There are over 15 species of porgy available in the Atlantic.
Yes. A scup is often called a Porgy, which it’s a member of that family.
Scup may not look intimidating, but it can be difficult to catch if you tend to set the hook fast. Practice patience, and you will come home with a large catch.
With that being said, scup is one of the easier fish to catch as long as they’re around. Whether you’re in New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, or up and down the East Coast, they are worth going after. Take a break from catching all of that striped bass and give scup a shot.
Drop some bait down and you’re sure to lock up on one.
The scup fishery seems to be in good standing, so you shouldn’t be afraid to take a few homes to the family. They are said to be in high populations around Massachusetts and other parts of New England.
Unfortunately, it’s not as clear how the scup fishery population is doing down in the South Atlantic. Hopefully, more research dollars can go towards improving our understanding of the scup fishery down there.