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Bunker Down For Striped Bass

By Rich Johnson

Well folks, if you’ve been on the water this season then you know there’s no shortage of bunker on the South Shore. The bunker population has exploded and most of it I believe due to the fact large factory bunker boats that used to visit our waters to pull tons of bunker from the sea no longer fish in our waters. Partly due in fact to the NYSF and CCA getting the bunker bill passed in the legislature several years ago making it mandatory for these large ships to pay heavier licensing fees and to have a neutral observer on board as well. The price increase of gasoline and diesel fuel also helped because these ships all come form far away states and do not call New York home.

With this in mind, these bunker schools are also cyclical in nature to some degree and this is the year! As you may expect, many large bass and bluefish live under these bunker schools traveling the ocean feeding when the opportunity presents itself. Well in this case the opportunity is constant, although fishing for these predators may not be. These schools, sometimes a mile in length and the smaller "pods" of bunker may be the size of a football field or you may also find much smaller pods the size of your living room. Either way, fishing thee properly for success does take some getting used to and practice. On Friday Oct. 20, I scored three dozen bass between 20 and 32 pounds all in one trip fishing these schools of bunker and the same weekend three 50 and several 40 pounders were weighed in at various tackle shops and fishing stations. This is exciting action to say the least.

GETTING BAIT. Fresh bunker is key and with the amount of bunker we’re talking about should be no problem. You can snag them with a bunker snag available at your local tackle shop. This is nothing more than a large treble hook with a lead weight molded into its center. Take a light rod & reel combo, tie on a snag and toss it into the school of bunker bring the snag through the school pulling hard thus snagging a bunker. If you have a live-well, place your bunker in the well and go for more. Once you accumulate a dozen or so, it’s off to find the bass. However the best method of taking bunker is to learn to use a cast net and net your own. This causes no harm to the fish, no snag wounds or gashes and they stay a live a lot longer.

TACKLE. Tackle plays a critical part for success in this kind of fishing. The tackle needs to stout and able to handle 40 to 50-pound test line, an 8-ounce sinker and a large chunk or live bunker. I use my seven-foot Seeker rod, model number is a BA30-7. With this I use the Abu Garcia Ambassaduer 7000 reel spooled with 50-pound Berkley Whiplash, which is the new generation of super lines. Whiplash has the diameter of 10-pound test line and is super sensitive. My other outfit, the same combo rod and reel are spooled with 50-pound Berkley Big Game line. These combos have tons of backbone and can stop a truck if need be. They are glass rods, which is what I prefer in most of my fishing activities from this kind of action to surf fishing and all my bottom fishing.

RIGGING. There are two ways to fish bunker for bass and blues. The best, easiest and most productive I feel is to use a fish finder rig and bunker chunks fished right on the bottom. To your running line attach a fish finder rig and tie off with a small barrel swivel. Ahead of the barrel swivel is 24 to 30 inches of 50-pound test mono or leader material. I now use Daiichi hooks, the sharpest I have ever used and they never need re-sharpening. Use the model D18Z, which is an offset hook in sizes 6/0 through 8/0. Use a clinch knot or snell your Daiichi hook to your leader. You can use this rig to fish bait in chunks or fish your bunker live. Either way produces big fish and while the chunk method usually catches much higher numbers of fish, the live lining method of live bunker is sure fire way to catch the big, bruising linesiders. I used the chunking method to catch those three dozen bass of 20 to 32 pounds with my friend Patrick, while Mark Keller at the Bay Park Fishing Station in Oceanside used live bunker to catch five fish from 28 to 43 pounds.

FISHING THE SCHOOL. Each large or small pod of bunker, is different in nature and there are few things to look for. On calm days it is easy to locate bunker as they mosey along at the surface showing themselves easily. If the water is rougher, it is much tougher to spot bunker but it can be down. Look for dark patches or an oily smooth surface area within the rough ocean. This is a dead giveaway as to their location and you will see their tail flipping in between the whitecaps on the sea. You can also look for brown patches in the water. These brown patches are either bunker excrement or in shallow water they could be swirling up sand off the bottom or it could be bunker oil from the tightly packed school.

Once you find your school of bunker, approach them from the uptide side and drift through them with the engine OFF! This is the most common mistake I notice on the water is running through them, backing down on them or drifting through them with your engine running. Bunker are very sensitive and will "sound" or dive upon too much commotion.


Copyright May 6, 1995-2020 The Fishing Line

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