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Bob Banfelder

Bob is an award-winning crime-thriller novelist and outdoors writer. "The Fishing Smart Anywhere Handbook for Salt Water & Fresh Water" is endorsed by Lefty Kreh and Angelo Peluso~online at Amazon.

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November 01, 2012

Eau de Bunker

by Bob Banfelder

From the middle of this October, right up until the moment Hurricane Sandy threatened then hit our coastline not two weeks later, our westerly North Fork bays were replete with ¾-inch peanut bunker as well as 13- to 14-inch adult bunker. You could ostensibly traverse our westerly North Fork bays upon the backs of those adults. The influx of menhaden initially seemed reminiscent of the spring bunker kill of 2008. Thankfully, it didn't come to that. Still, with the number of bunker around our area bays, Donna and I did not score as well with big blues and bass as we had in past seasons, but not for a lack of trying. We tried several methods: live-lining, chunking, sending down clam bellies well into the water column, finally plugging and tossing tins. Too much bait for those predators was listed as one of a number of excuses.

An occasional monster blue was landed, such as marine biologist Chris Paparo's 17-plus pounder, headed for the smoker. However, we were all targeting big bass. "That's why they call it fishing," was the rhetorical lament repeated when those behemoths were not cooperating.

The forewarning of news reports referencing Hurricane Sandy prompted Donna and I to haul our boat early this season. Better safe than sorry. I changed the oil and pulled our center console. As Sandy takes her leave, Donna and I will be relegated to our kayak, canoe and inflatable. Not a problem as we've caught many a prize in the late fall and even into winter with those smaller crafts. You have to, of course, dress properly. If the heavy rains do dilute the salinity and drive the bunker south, we'll go to plan B: the downstairs chest freezer is one-fourth filled with fresh frozen menhaden for any holdover blues and/or bass. As I'm putting this November 1st blog together on October 29th, a full moon in the bargain coupled with already high tides and the threat of "The Perfect Storm," we pray we don't lose electricity. Otherwise, I'd be cooking up a storm for friends and boating neighbors at our nearby marina: venison harvested during Calverton's 2012 bow and arrow season, goose breasts from last gunning season, along with this year's abundance of porgies, blowfish, sea bass, a few weakfish and several striped bass steaks—we do not freeze bluefish, although you certainly can.

Back to that malodorous bunker kill of 2008. Immediately following the onslaught seen in our area bays—that is, Reeves Bay, Flanders Bay, Great Peconic Bay, and Little Peconic Bay—I would fish while wearing a bandanna stretched across my nose. I swore that if the river still reeked in weeks to come, I might place a temporary name across the stern of my vessel: EAU DE BUNKER. Anyhow, the event prompted me to thoroughly research menhaden and compose an ode, which I'll share with you shortly after relating this experience.

I awoke early on the morning of May 1st 2008 to a sight and smell I won't soon forget. I wouldn't have needed a weighted treble hook to snag bunker. I could have scooped them up with a bucket from the shoreline. Three hours before high tide in the a.m., as far as the eye could see—east and west and across the entire area—the dorsal fins of a guesstimated tens of thousands of fish were swimming erratically in all directions. Many of the menhaden were floating or flapping upon the surface, dead or half dead, oxygen starved after the bluefish in the thirty-inch plus category had driven them upriver and corralled them in downtown Riverhead off of East Main Street. As it turned out, local experts had estimated that hundreds of thousands of bunker entered the river and its tributaries. My neighbor from up the block had nailed nine monster blues the evening before, excitedly telling me that one of those brutes stood end-to-end with several inches of its tail sticking beyond the rim of a thirty-two gallon galvanized container. The man's home is literally a stone's throw from the river; he witnessed scores of folks catching these choppers on virtually every cast.

East of Route 105 Bridge in Flanders and Great Peconic Bays, Donna and I caught several tackle busters on poppers, Kastmasters, and Deadly Dicks. Next, I wanted to give myself a challenge, and so I set up a fly rod with a serious 9-inch bunker fly that I tie. Four more beasts succumbed to that deadly pattern before I was wasted. I brought gigantic fresh fillets to friends and neighbors who truly appreciated my first significant catch of the season while we patiently awaited those coveted bass to arrive en masse.

There is no question that live bait such as bunker draw big blues and bass. Few folks realize just how important those bunker are to not only to the marine fisheries but to several other industries as well. Let's note just how important they are by way of this ode, keeping firmly in mind that I'm a novelist and an outdoors writer, not a poet.


By Robert Banfelder

Menhaden are an oily fish,
Members of the Clupeidae class,
Unquestionably a bony dish,
Alas—as table fare, I'll pass.
Monikered as bunkers,
Mossbunkers and pogies, too,
Best served up whole for choppers and lunkers,
Or ladled as chum by a crew.

Man-eating sharks shall follow,
This slick in search of a meal,
And if their stomachs prove hollow,
Shall swallow—hook, line, sinker and reel.
So, too, the old salt behind it,
Half asleep in a fish-fighting chair,
Ere the rod split, the poor soul took a fit,
E'er vanishing into thin air.

Food for thought that bunker are magnets,
Enticing all sizes that swim,
As cited, should you remain stagnant,
You could soon lose your shirt or your skin.
Melville and Mundus have stories,
Both with whales of a tale to tell,
Scribing their ghostly Great White glories,
But ‘twas bunker that raised those denizens from hell.

Landlubbers prize bunker for gardens,
As fertilizer for farmers to grow,
Producers fill bags, crates and cartons,
It's big business for those in the know.
As pet food, it's surely a winner,
Puss ‘n Boots truly will trip,
Duke and Lassie shall lunge for their dinner
Kittylina swears it's catnip.

A public stink could surely be ended,
Simply close off its nose with a clip,
And for those who still are offended,
Should try working a processing ship,
Which carries a crew and its measure,
Worth its weight in silver and gold,
Treasures for work, health, beauty and pleasure,
Forty-four byproducts all-told.

Sport drinks,
Salad dressings,
Pasta sauces
& Soup ~
& Linoleum ~
Lipsticks to continue the loop.

Widely varied, its uses are many,
First as oils for machinery and tools.
Omega 3 now at one pretty penny,
Being but one of its bright crowning jewels.
Whether of peanut-sized dimension,
Or firmly and fully mature,
Menhaden are quite the attention,
Of fishes, yes—but still to too few folks allure.

My lyric poem was inspired by Melville's Moby Dick and Mundus' Sportfishing for Sharks as well as Fifty Years a Hooker.

Either snagging or cast netting live bunker provides recreational as well as commercial fishermen the opportunity to score big.

I sincerely hope that you are all faring well after the storm.

Award-Winning Thriller Novelist, Outdoors Writer,
Creator of Unique Course/Guides,
Cablevision TV Show Host, Special Interests with Bob & Donna
President/Editor in Chief, Broadwater Books
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