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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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June 01, 2012

Fluke Lure, Lore and Technique

by Bob Banfelder

For some of the best fluking along the North Fork from May to September, set your sights on the Southold Bay area. The Green Lawns (literally two huge lawns not indicated on the charts) mark a hot location on the west side of Shelter Island in Southold Bay. Many of us know the area. A good many of us know the standard baits to employ for good results. Far too few fishing folks seeking serious-sized flatties are aware of the lure and bait combination with which to rig so as to give you the added edge.

Donna and I learned this so-called secret one Fourth of July weekend while fishing aboard an acquaintance's vessel. The space that Donna occupied from sun to sun, with an occasional break from hauling in fluke after keeper fluke, was at the stern of the captain's Baha Cruiser. Donna found her own little corner off to starboard across the eleven-and-a-half foot beam and was having the time of her life, learning, for the first time, how to really nail big fluke. It wasn't her first time fluke fishing, mind you. Nor was it mine. However, what we learned that day proved invaluable. The occasional luck we had was gradually being transformed into lore. Donna was pulling in flatties hand over fist, mastering the art under the tutelage of our patient, personable and knowledgeable captain.

Both Donna and I were sworn to secrecy. Secrecy as to the so-called secret weapons we employed. Secrecy as to how the rig was fashioned. Secrecy with regard to technique. And especially secrecy with respect to the spots we fished. Donna and I take secrets very seriously. We can be trusted. We'll take those confidences that are entrusted to us to the grave. We have a few fishing secrets of our own.

Occasionally, we share a secret. Our very own. Case in point. During last month's blog, I wrote about upping your score for striped bass by way of tying mantis shrimp imitations. This month I'll share how to catch fluke ranging from respectable keepers to doormats if you'll employ lore, lure and bait that may not be familiar to you.

So, why am I about to reveal such clandestine information for annihilating fluke, especially after both Donna and I were sworn to keep those secrets under wraps? Apart from the captain's sacred fishing ground, I can openly divulge this furtive matter for two reasons:

One reason is that as a past member of the board of directors for the New York Sportfishing Federation, Donna and I had attended seminars on fluke fishing at our annual forum at the Freeport Recreation Center on Long Island. During one particular seminar, presented by two brothers, Pete and Tom Mikoleski, both highly respected Montauk charter boat captains, Donna and I learned that our own captain's so-called secret rig and technique for fishing was no secret any longer. The second and most important reason as to why I'm imparting this invaluable information is that I have the captain's permission to do so.

Although it's no longer a secret, few fluke fishermen I've come to know utilize this deadly lure, bait and technique, limiting themselves to the more traditional approach of using a squid and spearing combination.

For openers, part of the magic lies with Steve Sekora's Glow-Squid Lure, a green glow bead fixed above it. Purchase a few packages from your local tackle store then go home and fashion your own according to specific requirements. We'll cover that momentarily. You'll find the bodies and beads you'll need sold separately in most well-stocked tackle shops. Be sure that both the lures and beads are the fluorescent type. In lieu of monofilament, pick up a spool of fluorocarbon for tying the rig. The line offers the advantage of virtual invisibility within the water column, so whether you're fishing in crystal clear conditions, the suds, or murky waters, you're covered.

The nice part about rigging your own terminal tackle is that you get to select what you wish, such as the type of hook. There are many on the market. Gamakatsu in Octopus-Red in #1 to 2/0 is a favorite of mine, along with Owner, Mustad or Eagle Claw.

Besides bringing a boatload of confidence aboard, knowing what bait to take along is of paramount importance, too. Take the squid along; leave the spearing in the freezer at home. More on bait, too, in a moment. Your new presentation will be deadly when rigged properly. Just how deadly? Let's examine one scenario that occurred on that July 4th weekend:

Plying their local trade along the waters off Moriches, several veteran charter boat captains who our own captain knows personally and spoke with in code via VHF radio during the course of the day, as well as immediately afterward—all having fished the same waters as our captain, Donna and me—were nowhere near as productive as the three of us. Whereas we had caught and released scores of fat nineteen- to twenty-four- inch fluke, the other boats were averaging two and three keepers—not per man—per boat. Not one customer in their parties was rigged with the secrets of success.

One of your best baits for fluke is, of course, fresh squid, if you can get it. Not unlike us humans, those flatfish love fresh calamari—hold the sauce. Live mummichogs (killies) is to be your second hat trick. Coupled with the squid and the Glow Squid combination, you are in for a surprise. For fresh killies instead of frozen spearing, a killie trap is the ticket. Set one overboard from your boat or dockside with the head, tail or remains of any fish you've cleaned. If killies are in the area, you'll have enough for a day's outing within minutes. Hook on a half-inch wide by approximately four-inch long strip of squid (pennant shaped but not pointed at its end). Cut the strip three-quarters of the way up the middle in order to create a nice undulating action in the water column. When threading the strip, avoid creating a crease near the top of the flesh. Nice and flat for that flatfish, I remind myself. Hook the live mummichog through the eye and out its mouth.

In setting up your terminal tackle, you don't need barrel swivels, three-way swivels, or fancy hi-lo spinner rigs with a multitude of beads. A single hook with a single fluorescent bead will suffice. However, I do prefer a bead above and below the Glow Squid: one on the bottom to prevent the lure from working itself down along the shank of the hook, thereby thwarting the skirt from fluttering freely. The other is placed atop the artificial, serving as an attractor.

A forty-inch length of 20- to 30-pound test fluorocarbon leader with a single or double knotted surgeon's loop on one end and a large dropper loop to accommodate sizable sinkers tied just above middle will work well. When you've finished snelling, looping and knotting the rig, approximately four inches will have been taken up, leaving you with a perfect three-foot leader. Snell a #1 to 2/0 fluke hook utilizing a Uni-knot, or use an expeditious Palomar knot, and you're good to go.

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