by Capt Vinnie
As one progresses in their fishing career, people being the competitors that we are often set goals for ourselves. Coinciding with obtaining these goals anglers try and learn all aspects of their craft. I think it was Julius Cesar who said he who masters his opponent conquers him. That being said I'll begin to discuss some of my methods for fishing live baits and future articles will elaborate on gear in depth.
Striped bass we can usually agree is one of the most heralded inshore game fish that is recognized in our area. Jamaica bay, Raritan, Great Kills as well as points east and south all have spring runs of "big fish", which excites us all.
Big fish in my opinion like big baits and our success is often governed by bait movement a key factor throughout the seasons.
As of this writing off the moon bait that was anemic for the month of April has begun to appear in the usual areas of Jamaica Bay. Much of the bait movement has been governed by the predominant winds easterlies and cooler air and water temperatures. Despite these unseasonable conditions Mother Nature answers to a different call, day light period, precipitation, lunar phases all and more combine to make a phonological calendar, uh? Well stop scheduling your season with dates and let the surroundings clue you in. For example when forsythia bloom you know the yellow multi canned shrubs we see along the highways, they bloom generally when the soil is fifty-five degrees, which coincidently is a decent temperature for bait and subsequently striper movement. Now being aware of what's going on makes one begin to see patterns in an overall ecological sense, and in turn makes one sharper.
Enter the bunker: Bunker as any seasoned angler will tell you is a great striper bait, it has everything you want in a bait scent, skin slime and they ball up in schools that with their tell tale slaps are the basses equivalent to a dinner bell.
Tide especially in JBay plays a big role in technique and I'll explain why, previously it was noted that Jamaica Bay doesn't have the strongest of tidal flow especially in the back bay. Therefore you have to adjust; light lines, light leads, and light gear will outperform the meat sticks day in and day out.
Bunker also have the added bonus in that they are free, they can be snagged or cast netted and fished live, whole dead, chunked and each has it's own merit under different conditions.
Okay so let's get into the conditions and presentation.
Big bass like structure it breaks the tide, disrupts water movement, creates eddies where they can glide effortlessly and attracts bait. Tide or water movement is key to presentation, usually when the tide hooks up and runs hard the fish like to be down deep where breaks in the tide are provided by the different bottom geography, ledges, wrecks, bars, cuts and so on. As you watch your sonar you'll see the bass many times stacked like cord wood in and around these structures. Then as the tide breaks the fish will become loose and be seen throughout the water column and sometimes tend to wander into the shallows or skinny water often cruising the shoreline ambushing bait along the shallows. Therefore you need to experiment and adjust your presentation fine tuning the details till you click in on what works for that particular stage of the tide and day. Early in the year the fish are finicky especially with colder water temperatures, they'll hit a bait for a variety of reasons curiosity, aggression, hunger and countless things we know little about. The keyword here is finicky so if the bass ever so lightly tap a bait you need to fish soft. Light lines, sensitive sticks and a knack for reading the telegraphing signals the bunker relays to you. Usually we prefer a slide or fish finder early in the year it gives you he ability to drop the bait back and stay with the lazy fish longer. Then as the tide diminishes we may go to a drail, egg sinker or flat line. If you have a crew experiment and set each with a different pattern. I like a long leader and I'll tell you why it provides a free bait movement and dulls response time meaning often with a soft hit you'll pull the trigger and miss the fish but the loner leader will allow the fish to inhale the bait more. Now as the fish become more abundant and feed more competitively I'll adjust and go to a three way set up this keeps the bait in the zone more and look very natural with the bunker swimming parallel to the bottom.
Early in the tear bait is lean, and it's a good idea to stick with the schools snagging and working the them. It can be a killer approach because it makes sense the fish at least the bigger ones tend to stay with this floating feedbag. Next up fishing the various structures of the bay.