Fishing Tips


Posted 6/26/2009

Imaging fishing with live bait bigger than most of the fish you catch. Get ready to catch some really big striped bass with this technique.

There are few moments in saltwater fishing that can match the sight of a big striped bass smashing a live menhaden on the surface! The pursuit, as the one-pound baitfish rushes madly to out maneuver the predator. The contest, as the big bass slashes and misses in an attempt to subdue its prey. The inevitable outcome as the striper's huge maw engulfs the hapless herring and rushes off with its reward. The excitement is enough to unnerve even seasoned anglers.

The angler's job is to let the bass run with the bait for a short count, put the reel in gear, let the line come tight so the circle hook will wrap around the striper's jaw and then enjoy the exhilaration of the first great run as your quarry attempts to make good an escape! There is nothing more exciting in fishing than a surface pursuit like this and it is common when live lining menhaden, also known as bunker or pogies. If you want to get in on the fun, now is the time from the Mid Atlantic states north through New England.

You don't need a lot of specialized gear and as techniques go this is probably the easiest one you'll ever learn. Just keep one thing in mind. You will have the opportunity to catch very large stripers and they are all females, the future of the stocks, and should be treated with respect. Try to keep only the smallest fish if you plan on taking one home to eat, and release the rest. Use only circle hooks so the fish will be hooked around the jaw area and easy to release. Using a Dehooker to remove the hooks without taking the fish out of the water is a definite plus for fish survival.

Catching live bait is the first step and there are two ways to do it. If you have a castnet designed for menhaden and know how to use it you're way ahead of the game. If not, you'll need weighted snag hooks and a moderately heavy spinning outfit to fill the live well. When you locate a school of menhaden, which is usually not too hard, they tend to move slowly with their tails slapping the surface, use your net or start snagging them. Do not overfill the live well, no more than one bunker per gallon of water if you want to keep them alive and frisky.

A typical live lining rig consists of a three-way swivel tied to your line with a 30" long leader of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to a 9/0 or 10/0 circle hook. Attach a large coast lock snap to the last loop on the three-way so if you need to use a sinker you can simply clip one on without having to re-rig.

While you're catching bait watch your depth finder for marks that could be large stripers trailing the school. Also watch the bait school to see if they are nervous or are being pushed by feeding bass. If a striper rushes the school the bunker nearest the attack with splash loudly or even jump out of the water. These are signs that there are stripers charging the baitfish and you should start your fishing right there.

There are several ways to hook a live menhaden. The most basic is to run the hook through the nostrils on the front of the head, which will allow the bait to swim relatively freely and if the boat is drifting you can keep pressure on it so that it swims along in the same direction easily. Another method is to hook the baitfish in the underside of the tail just behind the belly area. This method will allow the bait to swim along with the school, but when you put your finger on the spool to prevent it from going any further it will struggle against the line sending out vibrations very different from the rest of the baitfish nearby. The key to getting a hungry striper to hit your bait out of a school that could have several thousand others in it is to make it stand out and this method does the trick rather well.

The last method is to hook the bait in either area, but add a four or five ounce bank sinker to the clip on the three-way swivel. Frequently stripers will stay below a school of menhaden, even close to the bottom in water as deep as 50 to 60 feet. Getting a baitfish down can coax a bite out of a bass that is already full simply because it is an easy mark. Many of the largest stripers caught while live lining have been taken with weighted baits near the bottom. If you have any baitfish die put them on a weighted rig, toss them out and let them lay on the bottom. The biggest bass are often the laziest and will not hesitate to play the roll of scavenger scooping up dead bunker that other bass have injured or killed, but not eaten.

If there are no bass around the schools of bait fill your live well and go hunting. Areas of structure a mile or two off the beach, well away from the bait pods, are commonly used as resting areas between feeding periods by large bass. Check some out and if you encounter bass marks on the depth finder, drop a bait. Chances are they will take advantage of your generosity. Why swim back inshore to chase live bait when there are a few "stragglers" out here, even though those stragglers are on the hook on the end of your line?

Live lining with bunker is a deadly method for catching big striped bass. Just remember that catch and release is the way to go to protect the health of the stocks for the future.