Spring brings bounty of bait and better fishing

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It looks like it is going to be another great year for bunker on the East End—which means it is going to be a great year for fishermen.

After an absolutely amazing showing of adult and baby bunker in just about every local bay and estuary last year, this year is already shaping up nicely from the looks of things. I did a little running around this past week and found mammoth schools, acres of them, in Shinnecock, Moriches, and the Peconic bays as well as around Shelter Island. These are mostly the big adult bunker here at this time of year, fish that are 3 years old or older and in full spawning mode. Last year’s brood, now about 6 inches long, and the bigger peanuts (or “walnuts” as a friend once brilliantly referred to them) probably won’t show for another month or so.

We’re lucky, it seems, or at least lucky right now. Down in the Chesapeake Bay region, where the fish oil companies are still pounding bunker stocks, the oily little buggers aren’t doing so hot. We’ve been blessed since the giant bunker boats moved out of Long Island Sound because most of it—all of Connecticut’s waters—is closed to reduction harvest now. Our bounty may not last since all baitfish stocks go through cyclical ups and downs, but we’ll welcome the blessing of bountiful bunker while we’ve got ’em, right? Even if you’re not live-lining them, fresh bunker chunks are always better than frozen and just working around bunker schools is a good bet.

In other fresh bait news, the draggers working squid were about 2 miles off this week—though there aren’t many boats leaving the dock with gas prices so high. Another couple weeks and the loligos should start showing in the bays. (I discovered a recipe for jalapeno-and-mint jelly last year that when spread on fresh squid, cooked on the grill with just a little salt and pepper, is awesome—so they aren’t all going into the bait freezer this year.)

The beautiful weather the last few days has kicked up the action in the bays. Little stripers are all of a sudden everywhere. Just about every creek mouth, bay inlet or estuary channel is loaded with them and they’re hungry as heck. There’s lots of spearing and killies around to get them antsy, and they’ll hit any little white rubber thing or small bucktail.

No sign of the big stripers yet. They should be getting close though. The cut at Mecox was a bust even though there was tons of bait pouring out. Water temps in the bays are warm—anywhere from 50 to 57 degrees, so it’s prime time. Every sunny day could bring the first jumbo.

The warming water brought the flounder out of the mud too. Moriches and Shinnecock bays both saw a significant uptick in the number of fish coming over the rail. Franny got the three nice blackbacks pictured on his lunch hour last Friday, which apparently was their lunch hour too. Nice.

The canal gave up a few more weakfish and a couple of keeper flounder over the weekend. The bunker are heading through the locks too, so when the big bass show up they will be easy pickin’s there too.

The blackfishing on the wrecks off Shinnecock and Moriches produced some nice togs for the fares on the Rosie on a couple of trips last week. The north shore boats are hammering them again too. Most of the Montauk boats seem to still be focusing on the codfishing, which has remained slow, but the North Shore boats, out of Orient and Port Jefferson, are back on the toggin’ for a while now too and doing pretty well.

Alewive runs, which start on the full moon in March, are wrapping up. Doesn’t sound like Big Fresh Pond got a particularly large run this year. The estimates from last year were 30,000 to 50,000 fish though—also a modest year—so there are lots of potential new stock for future years if the ospreys don’t eat them all.

The forecast is beautiful this week, so look for the big fish to start moving in.

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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