Western Sound Spring Bass

The winter is finally over, the snow has melted and the prospect of catching some Striped Bass is not just a dream anymore!

Opening day is Tuesday, April 15th and many anglers will go to their favorite early season spots, looking to catch the first Striper of the year. The Western Long Island Sound is a good place to start trophy hunting as it usually is one of the first places on Long Island that Stripers show up. The back of Little Neck Bay, Manhasset Bay and the City Island area are all good bets to start your season. All of these areas should be holding Menhaden (Bunker), a favorite of Stripers and many other predators around the globe.

Bunker can usually be bought at your local Bait & Tackle store, by throwing a cast net, snagging them with a weighted treble hook or if you’re lucky enough to know a commercial bait man that might part with some live ones for a little cash. The fresher your bait the more attractive it will be to that big Bass you’re hoping to catch.

I like to use a Shimano 7’ Medium conventional rod matched with a Shimano Torium 25 reel filled with 30 pound monofilament line. I prefer mono because it’s more forgiving than braid in the rocky areas I fish. We add three feet of leader material, fluorocarbon won’t hurt but it’s not necessary, connected to the main line with a barrel swivel, a properly tied clinch knot will suffice for the connections. I snell a 7/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook to the other end of my leader when chunking or 8/0 when using live bunker as bait. What’s more fun than a good hook set!

OK, we’re ready to fish. I like to stay in the vicinity of the Bunker schools because that’s what the Stripers are feeding on. Anchor in four to eight feet of water; keep moving with the tidal changes to stay in this depth. I’m always surprised how shallow these fish can be found and how hard they will fight when hooked in this depth. If you’re going to chunk, cut your bunker into three to four pieces; I especially like heads and the first piece behind the head where all the guts of the bunker are. Hook the heads on top, the same with the chunks and don’t bury the hook too deep. The guts will stay on better if you put the hook through the heart of the bunker and then through the chunk. No weight is necessary when fishing this shallow, just cast the bait out as far as you can from the boat, and leave the reel in free spool with the clicker on if you’re not going to hold the rod.

Now it’s a waiting game, keep your eyes on the tip of your rod, any little movement will be a fish. Change your baits regularly if no action occurs; if the fish starts taking line you only need to let him run a few feet, engage the reel and set the hook hard. Once the fish is hooked, keep your rod tip up and reel when you can, keeping constant pressure on the fish, there is no need to pump the rod, just reel slow and steady till the Striper gets close to the boat and your net. Handle the fish gently, especially if you intend to release it.

Live lining Bunker for Stripers is my favorite way to fish for them. I use the same rod and reel combo, a little longer leader, but I snell on two hooks; one lightly on top of the head and the other behind the dorsal fin. Two hooks might sound like overkill but that second hook has saved many big Bass from getting away. Let your bunker swim away from the boat twenty-five to thirty feet, put the reel in free spool with the clicker on, put the rod in a rod holder and keep your eye on the Bunker. When the Bunker starts to get nervous, it’s being chased by a Striper. Stripers need to eat the Bunker head first, and it’s a big bait so be patient. Once you’re sure the Striper has the bunker engage the reel and set the hook hard and fight the fish the same as the chunk, slow and steady, enjoy the fight!

Striped Bass are fine table fare, once you decide to keep one, bleed it out and ice it right away. You’ve worked hard to catch this fish and should enjoy eating it as fresh as possible.