Menhaden, Brevoortia tyrannus, mossbunker, peanut bunker, pogy are just some of the many different names used for bunker. Bunker are a real unique type of baitfish due to the large size that they grow to when they become adults. An adult bunker can be anyway between 3- and 4- pounds, but still, it is only used as a baitfish. Bunker are a really oily fish which limits the use of the fish for consumption. Bunker are really just considered a glorified fish food.
Bunker travel in large schools with one another. They spend most, if not all of their life being chased by hungry predatory fish, such as a Striped Bass for example. The swimming patterns, movement and migration of the bunker influence the habits of the fish that chase them.
The early life of a bunker usually starts in the bays, rivers and estuaries of North & South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia. These waters are warm enough for the bunker to live, feed and grow. As the season of summer approaches, the bunker migrate north to the waters around New York and New Jersey. Specifically, a popular destination for bunker is in the waters of the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, around Long Island.
There is an abundant amount of bunker that migrate to these waters around the east coast, making them a favorite food for fish like a Striped Bass. If it is a favorite food for large predatory fish, you can bet that it is well-liked by the local fishermen.
How to Catch Bunker for Use as Bait
Time to make friends with your local fisherman and be in the right place at the right time when he pulls up his nets, either early in the morning or late at night. Bunker always seem to find themselves caught in most fishing nets. Don’t worry, you can certainly snag bunker on your own. Learning how to spot the bunker is the most important obstacle to overcome if you want to successfully catch them.
Since bunker travel in large schools, my favorite method for catching them would consist of a large net that can be thrown on top of the school of fish. This method is highlighting the use of a cast net. Learning how to throw a cast net is one of the greatest fishing tricks to learn. It can provide live bunker, ranging from small fingerlings to large 3-pounders. On a single throw of a cast net, I have numerous occasions where I have caught anywhere between 10-15 three-pound bunkers.
To locate schools of bunker isn’t that difficult. Usually, bunker swim towards the surface with jumps and splashes that make them easy to find. You’ll also notice that birds like to follow schools of bunker with the hope that they may catch one for themselves to eat. You can usually identify the splashes of bunker from a boat or kayak in all types of waters: canals, bays and oceans.
Having live bunker as bait is one of the best methods for catching a large fish. However, it may be difficult to keep bunker alive, especially if you decide to not go fishing as soon as you catch the bunker. Luckily, frozen bunker still works really well as either chum, cut bait & strips. Do not freeze bunker directly on ice since doing so could eliminate the tasty fish smell that is so appealing to predatory fish. My advise to you is that you should freeze bunker in plastic ziploc bags to retain that fishy smell. The juicer the fish, the better.
How to Hook Bunker as Bait
Bunker can be used as bait on your hook in several different ways: live whole, dead whole, cut bait or strips. All methods have produced a high rate of success when fishing with bunker.
Using Frozen Bunker as Bait
I usually try to wait for my frozen bunker to somewhat thaw. For frozen bait, the most desired chunk is the head of the bunker. When using head bait, be sure to hook the piece through the back and out through the bottom jaw. At all times, try to hide the hook! When using bunker bait strips, prepare the strips into wedge-shaped fillets. When using these fillet strips, be sure to hook the strip at the thickest part. Both these bait techniques work best when fishing in the surf, off of a bridge or from a boat. A three-way swivel or fish-finder rig would work well for both of these methods. Hooking bunker this way can withstand aggressive casts and thrive in fast currents.
Using a dead whole bunker also produces really good results. The ideal dead bunker size for fishing is usually between 1-2 pounds. The best results come from a fish that just died or a fish that is fresh-frozen. One technique is to just let the dead bunker drift with the current. Hook the bunker through its eye and add a sinker between 2-4 ounces to let the bunker sink down from the surface. A great method that I have noticed is to cast the bunker down and drive the boat 200-250 yards away. Then, shut off the boat and slowly reel in the line. With a few stops and starts, you will increase your chances of hooking up on a large fish.
Using Live Bunker as Bait
No matter where you fish, live bunker tends to produce the best results compared to any other strategy. However, before you hook a live bunker for bait and let him run, there are a few things you should know. Live bunker must be kept ALIVE. Therefore, it is almost a must that you have access to a live well that has ample amount of space for the live bunker to live and swim. Bunker need fresh water on their gills and enough oxygen to stay alive by the time they reach your hook. Bunker are weird. If you have square corners in your live well, bunker will actually swim to that spot and suffocate themselves. Because of this, you should use a live well with rounded corners.
Live bunker will last a while once they are on your hook and swimming on their own. Besides the strike of a fish, their death is usually attributed to a fast moving tide. The tide causes the bunker to develop “lockjaw”, which is caused from the consistent battle between the bunker and the current. The fight weakens their jaws and they are never truly able to recover. At this point, if you have more live bunker, switch in a fresh one and start the process once again. Live bunker will outperform frozen bunker. Stripers will go crazy for a live bunker.