Home Fishing Tips & Advice How to Keep Peanut Bunker Alive

How to Keep Peanut Bunker Alive

A peanut bunker may sound like a shelter for snack foods, but it’s actually a fish. In this article, we’ll cover some basics of the animal, discover where they live, what they’re used for, and how to keep them. If you’re looking to use peanut bunker as bait, you’ll want to pay special attention to the final paragraph: how to keep peanut bunker alive.  

What are Peanut Bunker?

Peanut bunker are a type of fish. They’re actually a name given to the Atlantic Menhaden or Brevoortia tyrannus. As the name implies, they live in the Atlantic ocean and can be found on the East coast from Canada all the way down through Florida. There are also some in the Gulf of Mexico. These fish travel in large schools, usually together by age. The young fish stick together, but roam far away from mom and dad. Peanut bunker grow to just over a foot long and have silvery skin with a black spot behind the gills. A mature female can lay over 300,000 eggs in her lifetime and those eggs take only a day or two to hatch. The young generally start out life in Chesapeake Bay. 

Commercial fishing of these little fish is big business. They’re used to make fertilizer, fish oil, fish meal, and of course, bait. In fact, if you’ve ever taken a fish oil supplement, it was probably this fish it came from. These fisheries take over 100,000 tons of peanut bunker a year. These businesses compete with animals like the humpback whale, who likes to scoop up menhaden by the mouthful. Peanut bunker are considered by some to be one of the most important fish in the sea because of the huge role they play in the ocean’s web of life. So, there isn’t always agreement about the catch limits put on commercial fishing. National Geographic details this conflict on their blog. The Meat Eater covers it from a leisure fishing perspective.

Where can I get Peanut Bunker?

Naturally, the closer you are to the Atlantic, the easier it will be to get ahold of some peanut bunker. While you can definitely catch them on your own, you aren’t likely to have any success with bait and a line. These fish are filter feeders. They swim along with their mouths open so they can catch plankton. As they get older and increase in size, they change the type of plankton they feed on. That means they’re not going to bite down on a worm or lure. To catch them, the best method is seining, which involves two boats and a large net. Late summer and early fall are the best times to keep your eye open for schools of these small fish.

If you don’t want to invest in a seining net or just want to spend more time fishing for the big guys, it’s pretty easy to find peanut bunker live or frozen. At the right time of year, along the coast, you can find these fish live in the local bait shops. You can even order fresh menhaden online from places like Tar Bay Seafood in Maryland and St. Mary Seafood and Marina in Louisiana. Most of the fish that eat peanut bunker are not terribly picky about whether the bait is live or not. So, you can fish them live, fresh, or frozen. Lastly, there are many lures on the market that mimic this baitfish.

How do I fish Peanut Bunker?

Striped bass are usually associated with peanut bunker, but many types of fish like to eat them. You can catch bluefish, cod, bluefin tuna, drum, wahoo, and white shark with this bait. Even though chopped or frozen fish will do, we’ll focus on fishing with live bunker. You’ll want to start with a monofilament line and a thin hook. The best place to hook them is through the back. Depending on the time of year, your target fish will be at different levels in the water. So, it’s best to bring along a rubber core sinker or a variety of weights you can try out when you get in the boat. When you have a take, it’s a good idea to let the fish chew on the bunker for a bit. However, wait too long and you might end up with a small striper you can’t get your hook out of. 

How do I keep Peanut Bunker alive?

We all know that fish don’t exactly do well out of the water. It’s not like you can put a peanut bunker in your pocket and go out to the pier. If you’re fishing with live bait, you obviously want to keep the bait alive. What’s the best way to do it? Check out some of the methods outlined below.

Use a round livewell

A livewell is essentially a fiberglass bucket with an aerator pump. Round livewells are preferable to square-shaped containers like coolers because the fish can swim in circles. Make sure yours is high enough so that the fish can swim upright. It should also be free of any screws, spinters, and other sharp edges that can hurt the fish. A bigger livewell will be much better than a small one, so try and pick the largest size you can feasibly put in your boat. The most important key to keeping peanut bunker alive in your boat is oxygen. A bubbler should easily do the trick as far as this is concerned.

Use a bait sled

A bait sled is like a fish tank and a raft put together. The tank part sits below the water level and a hollow frame at the top keeps it afloat. Holes in the tank allow water to flow through. After tying it securely to your boat, a bait sled will float over the side and keep the bait fish in good condition. This way, you won’t have to worry too much about temperature and circulation. Sleds are a great choice if you’re in a canoe, tube, or  kayak, since it’s not a good idea to pull them too fast through the water. Using a motor with this in tow will likely cause the sled to flip, releasing your bait, or fly around, likely killing them. Just don’t forget to secure the line! 

Use a collapsible baitfish bag

If you don’t have a lot of room for storage, a baitfish bag might be the best option for you. Like the sled, the bag hangs over the side of your boat and keeps afloat via a rubber hoop at the top. The bag is made of mesh, so your peanut bunker will be swimming in the water it’ll be fished in. That gives the fish time to get acclimated so they’re more lively when you’ve got them on the line. A decent bag can be had for around twenty bucks and they don’t take up much space at all when they’re not in use. 

Now that you’ve got a healthy spot for your peanut bunker to hang out, enjoy the excitement of catching striped bass or bluefin with live bait! If you can’t find these fish in your local area, be aware that these fish go by many names: menhaden, shad, moss bunker, podhagen, pogy, bug-head, herring, munnawhatteaug, and just plain old “bunker.”

To learn more about the fish itself, read Southern Fried Science’s “Six Reasons why Menhaden are the Greatest Fish We Ever Fished.”

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Growing up on the south shore of Long Island, Chum Charlie has always had a passion for fishing. His favorite fish to catch is a striped bass and his favorite bait to use is bunker. Off the water, he enjoys blogging and sharing his favorite fishing tips & tricks that he has learned over the years.