Give 'Em What They Want

On the hunt for Sandy Hook's big striped bass.

By Mark Marquez II

Give them what they want.

Those are some of fishing’s watchwords.

If fish are feeding on a bait, fish that bait. Or if they’re hitting a certain lure, use that lure.

Or if a certain type of fish, like a big one, is caught a certain way, fish that way.

Don’t mess around.

Most striped bass anglers around the Sandy Hook area dunk a large variety of baits and lures in fall.

From boats they soak clams, sandworms or bunker chunks; liveline eels or bunker; work metal jigs; or troll bunker spoons or other lures.

They do it all, unlike striper fishing at other places in New Jersey in autumn. Barnegat Inlet anglers mostly fish clams, and Delaware Bay anglers usually chunk bunker, for example.

But serious striper anglers from Sandy Hook are prepared for all options, usually depending on what’s working best during a given stretch of days.

Still, how do you narrow the options?

That depends on what you want to catch.

Large striped bass are what Capt. Brian Rice from Jersey Devil Charters from the Highlands wants to clobber on his charters.

He does keep his options open, and, for example, if livelining eels at the Sandy Hook Rips is best by far during a period, his anglers will certainly jump on the bite.

Or if clamming at Romer Shoal is exceptional, that’s the drill that day. And so on.

But for trophy linesiders, Jersey Devil most of the time will sail prepared for several types of fishing: bunker chunking, livelining bunker and trolling.

Those three options consistently catch the biggest stripers for Jersey Devil in fall.

Eeling will attract big bass, but eeling turns on and off, and although some anglers love eeling, probably connect often, it’s not the most reliable.

Clamming, worming and jigging usually catch large numbers of linesiders but smaller ones.

Nothing wrong with that, but just depends on an angler’s priorities. Big bait, big fish. Look at the size of that lure, a Tournament Grade Tackle Horse Bunker Spoon. Large linesiders often inhale bunker chunks or attack livelined bunker or trolled bunker spoons or other lures.

Big bait, big fish.
Look at the size of that lure,
a Tournament Grade Tackle
Horse Bunker Spoon.

Give them what they want.

A day on the waters for Brian begins with castnetting bunker for the charter who will arrive later that morning.

He avoids buying bunker or storing his own in a pen, because the freshest bunker that can be fished with the most natural presentation can be key for trophy striped bass, the wariest of linesiders.

Penned bunker can become red around the nose and gills and get some of the slime knocked off of them.

So Brian catches 100 of the baitfish to keep on the boat for the trip that day.

Most are placed in the vessel’s two livewells for liveline fishing, and some are stored dead in a cool place on the boat for cutting them to fish as chunks.

Brian tries to avoid putting the menhaden for chunking on ice, because the freshwater is an unnatural element that can damage the bait.

On the charter, if bunker are schooling the area, he’ll usually set up either on a drift or on anchor and fish a combo of live and chunked bunker, and if one works best, all lines will be switched to that bait.

If no bunker are around, he’ll troll to cover ground to locate bass.

First, about the bait fishing. When fishing bait, the boat will often be anchored if a specific structure or hole that’s likely to hold fish is the target. If a broader area is meant to be fished, drifting gets the nod.

For chunking, Brian will cut the bunker on an angle from behind the head to the vent on the bottom of the fish, keeping the entrails attached.

An 8/0 Owner SSW circle hook is stuck through the bottom jaw and out through the top jaw.

That helps keep the bait from spinning in the current and prevents other unnatural presentations, like flared gills if the head was hooked from the back.

A 2-1/2-foot, 50-pound Gamma fluorocarbon leader is snelled to the hook, and the other end is attached to a 130-pound Owner swivel, and the main line is attached to the swivel.

A fish-finder or sinker slide rig is used, and the weight is either attached to the snap on the slide or to a length of light line attached to the slide.

If the fish are found on the bottom, the snap is used. If they’re feeding farther up in the water column, an appropriate length of line is used to attach the weight. Brian will set out various options and see what works, and then stick with that.

Big stripers will often hug the bottom, but not always, and he’s caught them from bottom to top.

Live bunker are fished on the same rig but maybe with a bigger hook or 10/0, depending on the size of the bait.

Livies are hooked through the nose, through the lips or behind the dorsal fin. If the boat is drifted, the bait is hooked through the nose or the lips, because the bunker gets dragged and should be fished as naturally as possible. Don’t drag it backwards.

If the boat is anchored, hooking the baitfish behind the dorsal can help make the bunker swim away from the boat.

If both the chunking and livelining rods can be fished in the rod holders, that’s what Brian does. That allows a striper to hook itself with no errors from the angler. We tend to overcomplicate.

But if currents on anchor or the drifting boat prevents the lines in rod holders to lie clear of each other, anglers will hold some of the rods to help.

While trolling, Jersey Devil in fall usually drags two Tournament Grade Tackle bunker spoons, one on the port side and the other on the starboard, and a Stretch plug down the middle.

The Stretch plug tracks well on a straight line in the middle.

The fish are often feeding on bunker, so imitate the bunker with the spoons. But if more big bass start to smack the Stretch, Brian might switch to all Stretch lures.

Tournament Grade Tackle makes a large, 14-inch Horse Bunker Spoon that can be deadly on lunker stripers. Big fish eat big bait.

Catch those two points: The fish are often eating bunker, and big bass will eat the biggest bunker. Give them what they want.

Brian trolls with custom-made, soft-action, 10-foot rods that help impart an extra lively, natural presentation.

Many variables come into play for all these methods of fishing, and these are basic ways that Brian catches large striped bass. The next advice is to get out there and put in the time, start developing techniques that suit you, enabling you to land big bass consistently. Anglers can always book a charter specializing in the fishing, and pay careful attention to details, too.

Figure out what big stripers want.

Then give it to them!

Great Catches

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