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Peanut Bunker Blitzes-Jersey Style
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

hen it's peanut bunker time in the surf that means one thing for the surfcaster, and that's some real classic Jersey Shore blitzes will begin. As these juvenile bunker make their way out of our backwater bays and estuaries they will turn and head south along the beach to warmer destinations. Here they will have plans to continue to grow only to migrate back once again next spring.

Our annual run picks up steam in October with dropping water temperature and around the time of the new and full moons of the month. Lunar phases innately drive many of the bait migrations along our beach and understanding this relationship will help to put you in the right place at the right time.

This run of peanut bunker continues right into November with the second or third week of that month being when the largest mass exodus of baits will take place. At least it has been in the last several years. After that time smaller isolated pods can be present right into the second week of December if water temperatures do not drop down quickly from icy cold fronts out of the northwest.

In our area Raritan Bay holds the largest concentration of peanut bunker with Barnegat Bay a distance second. The Shark and Manasquan rivers along with the north and south branch of the Metedeconk, and Toms River also contribute to a portion of the peanuts that we see moving along the beach. In fact any backwater estuarine system will hold them before they make their move.

Peanut bunker are the first year young of the adult mossbunker (menhaden) that entered our backwaters around the time of mid April after their offshore spawn. By this time the juveniles, which also made their way back to our estuaries, have reach three to six inches in length and are ready to migrate south along our coast. It's amazing how from this offshore event these peanuts make back inland to our coast, but they do every year.

Upon closer inspection you will see that peanut bunker are silvery to grayish blue in appearance with white under bellies and have a single black spot under the pectoral fin. Their profile has length and height but lacks width. Their flanks are about and inch or so high. As stated length will vary, depending on their actual age, but the range is from three to six inches.

When peanut bunker are concentrated in large numbers it means that it is blitz time along the Jersey Shore. Spotting them along the beach is a no brainer, as they are easily visible especially on calm flat days as dark masses in the surf zone. If fish are in them there will be unmistakable eruptions, boils, and mayhem.

You would think that when blitz conditions present themselves that each cast would result in a hook-up regardless what you were casting out. On some days this does happen but it is not uncommon for bass and blues to become highly selective during these times. There are many times when it seems that no matter what you throw your offering is refused. It can become rather frustrating to just watch the blitz going on without a bend in your rod.

At these times you wonder what you are doing wrong and what you should throw next. Well here are three time proven methods for hooking up in the surf that have worked for me and many other anglers in order of their degree of effectiveness. Live Line Peanuts

Without a doubt live lining a peanut is going to be your most successful method. If you are strictly a plug fisherman you can easily adjust your terminal tackle to get set up for this method. The more difficult part will be to obtain the bait. You can do this either by cast netting them or snagging them when they are in front of you.

To net your baits you will need a four to six foot diameter cast net and some skill in throwing the net into the pods as they move along the beach. One cast into a school will give you more baits than you will ever need. Put some in a five-gallon bucket and let the others go.

Now take a 2/0 to 4/0 Gamakatsu live bait hook and place it just above the dorsal. You do not need any terminal tackle or weight. Cast the bait into the school and let it go. Get ready for a quick take. Bass have a cunning ability to pick out the weak or wounded of the bunch. Set the hook when you feel the take because the bass will inhale the peanut in one swipe. You do not have to wait to set the hook. Doing so will put the peanut down in the gullet of the bass.

You can opt to use circle hooks if you prefer as this will prevent gut hooking and lodge the hook in the corner of the mouth. Being "old schooled" I prefer not to because I like the feel of setting up hard on a bass. Striking on the take will keep the hook in the bass' mouth. With circle hooks you will miss out on what I think is one of the best parts of the surf fishing experience since you don't set the hook in the traditional manner. The choice is up to you.

Throwing a cast net can be cumbersome and probably something many surf fishermen have never done. If this is the case you can obtain your baits by two other methods as your second most productive technique. You can snag them or ask for them.

To snag your baits place a three quarter to an ounce and a half egg sinker on your main running line and tie direct to a size 75 lb. barrel swivel. Come off of this with a 24 to 36 inch leader of 20 to 30 lb. test and tie on a 1/0 bronze treble hook. If toothy blues are mixed in you will want to use a heavier leader up to 50 lb. test.

Cast the snag rig into the school and gently pull the hook through the bait. Don't rip the hook through the school or you will end up with a chunk of bait rather than swimming, injured bait. Remember these baits are small and delicate. Once you feel a bait on the hook let it sink or try to swim with the school. As before be ready for a quick strike. If you hook a fish and it breaks off the bronze treble will eventually rust out.

You can also place the egg sinker between an eight-inch section of two barrel swivels, one above and one below the sinker and then tie your leader to this. With this method the egg sinker slides and remains in that eight-inch spot only.

The third method for obtaining your baits just takes a little bit of politeness. Just ask someone that is cast netting for them if you can have one. I have found that my fellow fisherman to be just as courtesy and never had a problem with parting with a few baits. Keep things in perspective however and don't take advantage, just be thankful and gracious.

Artificials
There is a selection of artificials that will also suffice as your third most productive method for producing nice bass when they are zeroed in on the real thing. This hardware will be will be on the small side and have a wide profile. Swimming plugs such as small Lefty's, Wade's, Skippy's, Big Dons, or Danny's are always effective, as are 1/2 to 3/4 ounce Rattletraps because of their wide body. For all these artificials white or pearl is the preferred color to use.

Gibbs Polaris Popper - Parrot pattern For poppers the one-ounce Gibbs® Polaris© popper in white is my number one choice. The atom Proppa popper or Striper Swiper in 3/8 to 7/8 oz. is also the right size, as are the Smack-It's. In the soft plastics four-inch shad bodies are favored over fin-s fish but both will produce. The Storm Wildeyes in their three to five inch bunker design is also a must have. The pearl and chartreuse colors are also very effective.

If you are tossing metal the shorty Hopkins, one ounce Kastmasters, 3/4 to 1 ounce Krocodiles, 1-˝ ounce Luhr-Jensen Cast Champ, and the two ounce Crippled Herring® are the ones to use.Luhr-Jensen Crippled Herring® Allow them to fall through the school and flutter when retrieving rather than moving along the same line. This will imitate an injured bait. Don't overlook the old standby white bucktail jig either. Jigging them near the bottom is usually deadly.

Good luck out there as the run is just starting to begin. You will see some amazing sites and catch some quality bass and blues when the peanuts are around.  End


Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and StriperSurf.com. Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

For more information, please go to Shore Catch Guide Service www.shorecatch.com

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Books by Jim Freda
Saltwater Fishing A Tactical Approach Fishing the NJ Coast