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Capt. Steve Byrne

Steve Byrne is a charter captain and fishing addict. He holds the current IGFA weakfish 30# line-class record, & guided his two sons to IGFA records of their own. "Catching stripers for 40 years, I love releasing big fish to catch them another day!"

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May 28, 2012

Bass on the Bunker Schools

by Capt. Steve Byrne

I did a few trips last week, but they were limited to Raritan Bay – either because of time restrictions, or weather conditions. The bay is loaded with bunker, but water temperatures are high and bluefish are in complete control.

Thursday afternoon's trip got off to a late start, as Sal, Mike & Natalie got stuck in Manhattan traffic. We stayed close to the harbor to avoid getting abused by the southeast wind. It took about ten minutes to get the fish started, and then it was constant fish for 2.5 hours. The trio brought 30 to 40 medium to large bluefish to the boat & had enough. They ended the quick trip with sore arms and washed up for dinner.

That trip was preceded by Wednesday's trip with father & son Ron & Jake. The guys had similar bluefish action for 5 solid hours, easily tangling with 50 bluefish.

On Saturday I took care of some maintenance and fueled up the boat for Monday. We finally had an opportunity to fish the bunker schools on the ocean, so Steve C met me at 5AM and we headed out with a well full of bunker.

The amount of bunker on the ocean is just plain silly. We fished around the bunker schools and found slow action, but quality fish. Steve released this fat bass after a great fight, and we caught some mid-teens bluefish.

On the way back in there were some birds working south of Romer, so we broke out the spinning gear and caught some 4 to 8-pound bluefish on poppers.

You can find schools of bunker along the Jersey coast, or around Breezy Point and east from there. I like netting bunker in the harbor & bringing it out with me, but you can snag them on the ocean too.

I am still using circle hooks, putting the hook in the bottom jaw and out through the nose. It works. Just be sure to fish in free spool, with the clicker on – and let them eat. Then just reel nice & easy, and the circle does the work for you.

May 22, 2012

Bass Slow Down in the Bay

by Capt. Steve Byrne

If you've been following this blog since its inception, you know that the idea is for me to post reports of the striped bass I'm catching, and then explain how you can do it too. Boy if it was only that simple. What's that old saying? Man plans, God laughs. The past five days have been a real struggle when it comes to putting bass in the boat.

When the open-bottom bass bite first slowed, I compensated by focusing on structure. That worked well, but I found that bite shuts off very early in the day. In fact most of the structure I pull bass from don't give up fish once the big hand on the clock passes 7.

If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that nighttime is probably the most productive time to be fishing right now. The thing that is particularly bothersome about the lack of a good bass bite lately is that the action fell off just before the new moon. For me, that's usually the time for some of the best striper fishing. On top of that, the amount of bunker in our local waters is just silly. We should be seeing fish crashing through the bunker schools like a bunch of drunken sailors (apologies to drunken sailors everywhere) but instead there are schools of menhaden all over the place, milling happily about like guests at an outdoor wedding.

On Friday I fished the FCA Manhattan Cup with former NY Ranger Kris King as my angler for the day. I had a well full of live bunker and we raised bass at several different locations. In each case, the stripers smacked the bunker around for a while but in the end, they swam away without eating it. Those were some lackadaisical fish. The highlight of our day was a 14.54-pound bluefish that destroyed the live bunker on the end of Kris's line – all in plain sight of the boat. That chopper took first in the bait division.

The Cup was a success this year, and in no small part because of the weather. Usually plagued by some sort of outrageous weather phenomenon, this year's Manhattan Cup featured the best conditions you could hope for. It's unfortunate the striper fishing wasn't as good as it could be, but we did have some solid fish weighed in and released live at Chelsea Piers. This included the tournament winning 34-pound bass brought to the dock by Team Structure Tone, and a 31-pound bass for Wounded Warrior Gil Robert. Proceeds from this year's Manhattan Cup will go towards fishing programs for the Wounded Warriors, children with Cystic Fibrosis and children with Autism, and will also support fishing conservation efforts.

One bright spot in the local fishing scene is the bluefish. They are here in all sizes from 2 to 15 pounds, and they are often mixed together. You might follow up two 3-pounders with a true arm-busting gorilla, which isn't all that bad.

I'm not sure what all of this rain will do to the bass fishing, but it can't make it much worse. Hopefully it will shake things up and the action will improve as we come off the new moon that just passed.

May 13, 2012

I love it when a plan comes together

by Capt. Steve Byrne

There's something special about looking through clear water at several hundred bunker swimming straight at you, mouths open, and then watching as they suddenly explode in reaction to a bluefish tearing through the school. It's good stuff.

Good as that stuff may be, bass are better. Problem is that lately, the number of bluefish seems to rival the number of bunker. Stripers don't stand much of a chance in the race to live bunker when they're competing with pomatomus saltatrix.

That meant channeling my inner George Peppard and coming up with a plan. Those of you too young to remember the A-Team will have to google it.

I pondered the question of how to deal with the onslaught of bluefish and I came up with a couple of good solutions. I found the bunker, loaded up the live well, and then put my plan into action. The Plan included two tactics this morning and they both produced stripes.

First, I found schools of bunker (not the ones I netted) that were getting hammered by bluefish. Instead of tossing a live bunker into the melee, I put the boat down-current of the war zone and started my drift.

That paid nearly instant dividends as line left my reel faster than any bunker ever swam. I was hooked up on the first drift, and it was not a bluefish. By the time I brought the fish to the boat, unhooked her and straightened everything out, I was a good one hundred yards from the blues and bunker.

I was able to repeat that performance three more times before the action broke up. The four fish were from 33 to 36 inches, and I kept one for dinner.

Instead of waiting around for the bluefish to get their act together again, I took a ride to one of my blackfish spots, and no, I was not going for blackfish.

The structure appeared on the fish finder as I passed over it, and I stopped the boat upcurrent. Four ounces of lead was enough to encourage the live bunker to swim down to the structure, and very quickly there were bass smacking it around. Although the bass definitely were playing with the bunker, they never took it.

A slow retrieve brought the bunker to the surface and there were two stripers right behind it. They knocked it around some more but swam off without finishing the job.

The next few drifts were frustrating: the screen had excellent marks on it, but the fish just weren't eating. Finally I connected with another bass, after which I decided to call it a morning.

So for the next couple of weeks that's my plan: fish away from the schools getting chomped by bluefish, and focus on structure when I can't find active fish.

What's your plan?

May 05, 2012

Foggy With Bass

by Capt. Steve Byrne

The sound of foghorns nudged me into consciousness around 4:30AM Saturday. I planned to fish with Steve, and it was apparent that we would face foggy conditions. Steve got up at 5AM and we headed to the marina. Visibility was about 200 feet, so I netted some bunker and we live lined in the harbor.

Steve released this fat striper, and I whiffed on a great opportunity when another bass managed to cough up my bunker without getting hooked. Around 8 O'clock the fog lifted and we drifted live bunker and chunks along the flats outside the harbor. Sometimes I find bass there, but today it was all bluefish.

The waters of NYC are full of life right now, and the biggest challenge facing bass hounds is getting through the bluefish. If you ask me, I think that's a good problem. Yes, I'd rather catch a big bass than a big bluefish, but I don't mind weeding through a bunch of big ole nasty choppers to get to some bass.

From the boat, I pull back on the chum when the bluefish move in, but sometimes it doesn't matter and they just keep on coming. Surfcasters have even less control when it comes to limiting the yellow-eyed interlopers. Clams seem to attract more bass than blues, but I also think they attract less fish overall.

Surfcasters are finding bass at night on swimmers and soft plastics. Most of these fish are schoolies into the upper-teens. I made a few trips to the beach this week and found schools of bunker with fish on them but, unfortunately, they stayed out of range.

So that's about it: If you're fishing during the day, get fresh bunker and fight through the bluefish until you connect with the bass. If you're into the night scene, artificials will get you into the bass.

One more thing – when you're on the water, you have to pay attention if you want to catch fish. Well, maybe you don't have to, but it sure helps. Today I watched one boat, clearly on the bunker hunt, go directly over a big school of bunker. Five minutes later another boat comes by and the guys are holding rods with bunker snags and yes, they go right over the school of flapping bunker.

Sometimes it pays to shut the motor for a minute and listen for bunker. Other than that, we can only rely on our eyes and our electronics. Electronics are wonderful, but if you don't look at the screen…well, then I don't know what to say.

I'll be fishing afternoons this week, and have a couple of mornings available next week – send me a PM if you feel like catching some fishies.
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