Three ways to hook your next personal best in western Long Island Sound.
The Hudson River is the second largest spawning area for striped bass on the East Coast. When these fish finish their spawn, they drop back down to the ocean. Some will exit through the New York Bight and make their way north and east from there, but a large number of them will hook a left through the East River and enter western Long Island Sound.
At the same time, huge schools of bunker are gathering from the Norwalk Islands, across to Hempstead and all the way east to the Throgs Neck Bridge. This sets up a perfect feeding scenario for the stripers, who have not fed much while spawning, while also laying the groundwork for an awesome fishing opportunity for anglers looking to hook a trophy bass. This end of the Sound can be a hotspot for trolling and chunking for bass during these times. The lack of structure and the muddy bottom from Mamaroneck across to Hempstead and all the way to the 32A marker makes trolling with spoons, mojo rigs and deep divers an extremely effective way to intercept the schools of fish traveling through the area.
This is why so many Long Island Sound fishermen flock to this zone at the end of May and into June. Once you experience that first 40-plus pounder flopping over the gunnel, you’ll never be able to ignore it. I can remember the first time I hauled a 40-pounder into the boat, nothing compared to that feeling. It was mid-May and the bass were coming out of the Hudson heavy. Seasoned fishermen were saying they were getting big fish dragging bunker spoons. I went out and bought a trolling setup with wire and tried for two days in a row dragging the spoon around. I had plenty of fish but during the sunset hours of the second day I hooked a 43-pounder on a bunker spoon. Since then, I head down west every year in May and June.
Trolling For Giants
Large stripers can often be found concentrated around bunker schools. When trolling, focus on the areas that are heavy with bait. Trolling across mid sound from 32A to the weather buoy, staying in 50 to 70 feet, is a hot zone throughout the month of June. There have been numerous 40- and 50-pound bass caught here using Tony Maja spoons, Reliable spoons and mojo rigs. Be sure to factor in the tide when deciding which rig to use and the direction you will be presenting it.
Typically, you will have much better luck pulling your lures across the current with the tide. When the tide is pumping, mojo rigs and deep diving plugs such as Nomad’s DTX minnows and Rapala’s X-Rap Magnum deep divers in the 30 and 40 sizes are more productive. During the slower parts of the tide, switch to spoons which have better action in slower water. Spoons can also work well when pulled across the current. Some popular trolling setups include reels such as the Shimano Tekota 800 line counter, rigged with 65-pound braid to a ball bearing swivel to snap onto the mojo rig on a stout conventional rod like the Shimano Terez 7-foot heavy or the St. Croix mojo salt 7-foot heavy.
When it comes to dragging spoons, wire line is king in the western Sound. I prefer 40-pound monel over stainless steel wire because it is more supple and easier to deal with. I rig the PENN Senator 4/0 wire line special 113H2SP with 140-yards of 50-pound mono backing and 100 yards of 40-pound monel. At the end of the monel, I always use about 15 feet of 60- or 80-pound fluorocarbon leader tied to the ball bearing snap swivel. Outrodders are a must when dragging spoons. It places the rod parallel to the water and your rig will get deeper. When working spoons or mojos, you typically never want to troll over 4 mph for bass. You can rig wire on the Shimano Tekota 800 line counter and the PENN Senator 4/0 wire line special 113H2SP. Popular rod choices are the Tony Maja bunker spoon rod and the Tsunami wire line rod TSTBC 761HW.
Another popular tactic for catching trophy stripers in Western Long Island Sound is on the chunk. If you fish these waters every year, you already know how productive this method can be. East of New Haven, fishermen tend to use live eels and live bunker, but to the west, most anglers favor sitting on a chunk. Chunking is an effective way to fish for bass, especially when the big bluefish begin to mix in. Oftentimes, you can catch fish throughout the entire tide with non-stop action. Chunking on slopes, local reefs, and down west in mostly muddy areas can be productive. Towards the end of May and through June, we chunk our local reefs known as 28C, 11B and the obstruction buoy. These are all deep water reefs located in the middle of the Sound which provide a perfect choke point for big bass to move through.
The number one tip to chunking is this: you can never have enough bait. Too often I hear fishermen complaining that they didn’t get a lot of fish on the chunk, but they only went out with five (or fewer) bunker in the bucket. My girlfriend Lauren Salvioli and I always leave the harbor with at least 50 bunker for a chunk tide. With those 50 bunker, we will fish 10 to 15 baits and the rest are used for chum. Chumming is everything when it comes to catching bass on the chunk– a trick I learned from my boss, Rick Mola, at Fisherman’s World. I prefer chunking on the outgoing tide in these waters because the current is stronger and our reefs are set up better for the current. Position the boat in front of the rip working your bait back onto the reef since most bass stage with their head into the current, setting up on the downcurrent side of the rip is not productive.
When the tide is moving fast we don’t chum as much. However, when the tide slows down, we start blasting the water aggressively with chum. At times, we have hand-fed bass in the flood lights throwing chum in the water. When it comes to cutting the bait, I believe one bait equals one chunk. Cut right behind the dorsal fin, and throw the tail into the chum bucket. Fresh bait is always the best for chunking, find it at your local tackle shop or even better, catch it yourself. It takes time to build a bite and chumming always increases your odds, more bait and scent in the water means more bass come looking. As the bass are migrating through the Sound, chumming the water hard helps them find your boat and your hooks.
One of my favorite tactics to fish for striped bass during the month of June is plugging. There’s nothing better than throwing big topwater offerings to aggressive bass. Before the bunker begin to move offshore, they tend to hold in deeper water while the bass are concentrated and on the move. This is the perfect time to target bass around the bunker schools with big plugs. Based on my history of fishing, spring is the perfect time to target bass around the bunker schools. During this time, you can find bass feeding on bunker throughout the day, but more often you can find the fish hammering them in the early morning and sunset hours. Sunset tends to be my favorite time to plug big bass in the spring with low light conditions. Some of my biggest topwater fish have been caught during these times.
While plugging for bass around the bunker schools in deep water, you really need to put your time in. Work the outer edges of the bunker school. Never cast directly into the school. This will spook them away from the surface and it’s also harder for the bass to find the lure in the middle of the school. The bass tend to feed on these bunker schools from underneath or attacking from the sides. Big topwater plugs are my favorite such as The Doc made by Musky Mania and Shimano’s new SplashWalk. There is no need to rip the plug in fast when using large spook-style lures like these. Focus on presenting the plug at a slow, steady pace with erratic twitches like the common “walk the dog” style. It is also important to present your lure with pauses. Bass will often roll or tail slap the plug and this is when I leave it paused for two to five seconds before starting to retrieve again. Bass often to smash the plug on the long pause.
In the spring months when the water isn’t too rough, it won’t be hard to find bass corralling the bunker schools. You will know immediately when there are bass on a bunker school if they are tightly packed at the surface and don’t go back down when you pull up to them. Bunker schools that tend to go down when the boat is close more than likely don’t have bass on them. It is not uncommon for me to bounce around to several different schools before finding one that is holding bass.
For those that want a good shot at a trophy striper this month, consider putting in some time around the western end of Long Island Sound. You catch fish day and night, using a variety of methods and we have a steady stream of big bass leaving the Hudson. The fishing can be awesome. Pay attention to the reports in this magazine or stop by Fisherman’s World, we’ll be glad to help you get on the fish.