by Bonnie Tardella

Slip a Dramamine down your throat
Tuck a flask inside your coat
Hop aboard that party boat

The moon is full; it gilds the swells
The air is filled with ocean smells
An unnamed inner source foretells

The diesel engines slowly stop
We watch the mammoth anchor drop
It’s time to reap our scaly crop

The sea mist beads the steel hand rail
We set each rod with cold lead drail
Our line is strong; it will not fail

The first fish hits!  I bring him in;
But soon I spot his dogfish grin
An ugly brute from fin to fin

One hour is gone; it’s growing late
It seems I just keep losing bait
So how much longer must I wait?

…Three hours and seven huge bluefish later….

 Oh, how my untrained muscles ache
Just how much pain can one gal take?
 I’ve reeled and cranked; I need a break!

* * * * * * * * * *

  Note: On that magnificent Halloween night in 1980 we were blessed with a full moon, flat seas, and temperatures in the 60’s–perfect conditions for autumn ocean fishing. My smallest bluefish was 17 pounds, and the largest weighed in at  22+ pounds.  My husband, Sal Tardella, and I were aboard the Viking Starship out of Montauk NY. 

It was truly a night to remember.



It’s safe to eat fish….

On June 19, 2009 NACO (The National Association of Charterboat Operators) issued the following report regarding fish consumption;one less thing to worry about!
A vast majority of the scientists polled at the ninth annual International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant (ICMGP) in Guiyang, China, last week said methylmercury contamination in seafood is not a serious health threat to consumers.

The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) distributed a survey to all 561 conference participants, who were asked whether they agreed with 11 assertions about mercury and seafood (the response rate was 56 percent).

A significant majority of the scientists agreed that “normal” consumption of seafood does not pose a health risk to adults, children or developing fetuses and that the health benefits associated with omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients in fish outweigh the potential risks of mercury exposure. They also concurred that carefully nuanced public health advisories about mercury in fish are more effective than point-of-purchase warning signs.

 “This is groundbreaking news,” said David Martosko, director of research for the Washington, D.C.-based CCF. “The good news about eating fish is finally drowning out the bad news. And we’re hearing it from the real experts.  “Our survey comes at a time when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is finally looking at the tremendous health benefits of eating seafood, not just the hypothetical risks,” added Martosko, who attended the conference and administered the survey. “It appears that most scientists who study mercury agree with this approach.”


by Bonnie Tardella –  1977

Sky black, dawn waiting behind night’s curtain
Striped bass will soon be foraging for food
Poking for prey among craggy rocks
Cruising through softly-swaying sea grass.
A moving tableau in the bountiful Sound.

 Racing to beat the arrival of sunrise
The angler, in anticipation, makes haste.
The tidal magnet draws him toward the water
For yet-another briny treasure hunt.
Life’s affirmation within the beckoning Sound!

The silent marina is dark and deserted.
Adrenalin-filled, the fisherman sprints
Down the rickety, splintered ramp
And jumps aboard his waiting boat;
His cannot-live-life-without boat.

Oh, the sweet low rumble of engine’s rev;
Go now!  The mooring line is deftly loosed.
He pushes off, and is set free.
Free for a few stolen hours of passion
Alone–just he and his fiberglass mistress

Chug-chugging along in too-slow motion now
Hobbled by Make-No-Wake channel markers.
As he anxiously passes green barrels and red
He weighs his strategies for the morning’s hunt:
Which spots, which lures, which techniques du jour.

Restrictive buoys now behind, no longer hemmed in
He opens her up and flies to where they’re feeding.
The man needs no birds to point the way
He goes with his gut and a sixth sense
To find the stripers. Heart-stopping stripers!      

Look!  Straight ahead…a huge swirl!
Quickly open the bail…and cast.
The fish takes the lure…and is running!
Now hit him hard and set that hook!
Keep his head up, line taut, and reel him in.

Tug-of-war is over; man vanquishes fish.
Get the net and scoop him over the side.
Divest him of all hostile metal, and raise him up.
Lift him gently from the alien, unyielding deck.
Exult in the marvel of his silver-and-ebon cloak.

A work-of-art fish is the noble striped bass.
God, the painter, creates wondrous watercolors.

Now release the prize–with a helpful downward boost!
The fish is free; his captor is free.  A gift exchanged.
Resurrection for the fish; salvation for the man.

Time to go home. There’s no need of a clock
To announce the hour of the rising sun.
The Sound explodes with breathtaking hues–
As water mirrors the reds and gold from above;
A cruel time to have to take one’s leave.

 But there’s always tomorrow.
Tomorrow–promising another heady dose
Of nature’s antidote for a world gone mad.

So, fisherman, satisfy your need.  Make the time.
Feel and smell and listen to the moving water.
Serenity, solitude, and sequin-scaled striped bass.
Refreshment of the soul, reanimation of the spirit.

Long Island Sound: much better than an analyst’s couch.








Winterlude for Connecticut Anglers

by Bonnie Tardella – December 2005

Our boat’s begun her five-month nap
She rests within a white cocoon
Quite mummy-like in tight shrink-wrap
Beneath the Northeast winter’s moon.

Striped bass and blues have quit the Sound
A-headin’ south for living quarters
And scup are Alabammy-bound
To find new mates in warmer waters.

So how can we, despondent anglers
Survive these awful, fishless days?
Let’s strike at lines and lures a-tangle!
And wend our way through tackle maze.

The Plano box is your first chore
The plugs and swimmers need repair
You’d meant to get to them before
You’ve no excuse now; winter’s here.

So let’s inspect that treasure chest
It smells of dank; there’re scales and rust
Two drawers are cracked, one shelf’s distressed
And the latch is slightly caked with crust
The jar that held the striped pork rind

Has leaked and ruined a feather jig.
Look! There’s that hook you couldn’t find-
It’s wedged in the umbrella rig!

Ooh…the tube of lube has lost its cap
It’s oozed down everything below
It’s seeped into each swivel snap
And everywhere that ooze can flow

Don’t be discouraged by the mess
Triage is simple once it’s started
Select the keepers, chuck the rest
 All useless junk should be discarded.

Now clean your rod; scrape off your reel;
Last season’s salt eliminate
That stick must have great flex appeal
When next spring’s lunker hits your bait.

A job like this is good for you
When you’re beset by cabin fever
It’s therapy for doldrums, too-
A winter layoff stress reliever.

And whistle while you work; another spring is always around the corner!



Chartering on Long Island Sound

(A Connecticut Captain in King Neptune’s Court)
by Captain Sal Tardella with Bonnie Tardella

Running a charter fishing business may seem, to the casual observer, to be a fun-filled job, an easy way to make a living, with none of the stress generally associated with most professions.   Actually, I do have a lot of fun, and there’s plenty of satisfaction when things go well, but my work is definitely not stress-free.  My colleagues and I promote ourselves with the motto “It’s Smarter to Charter,” and to validate this claim we’re obliged to produce results, not excuses. Most of my customers only get the chance to fish once or twice a year.  Some book their trips months in advance, and they look forward to taking  home a Styrofoam cooler filled with fresh fillets as well as some interesting fishing stories to share with friends, and maybe a nice photo to enlarge, frame, and hang on their office walls. These enthusiastic fishermen pay me decent sums to show them a good time on the water, and they’re entitled to their money’s worth.   I’m ever mindful that every charter is important to those who’ve hired me to get them into fish, and I can’t afford a cavalier attitude about any trip.  (And to add more pressure to this challenge, many of my clients play host to their own clients, promising them an enjoyable day of fishing, and they’re sure to be embarrassed if their trip is a bust.)  I can’t let anyone down, and that’s a weighty load to bear-even if we’re just talking about fish!

A diligent captain does whatever it takes to meet his fares’ expectations.  I full understand my responsibilities and take them very seriously.   Every night before a trip I mentally replay and evaluate my most recent outing; I analyze the latest local reports and project the next day’s conditions.  Then I ponder my options for the morning and try to fall asleep without worrying about tomorrow’s results.  This contemplation resumes when I awaken at 4:45am, and it lasts until my passengers disembark at the end of the charter.

Obviously, there’s a great deal more to this job than just analyzing, pondering and contemplation.  Every good charter captain knows that preparedness is paramount.  When getting ready for a charter, we hope for the best, of course, but we must be able to deal with so-so and adverse conditions on the water.  Each new trip can involve new situations, and we want to feel confident that we’ve covered all bases and can deal with every contingency before we rev up the engines and throw off the lines.

If I were invited to teach a course for aspiring charter boat captains at my local community college, it would be entitled Fishing 101: Piscatorial Proficiency for Professional Fishing Guides, and in order to pass the course the students would have to master just two rules:



Now the chances are excellent that no college will ever require my pedagogical skills, but if called upon, here is what I’d convey to my hypothetical class to help them get a passing grade.

Rule #1 – Be Where the Fish Are.
Assuming you know where the fish are on any given day, a captain must trust his boat to get him there–just as a traveling salesman trusts his car to take him to his customers.  But my vessel isn’t just commuter transportation; it’s my workplace, and must provide a comfortable and safe environment for all aboard, in all conditions. I’ve had my center-console C-Hawk customized so that it’s able to get to and from the fishing grounds with maximum efficiency.  After all, everyone aboard is completely dependent on my skills and expertise-so it’s incumbent upon me (and every captain) to maintain our boats and engines and all navigational equipment to the highest standards. The reliability of my engine is critical; I treat my treasured Yamaha outboard with great respect, and I would never consider deviating from the precise instructions in my owner’s manual. I regularly inspect my boat’s hull for stress cracks, and I check all electrical connections and battery terminals to be sure they’re tight and corrosion free. I change all the sparkplugs when they still have some life in them.  I try to leave nothing to chance, but we do have occasional problems on the water, and we have to use our radios and summon assistance, so my VHF is another valuable asset that I upgrade every couple of years.  Hopefully, all these precautions pay off, and my faithful boat will take me and my passengers to where the fish are again and again and again.

Rule #2 – Get the Fish Into the Boat.
We use only the finest equipment to accomplish the mandates of Rule #2.  First-rate rods, top-of-the-line reels, tournament-quality line (which we inspect throughout each trip and change frequently to avoid break-offs).  We also bring aboard an assortment of rods and reels as well as lures and terminal tackle of various sizes and types-so we can switch methodology, going from surface casting to jigging to bait fishing-on the spur of the moment.

Let’s get back to Rule #1 for a moment.  Fishing is not a science; it’s a sport.  But when you’ve been a guide in a particular region for several years you know what species are where–and when they’re there–and you know what they’re most likely feeding on.  But one can never really be 100% positive. So a determined captain should prepare for each day’s trip-regardless of what might have happened last year or yesterday.  The ideal scenario on Long Island Sound is a balmy day, flat water, and the panoramic view of large schools of fish on or near the surface attacking bait for hours at a time.  This kind of action can be spotted from long distances, and the fish are easy to catch, even for an unskilled angler.

These ideal conditions might continue for days at a time and then suddenly change for no apparent reason. There are many nights when I go to sleep with the sound of leaves softly rustling in the trees, and a few hours later I’m awakened to the tintinnabulation of my Maine buoy chimes being tossed about by strong northeast winds.   I live on one of Norwalk’s salt-water marshes, with a view of Long Island Sound from my rear deck.  When my binoculars reveal whitecaps in the harbor I know I’ll need to change my strategy if I’m going to get my customers into fish that day.

Knowing that we probably won’t be able to get out to the most-desirable fishing grounds, I mentally chart out a trip that will involve tucking into sheltered areas that have been productive under similar conditions-small inlets within the Norwalk Islands, Westport, Southport and Stamford.  We also know that we will probably have to rely upon the use of bait to make the day successful.  We might get lucky and bump into a school of bunker (menhaden), but we can’t depend on such serendipity, so we bring along a nice supply of frozen chunks of bunker or mackerel, clam bellies and/or sand worms.  Fishing with bait is a lot more work and a lot messier than using lures, but it’s a time-tested tactic for catching fish on the Sound when dealing with northeast winds.

Following a northeastern blow, the coves and inlets become muddied and unfishable, even with live bait.  A shift in wind direction-most often now from the northwest, suggests that we move a few miles offshore in search of fish feeding on top.  We captains talk to each other via radio and cell phones, and I might get a call: “They’re on top! Come over to my spot!”, but they’re five miles from my current location.  Should I stay, or should I go? Sometimes I respond to that call and it’s a home run.  But just as often I arrive on the scene too late, and the fish are no longer showing.  In that eventuality I usually hang in at that site because the chances are excellent that the fish haven’t moved out, but have simply moved down, and they can be jigged up if we use the right techniques.  This isn’t as exciting as catching them on the surface, but after making the trek I want my people to have something to show for it.

If we’ve heard no reports from other boats and we’ve reached mid-Sound with still no sightings, we’re committed to the time-consuming 11-mile run all the way across to the Long Island side. The odds are favorable that the northwest winds have pushed the baitfish to those sandy shores, and that their predators have followed in close pursuit. This is where years of experience prove to be so valuable.  We know exactly where to look on days like this-and we don’t mind the assistance of a flock of diving sea birds to confirm our hunches. Then assuming we’ve done our homework properly, and we have the right bait and equipment for the job, Rule #2 is a snap.

On the subject of areas that hold fish with relative consistency, there are many mid-Sound sites that we return to throughout the season for bottom-fishing.  These hot spots include reefs, rocks and wrecks. They’re well-known and popular, and so it’s rare that you’ll be alone out there on a decent day.  Sometimes it’s amusing to see frustrated anglers fishing from boats very close by to ours.  From all appearances they’re doing exactly what we’re doing, but we’re hauling in fish, and they’re not.  Perhaps they’re making one or more of the following mistakes-errors that a charter captain can’t afford to make:

1. During a full moon or new moon phase, we don’t chum during mid-tide. The tidal pull is too strong, and all our efforts would be for naught.

2. If we’re not getting any hits, we should try different size sinkers. Maybe heavier ones will do a better job at holding bottom.

3. A good fisherman is a patient fisherman. If no one gets a hit within five minutes, we don’t pull up the anchor and seek another spot even if our customers are beginning to grumble and sarcastically ask: “So where’s all the fish….?”

Sometimes it’s not so amusing because we’ve done everything correctly but we’re still not getting significant results.  So we rack our rods and move to a second or even third spot.  The pressure is now beginning to mount because time is running out, the tide is ebbing, and our customers are impatient and definitely less affable than when we started out a few hours earlier. In most cases our perseverance and tenacity are rewarded.  We find the right spot, and after we ladle out some scrumptious chum, three or four lines are simultaneously “singing,” and the action turns hot and heavy.  All aboard are bringing in 4-6 pound bluefish, with an occasional short striped bass mixed in.  Everyone is seemingly content, and I begin to relax.   But it isn’t long before we hear a familiar refrain from someone in the party: “Do you think we’ll be getting any bigger fish?” (A variation of Rule #2, part 3.) This is when my own patience can begin to erode, but I’ve dealt with this before, and I quickly regain my composure after jokingly chastising them for their dearth of appreciation.  When we wrap things up and begin the trip back to port, the weary fishermen are enthusiastically recounting the day’s events, teasing the “low hook” of the day, and every one of them is telling me how much they enjoyed the experience and that they can’t wait to come back and do it again.

And, truth be told, neither can I.

Being a charter boat captain and having total control of my own business is all that I could want; I wouldn’t enjoy doing anything else for my livelihood.  But as I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, this job is far from a no-brainer, not all peaches and cream, and certainly not a walk in the park.

There’s a lot of stress involved in keeping my passengers safe when there are two or more of them casting lures from all corners of my vessel.  No matter how strongly we emphasize the need to look all around before casting, chances are someone’s going to at least tap someone else with an errant lure-or ding the pilot house or hook into his own shirt or hat.  When they’re excited, passengers often forget to open their bales and so lose control of a dangling lure after they’ve attempted to cast it  into a voracious school of blues. Or they impatiently attempt to horse in a fish right at the boat, snapping the lure from its mouth and backlashing a plug that now swings around like a boomerang. Sometimes, heedless of our warnings, they actually put their fingers into the mouth of a bluefish when holding it up for a photograph.  We’ve been lucky in not having any major accidents, but we always worry, and it’s a serious responsibility for the captain.  Of course, we’re all trained in First Aid, but no one wants to ruin a good day of fishing with human blood on the deck.

Sometimes we actually get skunked, no matter what we try and where we go and how much overtime we put into a trip.  When that happens nobody is happy; and the next day’s fishing trip is that much more daunting. Definitely stressful.

Sometimes the weather conditions are ominous, and I have to make the morning call: Should we sail or not? Will conditions remain status quo, get worse, improve?  I don’t allow my clients to make the decision under such circumstances; I must call the shots.  I’m right about 90% of the time, but when I’m wrong, I’m left with egg on my face and have to deal with the disappointment of the fishermen who have put their faith in my expertise and discretion.  Embarrassing and stressful.

Marital stress? Not really, but my wife often complains about the intrusiveness of the telephone in our home.  Our phone seems to ring all afternoon and evening–hopefully with calls from prospective clients; but more often the calls are from other captains and fishermen friends asking the same questions: How did you do today? Where did you go? What did you use? How big were they? How did the other boats do? Where will you be going tomorrow?  Then I ask them the same questions about their day, and I might make a few new calls of my own.   All of us take each other’s reports with a grain of salt, of course.  Fishermen either minimize or exaggerate, depending on the information being imparted.  Bonnie (after whom my boat was named, of course) is a terrific fisherwoman and a wonderful captain’s wife.  But as insightful and understanding as she is, she insists that we take the phone off the hook five minutes before we sit down to dinner and not return it to its cradle until the table’s been cleared.  I know she’s right; we have to unwind at the end of the day, and dinner without phone interruption is good for our relationship.  But it’s not good for my digestion, because throughout the meal I keep worrying about who might be trying to reach me while we’ve made ourselves incommunicadoNot exactly stress, but certainly a bit of anxiety.

The life of a charter boat captain is definitely not all fun and games.  I don’t want to sound like a whiner; I just wanted to set the record straight for all the fishing-guide wannabes who are ready to trade places with me after one trip aboard “My Bonnie”.  Listen, fellows, you keep your 9-to-5 jobs, and let me take care of getting you into fish.  God wants it that way.

Aug 2006

Salty Lament

by Bonnie Tardella

My heart belongs to a fisherman
But my passion’s forced to wait
For I can’t compete
With his one-boat fleet
And a bucketful of bait.

My love is strong for that fisherman
And though I’m a comely lass
I am no match
For his morning catch
Of bluefish or striped bass.

My arms long for the fisherman
But he won’t give me a thought
‘Til his head’s been thrilled

By a cooler filled
With keepers that he’s caught

* * *

I may one day flee that fisherman
Although he might bid me stay
And if I get my wish
He will tell his fish
About the gal that got away!

Running Fishing Charters Costs More than a Drop in the Bucket

by Bonnie Tardella

Okay, so losing lures is a part of the cost of doing business, but how many of those expensive little buggers should a fishing captain be expected to replace within the course of one season?  I’m talking here all kinds of lures–surface plugs, swimmers, rattlers, tubes, jigs, soft baits–not to mention hooks, swivels, sinkers and every kind of conceivable terminal tackle used for all the species fished for in Long Island Sound between April and November.

And what about fishing line?  I could weave a tent for a family of five with all the kinky pink line my husband tosses away in our garbage pail every week.  I spend about an hour a month holding a pencil through a huge spool of monofilament, as the captain reloads his reels with brand-new line–which will probably only be suitable for two or three trips before it has to be replaced yet again.

Broken reels and fractured rods make round trips to tackle shops or manufacturers’  repair departments on a regular basis, too.  Do you know what it costs to ship a rod or reel from Connecticut to California and back?  I should buy stock in UPS to help soften the blow.

All these repairs and replacements are to be expected in the fishing charter business, of course, and the captain tries to take them in his stride–always being sure to have lots of spare tackle in our storage shed.  Oh, yeah; every once in a while, too,  a propeller needs regrinding when a rock moves from where it used to be, and occasionally a hapless anchor finds a new home in an abandoned lobster pot–taking with it shackle, chain, and line.  Needless to say, we had to buy an additional storage unit to be sure he was ready for all fishing-related contingencies.

News flash! A flat of sand worms is more expensive than imported escargot!

Let’s talk gasoline prices.  Now that it costs a gazillion dollars to fill the tank with fuel every week, I’m wondering if it would be sacrilegious to make a novena at the beginning of the season–asking that the blues and striped bass take up residence close to our marina instead of on the other side of Long Island Sound.  I guess God would punish me if I pray for such stuff, so I’d better forget about the novena, right?

The moral to this little essay is that it’s the job of a charter captain to get his passengers into fish and to make them happy throughout their trip.  If making his passengers happy sometimes result in his being little bit grumpy, then that’s also part of the cost of doing business.  Thankfully, a glass of red wine is a great grump-deflector, so no serious damage has been done to the captain or his mate while dealing with the petty annoyances described above, and we’ve endured countless years of re-spooling reels and regrinding props and replacing lures, with no permanent scars–so far

Now if an asteroid were to hit and sink our boat while it was tied up at the dock, I don’t think even a case of red wine could forestall acute grumpiness.  Maybe I should consider offering up an anti-asteroid novena?  Somehow that doesn’t seem quite so sacrilegious–it being a heavenly body, and all.

                                                                    B.T.  a/k/a The Captain’s Wife

Releasing Your Catch Safely

by Captain Sal Tardella with Bonnie Tardella

Everyone agrees that conservation is a good thing. So each time I go fishing, I request that my fares observe my First Rule of Thumb:
Keep only what you’ll be putting on the dinner table for the next couple of days.

The following are the techniques employed aboard “My Bonnie” Charters to assure that the fish we release have the optimal chance of survival.

When catching schoolie bass, we almost always use single-hook buck-tail lures. (I avoid treble hooks, whenever possible; they tend to lacerate a fish, and if inhaled or swallowed, they can’t be easily disgorged without doing serious damage.)  Reel in your catch, and when it’s alongside the boat reach down with your thumb, and grab his lower jaw at the base of his mouth.  Gently lift him out of the water, keeping pressure on his jaw to minimize his thrashing about as you remove the lure.  (Remember: this technique is only good for toothless fish from 1-10 lbs.) A larger fish and one inclined to bite should be brought aboard with a landing net, then placed on the deck and immobilized by firmly holding the back of his head as you remove the lure from his mouth with fisherman’s pliers. A fish that swallows the hook is not necessarily doomed.  Most hooks can be removed with the help of a “Hook-Out” or “Fish Flipper.” These specialized gadgets are invaluable when practicing catch-and-release.

Second Rule of Thumb (if you want to keep your thumb):
Don’t try the above-described lure-removal method with a bluefish, regardless of his size!

Third Rule of Thumb: Be a kinder, gentler fisherman, to wit:

  • After hooking a fish avoid a long, drawn-out battle. It’s much more difficult to revive a fish that’s had his energy sapped by a strenuous tug-of-war.
  • If you must use a gaff instead of a net, then try to snag your fish in a non-vital spot, preferably the lower jaw.Don’t restrain a fish by its gills; an injury to these organs will compromise his survival.
  • Avoid “over-handling” your fish.
  • Work quickly. Less time out of water increases the odds that the fish to be released will live through his ordeal.

Fourth Rule of Thumb: Do not use stainless steel or other non-corrosive hooks. Bronze hooks are my personal choice when bottom fishing because if I find it impossible to dislodge a swallowed hook, I can cut the line as far down in the fish’s body as I can reach, and then leave the hook intact.  It will eventually rust out and be eliminated in the natural way.

To conclude: A fish that’s been hooked and caught is a traumatized creature.  He cannot be summarily thrown back into the water and then be spontaneously revived from his shocked state.   The proper way to return him to his habitat is to “prime” him after placing him overboard.  Grip the fish just above the tail, and apply a sawing motion-forward and back-to force seawater through his gills. This should be continued until you sense a change in his response-a surge of strength and an attempt to escape from your grasp-your cue to release him.

There’s a special gratification in store for the angler who sees his catch making its way back to the bottom-almost as exhilarating as the rush experienced when that fish was plucked from a similar location just minutes before.  Try it!

June 2009

Surface Fishing with Light Tackle on Long Island Sound

Captain Sal Tardella with Bonnie Tardella

No matter how often you’ve experienced it, you always get a rush–that quickened heartbeat–when you see a fish break the water’s surface as he strikes your lure.  To achieve this piscatorial thrill it’s necessary to use light tackle and the most appealing top-water lures.  When fishing in shallow water along the shoreline, or when blues or striped bass are three to six feet below the surface, I generally keep the following equipment in my bag of tricks.

I prefer the Loomis GL series 6’6″ medium-hard bait casting rod with Shimano 4000FH spincaster reel and 10-12 pound test pink Ande line with 25# fluorocarbon leader.

If you’re targeting bluefish and using the lighter-test line, it’s a good idea to add a 25#  test shock leader; it helps withstand the wear and tear of the fish’s shark-like teeth.  When blues are hitting, take a moment to run your hand along the end of the line to check for nicks and frays.  If you find any, cut the line 6-12″ above the point of damage, and reattach your lure.  If you’re lucky enough to find yourself surrounded by a school in a feeding frenzy, I know that it takes a lot of discipline to halt your casting to take care of business.  But if you don’t, you’ll probably regret not heeding this advice because you might end up losing both the fish and your terminal tackle.

TIP #1: Before your first cast of the day, be sure that your drag is properly adjusted.

There are scores of good top-water lures on the market, but after decades of testing and discarding trendy new products, I’ve recently narrowed my selection to the following:

  1. Creek Chub 3/4 ounce Chrome-colored
  2. Gag’s Grabber 3/4 ounce Chrome-colored
  3. Atom 3/8–7/8 ounce Blue & White
  4. Stillwater Popper 3/8 ounce Olive Back/Silver Hologram
  5. Yo-zuri 3/4 ouncePopper

Occasionally, none of the above is 100% successful; I then switch to something else in my tackle box-perhaps a bucktail (white lima bean shape jig with white bucktail sweetened with a chartreuse or white Mr. Twister soft bait.)  I also like the 4-3/8 ounce Yo-Zuri sinking swimmers in black/silver and blue/silver; they weigh half an ounce).

TIP #2: Whatever your lure of choice, make sure it has a white bucktail on the end; these bucktails, that include a small built-in treble hook, should be replaced whenever they start to “go bald”; new ones can be purchased at any tackle shop.

My personal choice for attaching a lure to your line: There’s a lot of disagreement among fishermen regarding the use of terminal tackle when fishing with light line. Some of the best anglers I know insist on just tying the lure directly onto the end of their line.  I’ve tried this and every other method, and have settled on the use of customized hardware composed of an AFW  Duolock Snap #53 with Rosco Barrel Swivel #10-both in black.  I buy these in bulk and take the time to connect them to each other, a simple chore, but time consuming when making 100 or so, as I do once or twice a year.  Using these snap swivel combos allow me to rapidly switch lures from one style to another, as needed; the barrel swivel helps avoid the twisting of the line, and the swivels don’t seem to “spook” stripers that might catch sight of them as the lure moves through the water.  Because of their configuration, barrel swivels also seem to also allow more play in the lure than do the traditional Coastlock swivels.  This technique is purely a matter of personal preference, but readers might be interested to hear that during one November trip, during the fall migration–with three good fishermen bucktailing off of Westport–we tallied 139 striped bass, all caught with that swivel combo holding the lures.

When fishing for striped bass, try to find structure (pilings, rock formations or grassy areas) that create ideal conditions for predators to conceal themselves as they lay in wait for baitfish.   Also look for water rippling around sandbars or reefs.

When targeting bluefish in the middle of The Sound, look for tell-tale signs of their presence, such as swirls, visible dorsal fins, V-shaped lines near the surface, or the frenetic explosion of baitfish.  Flat, calm water is perfect for spotting fish this way, even at quite a distance from your boat.  Another sign-even during a windy day-is a concentration of sea birds-especially terns-hovering and/or diving over a particular area.

TIP #3: When you spot your quarry, don’t gun your engine and rush to the site, and never run your boat over a school. This will just scatter the fish or cause them to dive to deeper water.  Such poor judgment will also anger fellow fishermen who might be in the immediate area.  Just nudge your boat close enough to maintain a practical casting distance.  Then turn off your engine, and drift.  Cast towards the action, working all sides of the boat in an attempt to find the best approach.  Avoid any unnecessary noise on deck, as sound travels through the water and can “spook” the fish.

The way you “operate” your lure is just as important as the choice of lure style.  For striped bass, keep the action slow and easy, with a very brief, occasional pause in the retrieval.  With bluefish, move the lure much more quickly, creating a commotion at the top of the water without actually lifting it completely into the air.  Keep the lure going, reeling right up to the last moment-since fish often hit within two-four feet of a boat just as you’re lifting the lure out of the water.

TIP #4: Especially when hitting a school of blues, remember to keep your retrieval going, even if a fish strikes at it and misses.  He will try again and again to get that morsel into his mouth; and if he isn’t up to the task, then his sister or brother will be attracted by all the movement and strike at the lure.

When a fish hits, set the hook with a short, solid strike rather than a sweeping motion.  Keep your line taut at all times, lifting the rod and reeling down to the fish.  Don’t allow the line to go slack, and don’t reel while the drag is being pulled out.  Just keep the fish’s head up, and reel only when he shows signs of tiring.  Don’t try to “horse in” the fish; it’s not a tug-of-war, and your tackle gives you the upper hand once the hook has been set.  Relax and enjoy the give and take; remember fishing is a sport.

Also, be patient after you’ve hooked your fish.  Avoid adjusting your drag while fighting him.  I’ve seen many nice fish lost that way.

The hooks on lures are meant to catch fish.  They can be devastating if they hit someone.  Take the time to look around you to make sure everyone aboard is out of harm’s way before you cast-every time.  Be sure that your spinning-rod bail is open, so your line will peel out smoothly instead of recoiling, which could result in a hook impaling itself onto you or a fellow passenger.

One more reminder:  Don’t ruin a great fishing trip by running out of gear just when things begin to heat up.  Always take extra tackle with you.  Lures get lost, lines get destroyed, and reels can jam up.  Be prepared!

Good luck…and please keep only what you’re going to put on the table.

When Chunkin’s the Method, Chum’s the Word

By Captain Sal Tardella  with Bonnie Tardella

Blues and stripers can’t resist the allure of Atlantic menhaden-also called pogy or mossbunker, and just plain bunker in these parts. Fortunately for us, human beings don’t choose to put bunker on their family menu, so there’s always plenty of these shiny-scaled fish to be found in Long Island Sound.  They’re fairly easy to snag when they’re tightly schooled up-especially in the early mornings close to shore.

To catch fresh bunker for chunking, get out on the water before dawn, if possible.  Be ready with a well-honed treble hook, 25-pound test line and a fairly rigid rod.  If bluefish are among the bunker, use wire leader, too-for obvious reasons.  When you see a bunker school, ease up to it as quietly as possible.  Turn off your engine, cast in the treble hook and let it sink several feet.  Then start snagging and reeling as long as you’re still on top of the school.  You may have to move a few times to keep up with the fast-swimming and very nervous fish.  We try to boat about three bunker per angler for a half day’s trip.  Store the bait on ice and out of the sunlight; a one-gallon zipper-type plastic bag can hold four whole fish and keeps them from breaking down too soon.  Keep the bunker intact; don’t cut them up until you’re ready to start fishing.

Along with the baitfish you snag, you’ll need to make some chum for your excursion.   To prepare a heady fish cocktail start with some frozen ground-up bunker.  This product is sold at tackle shops; it looks like a brown ice log.  While on your way to the fishing grounds, place one of the logs in a 5-gallon bucket with some water.  As the frozen bunker is thawing add a few ounces of concentrated bunker oil-available in one-gallon containers at the same retailers where you purchase the frozen bunker logs.  Add enough water to fill your bucket about two-thirds to the top, and you have an irresistible concoction that no hungry bluefish or striped bass (or any other Sound denizen) can pass up.  This bucketful of chum should be all you need for the span of one tide.  Be sure to have a large ladle for the scooping (maybe two, just in case you drop one overboard.)

When you get to your chosen fishing spot (look for a nice ledge in about 60 feet of water) drop your anchor along the topmost part of the ledge, and allow your boat to drift to about the 45-foot level.  Now’s the time to start cutting your fresh bunker into chunks-about 2½” x 1½”. (It’s a personal decision as to what part of the fish and what size of a chunk you like.  My wife prefers to use the whole head; she thinks the eyes help attract lunker stripers, and she’s been right lots of times.) As you slice up the bunker, use any unsuitable-sized bits to add to your chum bucket.  Select a sinker from your tackle box, and I suggest you use one that’s just heavy enough to hold bottom. In a normal tide movement a 3-4 ounce sinker should do the trick, but sometimes-with a new moon or full moon-you might have to use more weight, e.g. 5-6 ounces, to adjust for the stronger tidal pull.  Add a strong snap swivel, and a hollow-point, long-shank special bend 6.0 hook threaded through a juicy piece of the freshly-cut bunker.  You’ll also need a leader. (When fishing only for striped bass, I utilize a high-quality 25-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, tied directly to 20-pound test line with a uni knot; if bluefish are mixed in with the bass, then wire will probably be necessary.)  You’re now ready for the battle, and so the chumming begins.

Ladle out a cup or two of the scintillating stew. Watch the movement of the slick; when it disappears repeat the process.  Within 10-15 minutes the blues and/or striped bass should be under your boat and hitting your bait.  (Note: When the action gets heavy, slow down on the chumming.  You don’t want to keep the fish satisfied with bits and pieces of your chum when they should be hitting the big chunks at the end of your line.)

Drop the bait to the bottom, and set your reel bales and adjust your drag.  (Hint: Every few minutes gently lift the line; this action serves to shake off a mooching crab–and the glint of moving bunker scales might help catch the eye of a nearsighted fish.) When a fish hits your bait and the reel begins to sing, don’t strike him immediately; wait a few moments until he runs with some line and slows down a bit, then hit him hard and keep his head up until he’s tired out and ready to be netted or gaffed.

Most readers of The New England Fisherman know Long Island Sound pretty well and already have their favorite spots for chunking.  Speaking for “My Bonnie,” we’ve had a lot of success at Buoy 28C–which is about 2 miles due south of Green’s Ledge Light (180º)-fishing about 300 feet south of the buoy in water 40-48 feet.  Another fruitful spot can be reached by continuing 100-200 feet due south from that point-to water depths of 50-60 feet.  Buoy 11B (a green bell buoy that’s visible from 28C in a southeasterly direction of about a mile) has also been productive, especially when sitting at the south side of the reef in about 30-35 feet of water.  When these haunts aren’t holding fish I move further down the reef (which runs in a southerly direction) looking for other areas located over a sloping ledge (e.g. from 35 down to 70 feet or more.)

Sometimes I find fish right away; sometimes it takes several moves and lots of drops.  But whatever the conditions and wherever and whenever I take out my charters for a day of chunking, I always do so with a goodly supply of chum as insurance.  Like that much-advertised credit card, I don’t leave home without it.You can try chunking without chum, of course; but it’s not the best choice if you’re looking for optimal results.  We’ve done it both ways and know from personal experience that we can be anchored in the middle of Long Island Sound-maybe 30 yards from other boats-with all of us sitting over the same body of fish-and if we’re chumming and the other anglers aren’t, we’ll outcatch them at a ratio of about 5 to 1.   An oily chum slick is a time-tested magnet for gamefish; it’s the nectar of the gods to those large blues and stripers.  Although I always use a bunker formula, many local fishermen have been equally successful with clam or mackerel-based mixtures.  Whichever type of chum you prefer, I guarantee you’ll increase your catch significantly by planning ahead-with the right bait, the right tackle, the right techniques, and plenty of that godawful slop to spread upon the waters to improve your odds.