on The Chunk
This time of year there is typically one thing on most angler’s minds-STRIPED BASS! Beginning in early October, the striped bass quest is on, and the fish tend to grow bigger with every passing month. But in the northern Chesapeake Bay, striper fishermen have known for years the secret for enticing larger stripers earlier in the season by using a technique referred to as chunking. Recently, this method has caught on in the lower Chesapeake, and is very effective for culling out the larger striped bass with good predictability. Anglers can anticipate fish ranging in the 20-pound and larger category, leaving the schoolies for the casters and top-water pluggers.
Without argument, striped bass is certainly the most popular fishery on the greater east coast, and with good reason. The food value of these striped predators is excellent, and the aggressive strike of a striped bass followed by an exhilarating battle makes it worth bundling up to brave the chilly ride.
WHEN and WHERE
Fortunately for most of us fisher-types who prefer keeping things simple, chunking is easy, requiring little planning or set-up. And again fortunately for us, striped bass are gluttonous and a little lacking in the smarts department, therefore perfect technique is not required, so simply adhering to a few minor points will make for a boastful striper outing.
As with any type of striped bass fishing, the movement of the tide is probably the most important factor, and so is the case with chunking. A moving tide is an absolute requirement for enticing these stalkers, but a raging tide (such as those accompanying a full moon), or a dead slack tide can lead to a stagnant chunk bite at best. So either day or night, while keeping the tide movements in mind, head to the nearest productive bridge assembly and look for changes in the bottom alongside the structure. Changes such as shoals, slews, and other shallow areas contribute to appealing bait-collecting eddies and hideouts, attracting a larger class of meal-hunting striped bass. Most successful chunkers will agree that water ranging anywhere from 12-20 feet is a favorable depth to set up for striper chunking. Once an optimal locale is established, simply anchor up-current of the structure, and drift the boat back toward the bridge. Make sure the scope of your anchor line is sufficient, pulling anchor and smacking a bridge piling is a sure way to ruin any striper event in a hurry.
Striper chunking basically requires equipment and tackle in about the 20-pound class range. My personal preference includes a conventional style reel spooled with 20-pound test line and a 6-7 foot live-bait or boat rod made for handling fish pushing up to about 30 pounds. A typical fish-finder rig is a good option, which is prepared by placing a sinker-slide donned with an appropriate sinker above a stout barrel-swivel and tying on a 3-4 foot segment of monofilament leader material. I always lean toward a 7/0 to 8/0 circle or octopus style hook while striper chunking to help avoid gut-hooking the occasional brave dink.
BAIT and CHUM
Although striped bass are not typically picky eaters, the best bait is always fresh bait, and the cuisine of choice is menhaden. If fresh bait is not available, a good alternative choice is fresh-frozen bunker. If you can’t locate menhaden, you may want to choose a different striper fishing technique for your trip. I always ensure that I have about 20-40 pounds of bunker on hand, enough to use for bait and extra for making chunking pieces. Many chunkers also prefer to place a bag of menhaden chum into the mix in addition to chunks, but a quality stream of menhaden parts is usually sufficient to attract a generous following of eager takers. Be sure to check the bait and replace it frequently. Fishing on credit or with gutless, washed-out bait will severely slow down the stampede, and cut into your bragging rights considerably.
SET-UP and CHUNK
Prepare the menhaden baits for the hook by cutting off the head and tail, and dividing the remaining body into about 1-1.5-inch segments. Work the hook through the body portions of the bunker, ensuring the barb of the hook is exposed.
Position the boat close enough to the structure to place baits on the bottom within your chosen spectrum, but far enough to allow ample fighting space. When night-fishing, place some of the baits just before and in the light-line ahead of the structure, and inch the other baits between the pilings and under the bridge. Once the strike zone is located, the baits can be readjusted. Place the rods in the holders, back off the drag, and turn on the clicker so that the current does not pull the line. This will allow the fish to pick up the bait and move with out resistance.
Once you are satisfied with your set-up, begin the chunking process by cutting the bunker into about ¼ to1/2-inch pieces tossing them up current near the boat, allowing them to sink into the vicinity of your enticing buffet of baits. Ensure your chunks are not frozen or they will tend to float instead of sinking and thrifty seagulls will be happy to take those floaters off your hands, even at night.
Once a fish begins his run with the bait and the clicker sounds, gently pick up the rod, put the reel in gear, and quickly wind in the line. The circle hook will pull true, and your fight will begin. Adjust the drag firmly to keep the runs to a minimum and to help avoid the fish wrapping the bridge pilings. Once the fish is boat-side, gently net the fish with a large net and quickly de-hook him and return him to the water if releasing him. The daily limit for striped bass is two fish per person, so choose your fish carefully.
Chunking is an excellent method anytime during striper season, but in the earlier months such as October through November this technique helps give you an edge over the typical casting methods resulting on the average with a larger class of fish for the early season.