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September 21, 2007

The Bunker King

In Long Island Sound, one man has made an art of decking big stripers on live bunker. These are his secrets.
HOLY COW: Rich Tenreiro with a nice Long Island Sound striper.
Photo: Rich Tenreiro

When I met rich Tenreiro of R&G Bait and Tackle in Port Washington, New York, in 1996 he was known as the Bunker King. He garnered the nickname because he had a sixth sense for finding bunker in the waters of Long Island Sound. When other shops were out of fresh bait, Tenreiro always had an ample supply.

These days Tenreiro runs a charter boat and is the cohost of a local television show, "Northeast Angling," but he still spends plenty of time gathering bait for his store. Not surprisingly, he's also mastered a technique for parlaying live bunker into big striped bass. In 2004, he fed a bunker to a 52-pound bass, and he's done the same with countless fish in the 30- to 45-pound range. I got my chance to learn the art of live-lining from the Bunker King last May.

'Tis The Season
As we motored into manhasset bay, which was not yet burdened by its summertime trappings of moored sailboats, Tenreiro told me that he starts live-lining right after the first schools of bunker arrive in mid-April and continues into early July. During the heat of summer Tenreiro believes most of the bigger stripers move east, possibly pushed by the influx of large bluefish. He resumes live-lining in late September when the big fish start staging in the area for their fall migration.

Tenreiro and I had scarcely covered 300 yards when we spotted a school of bunker on the surface.

"That's our cue," he said, pulling back on the throttle. Since the bunker showed no signs of being harassed by stripers, we anchored the boat just off a nearby point in six feet of water.

"Early in the season, I'll set up on the nearest point or piece of structure, like a dock, to a good body of bunker," he said, as he reached into the live well. "Often the big stripers will be holding in these areas."

Tenreiro's tackle of choice is a conventional setup spooled with 30-pound monofilament, which he prefers over braid for its forgiveness and durability. "We're fishing a lot of structure in this part of the Sound," he says. "If a big fish nicks your line on a rock, you'll lose him with braid." His terminal tackle is quite simple. It consists of a barrel swivel and 21¿¿2 feet of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader snelled to a 9/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook. "I use a big hook so it doesn't get buried in the bunker on the hookset."

We set out three rods, lobbing two toward the point and one off the opposite side of the boat. Before long one of our bunker showed a frantic spring in its tailbeat, and a large striper knocked it out of the water.

"That's a hot striper," Tenreiro told me. "Get ready."

Seconds later, as the bunker raced for its life, it disappeared in a swirl, and the reel's clicker started singing. I set up quickly on the fish to avoid deep-hooking it, and we were into the first striper of the day a nice 20-pounder.

Bunker Basics
Before each trip, tenreiro catches his bunker with a castnet and keeps about a dozen or so in his live well.

If you're not handy with a castnet, you can use a weighted treble hook to snag bunker, but you'll need to fish them quickly. They won't last nearly as long in a live well as bunker that have been netted.

With a net full of bunker, Tenreiro culls his catch until he has a live well full of small to medium-size fish. He hooks the bait just behind the dorsal so he has more control over it.

"I like to keep my bunker on the surface, swimming on their sides," he says. "If they go deep I'll raise the rod to bring the bait to the surface."

When a striper is in pursuit you'll see the bunker swimming frantically. Often a bass will knock a bunker out of the water, trying to stun it. It's a bit of a dance, and Tenreiro says knowing when to set the hook is crucial. "The best way to get a solid hookset is to feel for the bunker's tailbeat. When a striper is after a bunker you'll feel two thumps as the bass stuns the bait, then you'll lose the tailbeat. When that happens, set up on him."


SOUND STRIPER: The author prepares to release a striper that fell for a live bunker.
Photo: Jason Y. Wood

Get To The Points
As the action quieted down at our first stop, Tenreiro fired the engine and pointed the bow toward the open waters of Long Island Sound. In April and early May, Tenreiro does most of his live-lining in the shallows in the back of the Sound's bays, such as Manhasset and Little Neck.

"The shallow water warms up quicker in the back of the bays, and that's where the bunker go when they first arrive. The stripers are right behind them. As the season progresses the bunker push out, and

I follow them into the more open waters of the Sound."

Out in the Sound, Tenreiro favors areas where a rocky point drops off into deep water. "The big bass feel safer in the deep water, but they'll come into the shallows to feed, especially on a live bunker."

Wherever your spot, Tenreiro doesn't recommend staying long if the bite's not on. "I give an area about 15 minutes, and if I don't see any action I'll move."

We anchored off a point of Hart Island within casting distance to shore. The area was loaded with boulders, and the bottom dropped away to 25 feet not far from the boat. We had a fish smacking a bunker in less than a minute. There was a fair amount of foreplay before the fish took the bait.

"Sometimes you can steer these bunker right into a striper's mouth," said Tenreiro, working the rod. As I gave a knowing chuckle, he yanked sharply on the rod, allowing the line to go slack and the bunker to dive beneath the surface. A few seconds later, with the bunker out of sight, he set the hook on a 30-pound fish.

"Oh yeah," he said. "Worked liked a charm."

To book a trip with R&G Charters, call (516) 369-7707 or visit www.rgfishing.com.