From the Chelsea Piers, on Manhattan, we ran down the Hudson River, under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and east past Coney Island, struggling to keep up with Capt. Frank Crescitelli's Fin Chaser. He carried the VIPs for the FCA Manhattan Cup, the Fisherman's Conservation Association's annual tournament, threading through the fleet, dropping off plane just long enough to get his anglers hooked up. He was working the birds and the fast-moving schools of striped bass under them. We were following, hoping to get some video of the action. No sooner did we locate and approach his boat, which consistently had anglers fighting fish from both sides, than he landed the fish, jumped on plane and took off once again. It was the kind of run-and-gun action that we'd enjoy for the better part of the next two days.
Every spring, beginning in April, these waters at the mouth of the Hudson River fill up with bunker, bay anchovies, sand eels and, as expected, a tremendous number of striped bass.
"The run starts in early April," Crescitelli says. "Then it peaks in May as the fish move up the river, then peaks again in June when the fish come back down." Crescitelli makes a good business chasing stripers with plugs and flies, which they hit readily in these 20- to 50-foot depths. But that's not the only way to target them.
Capt. Steve Byrne of First Cast Charters prefers live-baiting. "Big menhaden are the indicator," he says. "They show up around St. Patrick's Day. Then the big bass get on them by the first of April. And it really gets cranking by May 1."
Once the fish are in and feeding on the bunker, the fishing is consistent to say the least, Byrne says: "Last year it was insane with fish. We'd put a live bunker in the water, and we'd have 30-pounders tripping over each other to get to it. It was like that for a month."
Byrne's bunker rig is simple. He uses conventional tackle with 20- to 30-pound mono, a 60-pound leader and an 8/0 hook. He hooks the bunker through the nostrils and then drops it back into a school. "Put the reel in free-spool with the clicker on and with your thumb on the spool; let it swim naturally," he says. "When the bass come after the bunker, yours is just a little slower than the rest, and he'll get drilled."
Just like the technique, locating the stripers is simple, Byrne says. He cruises until he sees surface activity or until the fish finder lights up. "When they are not crashing the bait," he says, "I drive around until I see something on the fish finder, then go back over it and put a bait out." Usually the fish come up readily, even when they are lying 20 or 30 feet down. "If they don't, I put a sinker on and drop it down to them."