NET-WORKING: While throwing the castnet can gather plenty of bait, tournament crews jig around buoys too.
Photo: Joel Arrington
“The first bait down on an offshore rock,” Captain Stanley Jarusinski says, “is going to catch the biggest king on that rock.”
That’s why it was just shortly after sunup when we launched Jarusinski’s boat at Emerald Isle on Bogue Sound in North Carolina. We were joined by angler Charles McClure for the run to Jarusinski’s bait pen about three miles away on a friend’s dock in the ICW.
|***How To Build a Bait Pen**|
| |WORTH THEIR WEIGHT: Penned bunker get valuable when a tournament comes to town and there’s no bait to be found. Photo: Joel Arrington| There we took on a load of menhaden in the live well, using a rubber-meshed dipnet Jarusinski had made for the purpose.
Jarusinski, known to one and all as “Stanman,” and his team won the 2005 Southern Kingfish Association Class of 23 National Championship. He had also won the 2002 U.S. Anglers kingfish championship.
In the world of big-money kingfish tournaments, live bait is what gives you a shot at a win. But menhaden are hard-fished by commercial fleets, often causing local depletions.
“Some days we can’t find ’em,” Jarusinski says. “It might be eleven o’clock before we can catch enough to run offshore. Some days we can’t find even one.”
When bait is scarce, keeping them alive gets that much more important. After all, the boat that starts the day with frisky baits in the well can put the most pressure on the king mackerel-and is always a threat to bring in a winning fish.
Those who follow the kingfish pros and emulate their techniques consider Jarusinski’s bait handling second to none-he has taken innovation and management of this resource to new levels.
| |BAIT AND SWITCH: Jarusinski, right, and McClure crown the day with a king – a simpler task when bait is around. Photo: Joel Arrington| And with those two national championships, it’s hard to argue with his methods.
Kingfish anglers prefer menhaden because large numbers may be collected within minutes, speeding the departure for offshore fishing grounds. But alternative bait species, such as sardines, cigar minnows and lizardfish, can be caught on Sabiki jigs beside buoys or over hard bottom.
“You need a big bait to catch a big king,” Jarusinski says. “But the bigger they are, the harder they are to keep. In a tank of mixed large and small baits, the bigger ones will turn red and die first.”
While big baits are better, Jarusinski concedes that a small menhaden is better than no menhaden at all.
“The size of bunker used to be uniform within a school,” he says. “But since the industrial fleets have been catching so many, the size within a school may vary. You just try to get the biggest you can.”
More than just a key to getting big kingfish, Jarusinski’s early start also nets him the best bait. Menhaden swim into shallow water at night. They are most active at sunup and can be caught on shoals as they come out of shallow water. They become less active as the sun climbs, but if they are plentiful, they may be evident all day.
“Where you throw (a castnet) for them depends on the tide,” says Jarusinski. “You can mark them on a depthfinder and throw on them, or you might see them popping. Novices might watch where the boys are catching them and throw there, generally along the edges of a creek or the Intracoastal Waterway or where the tide comes over a bar.”
Pelicans are a really good sign when seeking menhaden.
“Watch where a pelican dives,” Jarusinski says. “If bait is scattered, you might want to hurry to that spot and throw there.”
Jarusinski says you don’t need a heavy castnet in summer. One with a ten-foot radius and 5/8-inch mesh will be adequate for the beginner. With a net that size you might catch 200 pogies in a single throw.
As summer turns to fall, the water becomes cooler and clearer, and the fish are faster. They will not be schooled up as tightly.
| |Photo: Joel Arrington| Anglers will need a heavier net, one with a 12-foot radius and half-inch mesh, and 1.7 pounds of lead per foot.
“That’ll give you a 20-pound net,” Jarusinski says. “Once you learn to throw a ten-footer, you should learn to throw a 12-footer.
“You don’t have to be any stronger,” Jarusinski continued. “I’ve taught 12-year-olds to throw a net that size. It’s technique that allows you to open the net consistently. It should open 90 percent or more as it falls. Bad throws might catch bait in summer, but not in the fall.” (To learn how to throw a castnet in six easy steps, search for “Net Results” on www.saltwatersportsman.com)
Menhaden may also become boat shy. Jarusinski positions his boat so that the school is moving toward it.
“Don’t try to catch up from behind,” he says. “Get ahead. Once they get 25 to 30 feet from your boat, they may dive. Anticipate their path and throw where they’re going to be. If you’re lucky, you might see them popping and can throw on them right away.” Jarusinski uses a crew of three to gather bait.
“Two throw at the first sign of fish near the boat,” Jarusinski says. “The third has his net loaded waiting for a pop. Inevitably if you don’t have a net ready, you will get that pop. Some days you’ll catch only five or ten in a throw, but on the next toss you might catch 100. It’s feast or famine. Sometimes you don’t have enough, but frequently you have too many.”
Load Up the Live Well
When it comes to bait, an embarrassment of riches is the best reason to carry a transfer net, a floating net that can be dropped next to the boat temporarily to receive baits from a castnet. Jarusinski likes this kind of net because he doesn’t have to dump baits on the deck where they must be handled, incurring injury and losing slime as they are transferred to a live well.
| |PLAYING FOR KEEPS: Jarusinski jigs fresh sardines at the start of his day. His pen bunker are used for backup, in case he can’t get fresh bait. An oxygen diffuser in his live well keeps the bunker frisky and fresh with bottled oxygen. Photo: Joel Arrington| He believes that untouched baits with undisturbed slime attract prey better. The transfer net also allows him to cull the catch and to call his friends over to share baits when they are hard to find, a situation that has become more common in recent years.
So when anglers luck into a full load, they want the baits to survive for as long as possible. Here’s where the live well comes in.
“An ideal live well holds 50 gallons and has a 500- to 1,100-gallon-per-hour pump,” Jarusinski says. “You want a pump whose rate you can regulate so you can turn the water over seven to ten times an hour. You want your bait swimming easily rather than struggling against a strong current. For a 50-gallon tank you will need at least a 500-gallon-per-hour pump. A 30-gallon tank with a high pump rate will force your baits to swim hard all the time. In three or four hours, they’re dead or dying.” Jarusinski drains the live well two or three times a day to remove the waste that builds up, which can be deadly to sensitive pogies.
Well-designed live wells are critical. “Good boatbuilders build good live wells into their boats,” Jarusinski says. “King mackerel anglers looking to buy a boat should consider the live-well system first and foremost before looking at other features. The best live wells are round rather than oval. They should have a lid and water should fill to the top to prevent sloshing, which is hard on baits.”
Jarusinski takes only 24 to 36 baits out on a tournament day. “Anglers try to carry too many baits,” he says. “One to 11/2 baits per gallon is about all you should transport, depending on the size of the baits. The bigger they are, the fewer you can carry in a given amount of water. As a safe measure, figure on 11/2 pounds of fish per gallon.”
Jarusinski recommends a KeepAlive oxygen infuser for live wells. “For tournaments, I use both an oxygen infuser and a diffuser,” he said. “The infuser brings air into the tank (through the pump) and disperses it in micro bubbles so minute you have to look closely to see them. The water will turn milky from the many tiny bubbles. The smaller the bubble, the more slowly it will rise, giving the oxygen in it more time to dissolve in the water.” He also employs a diffuser hooked up to a cylinder of oxygen, which is a ceramic stone riddled with tiny holes that delivers fine bubbles of pure O2 to the well water.
Because bunker have grown somewhat scarce, tournament anglers construct bait pens. Jarusinski has thought this process through as well, and considers nylon mesh to be the wrong stuff for the job. “A better material is hard plastic,” Jarusinski says. Construction materials may be purchased at hatchery supply firms. (For instructions on building a bait pen, see “Bait Bunkhouse“).
Locate your pen where there is little current. “Menhaden will die if they have to swim against current for very long,” he said. “Sardines are also delicate, but cigar minnows are hardy.” Jarusinski also suggests catching bait near your storage pen.
Experience has taught Jarusinski that menhaden can be “toughened,” or acclimated to a bait pen, over a few days of captivity.
| |DUMP SITE: Jarusinski empties his castnet into a transfer net at boatside. Photo: Joel Arrington| These conditioned baits are gold to a kingfish angler, withstanding transport and storage for up to several months, and lasting through those lean times.
“Those that survive will be durable enough to tolerate a trip offshore and back to the pen and be lively for the next trip,” Jarusinski says.
“Hardening of baits might take eight to ten days. They turn red and eventually white as they toughen,” he explains. “Ten percent of the first batch you put in might survive. It’s as if the first ones don’t know how to swim in a tank. Many more survive from the second batch. The first few set the swimming pattern. In my pen we’ve held as many as 300 at a time. After they’re hardened you might use them offshore, bring some of them back and they’ll be okay, except maybe those that had a hook in them.”
And with a well full of durable baits, an angler always has a chance of putting one in front of the biggest king mackerel of the day.
To fish with Captain Stanley “Stanman” Jarusinski, call (910) 326-2392, or visit www.captainstanman.us.
You’ve got the bait, now here are five ways to fish them.
1 SOFT TOUCH “For live bait, I use seven-foot rods with the softest tip and a real heavy butt,” Jarusinski says. “Too many guys use too stiff a rod.” He has used only roller guides since the day he lost a fish to a cracked guide.
2 QUICK PICK-UP Jarusinski uses Shimano Torium 20 reels. The 6.2:1 gear ratio picks up 47 inches per crank-key when a fast king charges the boat.
3 GO LIGHT Spool with 15-pound test, topped off with 75 feet of pink 20-pound fluorocarbon line. Lighter line gives him both huge capacity and better bait action for a longer duration.
4 RIGHT CROSS Jarusinski hooks his live baits through the nostrils, while other anglers push points through the roof of the baits’ mouths. “They’re making holes in the fish,” he explains. “I’m using holes that are already in the bait. Whose bait will last longer?”
5 TWO OUT OF THREE To place a No. 4 treble-hook stinger, Jarusinski buries two of the points in the side of his bait because it leaves the third point positioned to find its mark. “Push one point in, making sure the barb is under the skin,” he says. “Then as you go to straighten it, that’s when you stick in the other point.”