Prime Plugs and Bunker Bonanzas
ANTHRO-WHATADITY?: I just have to share this linguistic gobbledygook that came to my attention while further researching our super thrilling and always popular un-Earthly overheating, which we affectionately and ineffectively call global warming.
(Hey, if you wanted to get the boiling point across above runaway ozone you’d call the problem something like Planetary Death Heating. Hell, global warming makes you wanna go grab some sunscreen, an inflatable Tweety Pie inner tube and go lay out by the water.
So, I’m on the computer lazily reviewing a LorenzAttractor application for Mac OSX regarding Quantum and Fluid Mechanics of Global Warming and end up surfing my way to an odd site where the people refer to the any impact caused by mankind as an anthropogenic externality.
And can you say anthropogenic externality?
I like the way you say that. Now lets go visit the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Hell, we’re already halfway there.
The term anthropogenic externality is yet another addition to that steadily growing tongue the meant to exclude all but the elite few privy to such gibberish. I’ve noticed that such nonsensical nomenclature is often generated to confuse folks just long enough to pull off something very sneaky.
For example, in its purest form, an anthropogenic externality can be a good thing. Finally reaching some rain forest tribes to administer vaccines is seemingly anthropogenically good -- until all the tribes people die of a reaction to the vaccines and logging companies, coincidently on-hand, grab the now-deceased tribe’s land. Then, far truer to terms, the impact of the loggers clear-cutting the jungles is, low and behold, an utter anthropogenic externality.
Anyway, nowhere are anthropogenic externalities more at home than the fisheries realm. There isn’t a single species that isn’t impacted – often to hell and back – by mankind and his insatiable fishing urges.
Now that I’ve clued ya’ll into the gist of anthropogenic externality, I just might throw it in now and again – so just you and I know what’s what.
By the by, it’s obvious the death of fisheries is an anthropogenic externality, however I see the recovery of species by eleventh hour efforts as an anthropogenic externality. So what we need to get our fishing stocks back is an equal and opposite anthropogenic externality.
Bring that up at Wawa and watch how quickly people will move away from you in line.
PLUGGING IN WITH CARE: I was rating my plugs over the weekend, sorting out the still-goods from those that had to BE retired due to grievous bodily harm.
When checking plugs under a good light, damage-done tells a story – and creates mysteries.
Most anglers know the distinctive tooth marks of a bluefish chew, however a goodly number of folks assume any and all plug pulverizations are bluefish-based. Not so. Weakfish can offer a goodly gash when one of their two fang-like front teeth find the mark. Also, it only takes a striped bass blitz or two to prove even toothless species can pack destructive bite-downs.
But how can a toothless breed like a striper grind away at a fine plug’s finish?
Along with a grinding bite-down capable of crushing clams and enamel finishes, a hooked bass in full panic-driven escape mode gets the same adrenaline-like rush of the lady who one-handedly lifts up an entire pickup truck when she thinks her cat, Nipsy, is trapped underneath – then realizes it’s only her husband and lets it drop. A hooked fish has the force of fear its jaws.
There is also the collateral damage when fighting a plugged striper. During thrashings, the loose hooks on a multi-hook plug can do dastardly deeds to a plug’s surface.
After catching a frisky bass, I’ve seen some plug gougings that defy explanation, even after looking at the marks under a fish-bite microscope (no such thing).
My plug damage studies have found that one of the most dangerously destructive time for any plug is not when it is among blitzing blues or when being pulled over rocks (while plugging off jetties) but when tied to a rod in the racks of a buggy. As a vehicle’s speed increases, the flapping trebles begin biting into the plug surface, inflicting the finish with the famed (and ruinous) semi-circular scrapes. Interestingly, the exact same semi-circular effect can be seen after a series of fish fights, as the loose trebles chew away. The thing is
WHY THE PLUGGISH WORRY?: Plug prices have quietly shimmied up the edge of display cases, working their way to top-shelf positions, many snuggling up to price tags of $15 and up. However, those costly but common plugs are mere price peons when compared to antique plugs and modern designer plugs, including handcrafted beauties that garner upwards of $50 a pop.
Antique plugs are often in some other fiscal dimension, the rarest auctioning off at many thousands.
Anytime I mention plugs of old, I think back, years ago. I was treasure hunting an abandoned barn where hundreds of hand-made primitive fishing plugs were hanging off one large beam. They covered the thick 4-by-8. I was into old bottles at the time so gave the hangers a glance and begin scratching for glass. Worth of my day’s bottle finds: a few bucks. Value of left-behind plugs: priceless.
Under the low-end chance that someone reading this column got those hanging plugs (Manahawkin area), I’d love to hear more about them. Yes, it would be painful, but I have just the whip to swack myself with.
And not-that-old plugs are also turning golden. Some big-name models (Bombers, Red Fins, etc.) only 50-years-old are now worth a serious chunk of change – if you can even get collectors willing to part with them. Often, it’s an exact discontinued color or shape that brings on the worth.
I still firmly believe that the long-retired “02” Redfin is the greatest hue in the history of this fully-famed plug line, which has hosted well over a hundred different hues and surface designs over the years. It resembles – beyond belief – a mullet or bunker. Just try to buy one. And they only date back to the 70s. If you happen to have any to sell, I’m quite interested.
Closer to current life, the collecting of designer handmade plugs has also gone big time and big green. Plug craftsmen are often the highlight of fishing flea markets, where they sign their works of folk art with golden ink. And there are some truly amazing fishing plug crafters out there. I liken them to olden decoy carvers. However, it isn’t taking decades for folk art aficionados to find the plug carvers.
It wasn’t until I began collecting better plugs, i.e. antique or handmade beauties -- T.W.’s and new old stock antique specimens -- that I became acutely attuned to the collateral damage that can befall a plug when fighting even toothless bass. It’s love/hate/cringe when throwing a prime big-$ plug into hostile waters. The amazing action offered by finely designed hand-carved plugs is just the look even standoffish cow bass go gaga over. Unfortunately, badass bluefish biters get a gander at a saucily sashaying artificial and start salivating. “Wow, check the waggle on that bite-sized morsel!”
Sidebar: As a folk artist, I’m currently designing a large plug to be made from a complex inlay of laminated vintage Bakelite pieces. It’ll have a going price of over $150 -- and is surely meant as a no-use showpiece, i.e. display-only. But, I know I’ll be sorely tempted to see, just once, if it can actually catch a fish. For such a test, I’m going to use 150-pound test line, a 48-inch Kevlar leader, while putting a tiny life-vest around the plug, and don full scuba gear (replete with oversized flippers) in case I still mange to cast it off.
Collector’s note: New old stock means an item is old/original but has never been used. It is often still in the box. Importantly, the “box” part of a collectible fishing item can be worth as much as the contents. The original boxes that went along with antique fishing plugs are rare. The understated container used to house an old plug can double the plug’s value.
I personally like the old boxes with the price penciled on by the original tackle shop. A recent e-auction saw a mint condition century-old boxed plug sell for well over $2,000 -- with its original “50 cents” price tag still on it.
BUNKER FOR BETTER OR WORSE: Hey, let's talk bunker a minute. It’s the main bait from here on out (winter).
Much like humans, bunker spawn year ‘round with no real rhyme or reason.
Like mullet, the larval bunker are carried by currents into bay areas, where they hang for a year or so before venturing out – to be instantly consumed by predators.
Bunker are filter feeders, meaning they can eat anywhere and everywhere, sucking in taste-tempting plankton. Most importantly, they can eat on the run – which seems to be their lot in life.
It’s worth a thought: The entire lives of bunker consist of bolting around until finally eaten. I kid you not. It’s not as if they even get an occasional quiet moment when they just hang loose, sip seaweed teas and chat about the wives and larval kids. Every second of the day and night, they simply school up and circle around nervously sucking in microscopic morsels, tensed for that scream announcing a pod of 20-pound blues blasting through their midst. (And there’s always that one nerve-wracked bunker that accidentally screams when a tiny mullet sneaks up behind him, sending the entire school into shriek-and-panic mode, leaving the mullet dead of a heart attack, and leading to the false-alarm bunker getting slapped behind the head by the other bunker as they finally settle down. Hey, I’m very observant.)
Nature, in one of its cruel little twists, has supplied bunker with amazing eyesight, some of the best peepers in the business. Admittedly, that hawk-eyedness helps them see marauders at a distance but it also makes the baitfish neurotically aware of the huge and perpetually hungry bass idly lurking below. Because of this stalking striper presence, bunker often nervously ball up near the surface, feeling this tiny grain of confidence in at least knowing where the enemy is down below, as gannet circling in the sky above take aim. If you believe in reincarnation, I’m thinking some pretty rank folks were relegated to come back as bunker.
Related email question: “How long does bunker stay good?
Bunker is one of the fasted decaying fish known, due to exceptionally high oil content and some complex histidines in their chemistry.
When bunker are bought super fresh and kept whole, they are good for maybe three or four days -- if stored in frozen brine conditions. As if we do that.
In reality, refrigerated bunker begins going south within 24 hours – 12 hours if just sitting out while being fished. It’s a speedy decay to say the least.
The first (and terminal) phase of spoilage is rancidity. To some degree, the initial rancidity is superficial and can be essentially washed off – and further lessened with the removal of innards. However, the rapid onset of rancidness is already the swan song of bunker as bait.
There is convincing anecdotal evidence that even ravenous gamefish can’t stomach rancid bunker. My guess is this has to do with certain histamines (from histidines) that form for a short period in bunker as it begins to go bad. These could be toxic to fish, as they are to humans. Since histamines are very short-lived, they are likely long gone by the time the flesh has gone purely gross. That is further confirmed, anecdotally, by the way truly rotten (way beyond rancid) bunker transitions back into a bona fide bait. I can’t count the number of stories I’ve heard of anglers being forced to use hideously bad bunker (after running out of all fresh bait) and immediately catching fish, often real big fish. Whatever there is in a just-turned rancid bunker that turns gamefish off, it seems to be neutralized in really rotten bunker
By the by, as stinky as bunker are in hand – as I can attest after unhooking live ones recently – the meat inside is almost odorless when fresh. No, this is not just me trying to chuckles by getting folks to stick their noses in bunker flesh. That pure-fresh bluish bunker flesh should have virtually no smell – and is a prime sign to anglers that they have some sweet bait on their hands.
RUN-DOWN: Some super sessions since last we spoke.
Last Friday went wild in the deep south, i.e. Holgate.
Here’s my Friday blog (http://jaymanntoday.ning.com/):
“…Bluefish were ravaging near-in big bunker pods, allowing pluggers and (later) chunkers to take on slammers in their full-ravage mode. Near-in boat anglers were also smackin’ the slammers. Somewhat oddly, there were massive bunker shoals a bit further off the beach but the boaters found all the action flush to the beachline. I saw blues in the 10-pound range being taken at a moderate clip. It bordered on blitz when the bunker got spooked into a foot of water but the better part of the afternoon was reaching a low tide sandbar and casting out. Even when the bait wasn’t going bananas the blues were accommodating plugs and bunker chunks.
“There were also a few bass mixed in. I saw a couple to 15 pounds and heard of a couple bigger models. Tom W. tapped the late-day blues boil for a 33-3 rogue bass (weighed in today). I was fishing near him for a while but, per usual, got impatient and bolted. (Not taken on plug!? You should be ashamed, Thomas.)
Some folks caught more bass in that short session than they had taken to this point in fall. Many folks finally bagged their two (or three with tag) take-home fish (closest to an edible 28 inches). Along with the 33-3 that won the day, numerous 25-pound-plus fish came to light -- and some went back in as releases, from non-tourney folks wanting edible meat not mass. That bite went on until after dark. In some cases, the bunker were pinned in only inches of water, at anglers’ feet.
Here’s Joe Handley’s report on the next rad session:
Sunday the NE wind did the trick. Had bluefish in the BB (Brant Beach) early morning surf. But it was a late-day South End session that was mind-blowing … Adult bunker everywhere. Every one hooking up big bass and monster bluefish. This went on for hours. Saw multiple bass in the 20- to 30-lb range get caught. Seals were spotted chewing on bunker. I caught 3 bass and 3 bluefish. All were released. I weighed a 10/0 bluefish for the derby (LBI Classic) and released him. All methods were working: Plugs, snag and drop bunker, bait fishing. I had a big bass grab my grass-covered sinker as I was cranking it across the surface at warp speed -- to clear the grass so I could make another cast. This happened at least 3 times. Crazy! After releasing the bluefish, I hit the BB surf till 10pm. Good conditions and I found more stripers. They were all just short of 28" though. All on bunker.”
BATTLING BUNKER: As weird as it gets: Stu D. was fishing the west point of Holgate on Sunday. What looked to be herring surface splashes were all over that cove-like area. Using a freshwater rig comprised of a few small jigheads with white plastic tails (his favorite herring-getter), Stu cast out and hooked up immediately. Landing a fiercely fighting fish, he was shocked to see it was a full-sized bunker, foul-hooked. He figured it was a long-shot foul hooking. Well, 29 bunker later, Stu knew he had just worked as weird a fishing session as he’d ever seen. Bunker after bunker, sometimes two at a time, all foul-hooked. I was right there observing -- and threw castnet over 15 large bunker. That bizarre bunker “bite” hung out for days.
Most of the foul hooking was along the back, almost as if the fish were hooked for immediate live-lining. This I believe was due to a natural reaction of a bunker to feeling the fishing line against its side. It atomically turns it’s dorsal fin toward the odd sensation, the jigs them hit that upper part of the back. There were also some bunker fouled very near the mouth. They were not attempting to scoff up the jigs. Bunker are filter feeders, eating microscopic planktons. The reason for the near-mouth hookups was because the balled bunker were so tightly packed they created a wall of forward-facing snouts. An approaching rig would foul them near the face if the entire bait ball happened to facing the direction of the approaching jig.
BAD BASS DAYS: Hearing that panicked bunker angle during the above-mentioned blitzes, Hearing that panicked bunker angle, I flash to the one great bass I caught during tourney time many years ago. I had hit Holgate just after dark and pulled to a spot I had been fishing daily for weeks on end. It was almost exactly this time of fall. As I walked into the surf to cast, I was immediately wading amid the same panicked baitfish scenario as took place Friday. I could hear the bunker splashing, even over the breaking surf. In short order, I caught a 50-pounder on a yellow Bomber -- but surely could have used anything, from bait to metal, and a bass would have been on. Depressingly, there were those who quickly questioned my catch. Truly pathetic, considering there were witnesses there only seconds after I landed the fish – and a cop at the entrance to Holgate was stunned by the size of the bass when he checked it out with his flashlight, the fish still flapping. It even hit the tackle shop scales still alive. I (somewhat) got over the numbnuts who doubted my catching the fish but I never got over the fact I might have kept the bass alive for a revival and released – knowing what I do now. Gospel truth: I don’t care if I ever weigh another 50-pounder (or larger) into the tourney. That’s not to say I won’t rush it in if I happen to catch one but the BS after my one-and-only great bass dimmed my tourney torch forever. I enjoy more than ever watching (and writing about) others besting big bass – and I’m the first to congratulate them.