3. Menhaden (Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast)
Familiar to East Coast anglers as pogies, mossbunker or just bunker, menhaden are important forage and bait, especially for kingfish in the southern reaches of the species' range and striped bass in the north.
Find: Capt. Brant McMullan, owner of the Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle, North Carolina (www.oifc.com), whose team last November caught the largest king ever in the history of the Southern Kingfish Association, finds menhaden along the beach. "Diving pelicans are the telltale sign," he says.
Capt. Chris Gatley, who fishes New Jersey and New York waters (www.ardentangler.org), finds menhaden in back bays, around boat slips inside harbors and offshore. "On the ocean," he says, "you look for brown water, which is the oil and slime coming off the bunker schools."
Catch: McMullan uses a 10-foot cast net with 11/2-inch stretched mesh. "I wouldn't use anything less," he says. "Higher-quality nets have more weight. The pogies go straight down, and you need to let the net sink over them."
Gatley recommends a 2-inch mesh and a 10-foot net in the backwaters. "On the ocean," he says, "you use the snatch method." Reel a leaded 10/0 treble hook through the bunker school. When you snag a bait, free-line it in place to be picked up by stripers following the bunker school.
Keep: McMullan says he generally keeps one bait for every gallon of water in the well. "I run a 1,000 gph pump with a 50- to 60-gallon round livewell, with the inflow turned so the bait swims into the current," he says.
Gatley runs 50-gallon wells fed by 1,500 to 2,000 gph pumps, but he stretches the 1-gallon-one-bait rule, often carrying 80 to 100 baits. "I have two 1-inch scoops on the transom that pull water into the wells with a lot of force when my boat's on plane," he says.
Rig/Deploy: McMullan rigs for kings with No. 3 to No. 5 single-strand or 30- to 60-pound braided wire and No. 4 or No. 6 trebles, typically spaced four inches apart, one through the nose and the other hanging or pinned in the bait. "I like the braided wire," he says, "because I like the motion and can tie rigs fast with it." He fishes 20-pound main line blood-knotted to 10 feet of fluorocarbon, tied to a No. 8 or No. 10 black swivel above the wire rig.
Gatley opts for a bigger rig on stripers: "I use an Owner SSW Inline Circle, 10/0 and the Quick Rig bridle system through the nose. This keeps the hook exposed at all times. I'll run 40- to 80-pound fluorocarbon leader when bluefish are around," he says.