Scientific Name: Brevoortia Tyrannus
Aliases: Menhaden, Pogy, Bugmouth, Mossbunker, Bunker and Fat-back
Atlantic menhaden spawn year round in inshore waters off the Atlantic coast, with the highest spawning rates near North Carolina in the late fall. The eggs hatch in the open ocean and the larvae drift to sheltered estuaries via ocean currents. The young spend a year developing in these estuaries before returning to the open ocean. At this early stage, they are commonly known as "peanuts".
The adult bunker start an annual migration north in late winter or early spring. Bunker typically start showing in New Jersey around mid to late April and arrive in force in May.
Bunker schools are tightly packed and sometimes enormous. It is estimated that on the open ocean schools schools can contain up to a million fish or more. Once the bunker arrive in NJ they remain available throughout the summer into the late fall. Peanut Bunker are juveniles and are most prevalent in NJ waters in the early fall.
Adult fish can filter up to four gallons of water a minute. For many reasons, including their filtering capabilities, they are of tremendous importance to the overall ecological balance of NJ saltwater Fishing. In addition to the fishing opportunities they help to present they are a natural check to the deadly red tide. Atlantic menhaden can live up to 12 years The maximum size for bunker is around 15 inches. The average size is smaller in the southern portion of their range, and largest in the north. They are bright silver, and have black spots extending horizontally from the gill plate to the tail, with the largest directly behind the gill plate. They are delicate and soft fleshed with a forked tail. The edges of the fins and tail can have a yellowish appearance.
Bunker's Importance to NJ Saltwater Recreational Fishing
Without a doubt the bunker is the MOST important baitfish in NJ. In addition to it's commerical and ecologic value the bunker also is of major importance to NJ Saltwater Fishermen. Bunker provides bait for any number of fishing and crabbing activities. When one thinks NJ Fishing and bunker the first thing that comes to mind is big striped bass!
Hard core striper fishermen swear by Bunker Spoons. These big metal trolling spoons are crafted to perfectly imitate an injured bunker. A few years ago, trolling with bunker spoons was really a pro's game but advances in bunker spoon technology and modern fishing line like lead core and braid have made it signficantly easier to deploy bunker spoons successfully for those not as experienced.
Snag and Drop
This can be exciting fishing when things are on. Weighted treble hooks are cast beyond and then 'ripped' through bunker schools to snag your bait. Once snagged, the injured bunker will try to keep up with his school but will stick out like a sore thumb. If there are game fish actively feeding on the school, you are sure your bait will get slammed.