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If you find bunker, stripers can't be too far behind

"Find the bait and you'll find the fish" is a mantra veteran anglers often repeat to newcomers working their way up through the angling ranks. While it may seem like simple advice, it does pack a punch, for nothing draws stripers and blues like a fresh set of bunker sweeping into warming waters.

Just such a scenario may be setting up for the week ahead, and anglers antsy to hook up with their first serous fish of the season are chomping at the bit.

"We had bunker right in Pirates Cove late last week," said Candice Caraftis at Caraftis Fishing Station in Port Jefferson. "Husky schoolies plus some bigger bass were right on them, so it looks like the bite is about ready to start. In addition to the stripers, there have been a few nice flounder taken by bottom fishermen at the entrance to both Setauket Harbor and Conscience Bay."

The more western Long Island Sound harbors have seen similar encounters in recent days, with bunker numbers steadily increasing and encounters with stripers to 30 inches becoming a little more frequent, according to Capt. Chris Cullen of the City Island open boat Island Current. "We've been targeting winter flounder daily," said Cullen, "but we are now seeing a few bass pick up the flounder baits most days." As for the flatties, Cullen noted the action improved a bit in recent days with some fish taken each trip from Hempstead Harbor and Manhasset Bay.

On the western South Shore, Jamaica Bay is starting to produce a few stripers on the flats, and some schoolies have been pulled from Democrat Point. Still, stripers and blues remain mostly absent from the rest of the South Shore and the East End, save for some resident schoolies in tidal creeks and a few bass that have found the bunker in Peconic Bay.

Friday is the opening of porgy season in New York waters and that should provide the opportunity to put a few fresh fillets on ice. This year's regulations allow anglers to creel up to 30 fish per day with a 10 inch minimum size limit through Dec. 31. The limit for anglers fishing on open and charter boats increases to 45 per day from Sept. 1 through Oct. 31.

Commercial fishermen working inside Peconic Bay have pulled a few very large scup in recent days, but even this aggressive species still prefers water temperatures well above the 50-degree water temps we'll see going in the weekend.

"I'd give them a try off Rocky Point in 20 to 25 feet of water," said Caraftis. "The action in this middle section of Long Island Sound usually starts there and spreads west."

At White Water Outfitters in Hampton Bays, Bryce Poyer suggested those looking for scup to try Peconic Bay off Jessups Neck, Roses Grove or Robins Island. "Set up in 20 to 30 feet of water," he advised, "and work the outgoing tide. That's when the water will be the warmest."

If you do head east this weekend, be sure to stop in at White Water Outfitters tomorrow or Sunday to catch their annual Spring Cast Off event. It features live music, food, drinks, raffles, casting demos, boats, tackle reps, gear deals and non-stop fishing banter.

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