It was mid-October, the peak of the fall migration, and we were drifting among bunker schools herded into frightened, amoebic-like masses by cow stripers. Almost within casting range of rush-hour traffic on I-95 and a tanker offloading in Connecticut's New Haven Harbor, this was as easy as trophy fishing gets in southern New England. But the bite was on in the region, and ours was only one of many popular live-bait techniques for targeting fall cows.
From Massachusetts to New York City, October is when the big girls stage in southern New England's rips and estuaries en route to their destination -- famous wintering grounds of the Hudson River, Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay.
Cows in the 30-, 40- and even 50-pound range are targets of pros such as Connecticut's Capt. Chris Elser (CT-Fishing.com), who has fished the western Long Island Sound for more than 30 years.
Unlike in waters to the north and east, much of the bottom in the western sound is muddy and devoid of significant structure. Because of that, one of Capt. Elser's most successful techniques involves searching for and then angling near adult bunker schools using live baitfish.
"If you intend to keep your baits alive for long periods," says Elser, "It's important to have a circular livewell. I usually take the time to fill both livewells with bunker before I start fishing. But regardless of what type of baitfish you get, keep your bait-gathering time realistic, because your goal is to catch big stripers, not just bait."
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