By Jim Flannery Photos By Tom Lynch
Tom Lynch calls it the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre,” a 10-hour blitz of striped bass that corralled and bashed vast schools of peanut bunker along 13 miles of Jersey shoreline, right at the beach’s edge.
The bunker were stacked top to bottom in small breaking waves, so thick that Lynch could hardly see water. More juvenile menhaden, pushed by bass and thrown up on the sand by surf, carpeted the beach. Gulls — thousands of them — feasted on the beached baitfish.
Some of the stripers were as large as 30 pounds. “I’ve never seen them attack so aggressively,” says Lynch, a Seaside Park, New Jersey, photographer, photo gallery owner and fisherman. “They were jumping out of the water, flying by me, running into me. I have a picture of a bass running into my leg. They were really amped up.”
Lynch, who is 53, had told his girlfriend that he planned to fish all day on Thanksgiving this year to make up for fishing days lost working at the gallery, but when he arrived at the beach in northern Ocean County, New Jersey, and saw the carnage unfolding in the surf, he grabbed his camera and started shooting — and shooting and shooting.
“It wasn’t until I knew I had a bunch of exciting shots that I put the camera down and fished,” he says. “I’d fish a little, shoot a little, fish a little, shoot a little.”
The bunker, which ranged from 2 to 14 inches, were so thick that a lure dropped in their midst went unnoticed in the melee. Those who caught bass worked the edges of the bait schools, Lynch says. “A friend of mine made 15 casts and caught 15 stripers,” he says.
Lynch chronicled the day in 800 photographs, landed probably 25 stripers during daylight hours and kept fishing all night, catching another 26. “It was an absolutely extraordinary day,” he says.
The action kept up nonstop from Bay Head to Island Beach State Park, New Jersey, Lynch says. Longtime Jersey fisherman Nick Cicero says he may have seen a few more intense blitzes, but “this one is about as good as I recall for the time it lasted.” Mild fall weather, which kept the bunker and bass in Northern waters longer, and the healthy population of menhaden probably contributed to the frenzy, Cicero says.
“It was a legendary day,” Lynch says. “People are going to be talking about their Thanksgiving Day for years.”
See more images of the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre” in the gallery below: