YOU'VE GOT THE BLUES? FISH ON!
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
When fishing for striped bass, anglers often encounter bluefish. Some fishermen like catching bluefish, while others think that bluefish interfere with catching stripers. I like catching bluefish. They are great fighters, and contrary to what some say, they are good eating. Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) are a saltwater fish found in temperate waters around the world. When I caught them in South Africa, I called them Bluefish but was told there they are called Shad. Blues are hard fighting and lure destroying making them a popular game fish. My son smokes it, even making a smoked bluefish spread, proving its value as a food source. Blue fish have a broad, forked tail and a spiny first dorsal fin. It’s coloration is a grayish blue-green, fading to white on the lower sides and belly. They have a single row of uniformly sized teeth that are very sharp. They commonly range in size from 6-8 inch "snappers" to much larger fish commonly weighing 20 lbs., with really exceptional fish up to 30 lbs.
Bluefish are widely distributed around the world in open ocean waters along the
eastern Americas (except south Florida and northern South America), Africa, and the Mediterranean. They are found in a variety of coastal habitats such as energetic waters near surf beaches, or by rock headlands, and periodically in estuaries and brackish waters. When away from the coast and migrating, they can be found in open water schools. Along the U.S. East Coast, bluefish are winter off the southeast coast but by April, they have disappeared, heading north. By June, they may be found off of Massachusetts rocks and beaches, and in good years as far north as Nova Scotia. By October, they start migrating, and are rarely north of New York City, heading south.
Adult bluefish reproduce during spring and summer, and can live up to 9 years. Adult fish are strong and aggressive, generally living in loose “schools”. They are fast swimmers that rip through forage fish, continuing to feed in what is commonly called frenzied behavior. Seasonal forage includes menhaden (bunker), mackerel, mullet, anchovies, herring, shrimp, and squid. Bluefish often chase bait through the surf, attacking schools in very shallow water, creating a "bluefish blitz". In turn, bluefish juveniles
and snappers are food for larger predators including striped bass and larger bluefish. Adult bluefish are taken by tuna, sharks, billfish, seals, dolphins and porpoises. Bluefish are aggressive and have been known to inflict severe bites on fishermen. Wading or swimming among feeding bluefish schools can be dangerous.
I fish blues mostly in New Jersey, where bluefish show up in numbers in early May, staying all summer long and into October. Another good thing about bluefish is that you can often catch them during the day, even in summer. However, early morning and dusk are the best times. I find the best bait for bluefish is mackerel (fillet) in the spring, mullet in the fall, and bunker whenever you can get it. Unlike stripers, they usually don’t bite on clams. Throwing metal lures almost anytime is a popular way of catching bluefish. Retrieve them fast. In the spring white bucktails with a white curly tail trailer works great. They will also hit a hatch matching plug (Daiwa, Rapala, Yozuri, Bomber etc.) ripped on your retrieve. This is especially effective in the fall during the striper migration, as bluefish are often mixed in with blitzing stripers. There is nothing finesse about a Bluefish, built to rip and chop chunks out of baitfish. Often times it is the scraps, including leftover heads, that sink to the bottom where striped bass wait for them. This is why bunker heads are a great bait for catching stripers.
As, I mentioned, Blues will tear up your tackle. To avoid being cut-off, use a short heavy mono or a wire leader. Leaders also gives you something to grab when you land the fish. My son and I often debate hooks. He rightly argues that lures with single hooks are preferred, especially if you are releasing fish, as they are easier to unhook. He generally replaces any treble hooks on plugs, poppers and metal lures with single hooks. This is also best for Kayak fishermen who will be able to handle the fish easier with less threat to their own safety. My only issue with this? Laziness! But for most, it is worth putting in the effort.
For fly fishermen, Bluefish can be caught on flies. Streamers (match the hatch) with long shanks are a good choice.
The IGFA All Tackle World Record for bluefish stands at 31 lbs. 12 oz. by James Hussey near Hatteras, North Carolina. In the U.S., bluefish are landed primarily by recreational fishermen, but important commercial fisheries also exist. Fisheries management has generally stabilized the population after over-fishing in the late 1990's. As food, because of its fattiness, bluefish goes bad quickly, so it is generally not found far from its source. Relative to other fish, it inexpensive, and must be refrigerated and consumed soon after catch or purchase. Bluefish may be baked, poached, or smoked, and snappers are generally fried. Many recipes call for keeping it in vinegar or wine before cooking.