Chopper City

Cruising for a Bruising, Ravenous Bluefish are Terrorizing Waters Near You

Capt. Steve Dougherty November 28, 2011

Mowing down unsuspecting schools of scaly finfish, bluefish are impressive predators that are always looking for confrontation. With a wide-ranging distribution, these coastal pelagic game fish ravage waters along the entire Eastern Seaboard. Feisty game fish that can be caught with a variety of techniques, when aggressive bluefish invade area waters there’s no avoiding their lure-slashing strikes and drag-screaming runs. Lucky for you, like seasonal snowbirds heading south bluefish winter in the warm waters of the Sunshine State.

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Close encounters with vicious bluefish will keep you on your toes. Photo: Captain Steve Dougherty

Carnivorous predators best described as piranha on steroids, bluefish aren’t picky eaters and feed on whatever protein sources are available. At times menu items may include pilchard, shrimp, crabs, herring, sardines, menhaden, glass minnow, mullet, pinfish and even smaller, juvenile bluefish.

Frenzied bluefish are a force to be reckoned with and will decimate schooling baitfish, leaving no more evidence than a cloud of scales and trail of blood.

Aside from salty surf casters along Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, bluefish often go ignored for more glamorous inshore game fish like redfish, trout, tarpon and snook. While bluefish aren’t targeted with much fervor in Florida, it’s hard to argue they aren’t premier light tackle targets. Combine incredible aggression, aerial displays, blistering runs and razor-sharp teeth, and you have a predator that will put your tackle and angling prowess to the test.

Whether or not you choose to welcome bullish bluefish or not, one thing is for certain—when the water erupts and scales start flying you’ll know who is to blame. As baitfish head south for warmer water, bluefish follow the same migration ritual and at times can be unavoidable. If you aren’t prepared for close combat, bluefish will make your time on the water extremely frustrating. Instead of cutting your day short embrace your inner bluefish and get in on the sizzling action.

While winter weather patterns bring churning seas and exciting surf fishing opportunities, targeting bluefish along shallow inshore grass flats and drop-offs cannot be beaten. Bluefish start to show in the surf early in the season, but as winter progresses everything in the wash filters through area inlets. Find forage inshore and you will find the blues. Not as large as their New England counterparts, bluefish upwards of 10 pounds can be encountered with relative seasonal consistency along the Atlantic Coast. Days between cold fronts offer clear and calm conditions, which typically put roving packs of blues on the hunt. Prime time for a full on blitz is often early in the morning or late in the afternoon, although surface action can erupt during any time of the day. And unlike the onslaughts up north that can end before you know it, the action here will typically last until you cry mercy.

Although bluefish can be encountered throughout the entire state, we are fortunate to be in close proximity to the Indian River Lagoon—one of the country’s most biologically diverse estuaries. Spanning approximately 150 miles, there’s no shortage of forage or promising territory along the expansive IRL. Because bluefish ride ocean currents south as they search for warmer waters, inshore flats and drop-offs that are in the vicinity of area inlets provide an influx of clean ocean water and current, which bring shoals of scaly baitfish and the best opportunities for vicious attacks.

Frenzied bluefish are a force to be reckoned with and will decimate schooling baitfish, leaving no more evidence than a cloud of scales and trail of blood. These bad to the bone game fish rarely travel alone and feed with a pack mentality. Because of their cannibalistic attitude these carnivores often school in segregation with like-sized fish. If you find yourself in the middle of a frenzy you better be prepared to go through some tackle. Soft plastics are no match for the razor-like teeth of an adult yellow-eyed blue devil. Because they make noise, create irresistible commotion and can withstand repeated attacks, topwater plugs are the ideal offerings for picking a fight with brawny blues. Plus, the sight of a dozen bluefish fighting over your plug is pretty hard to beat.

Topwater lures create incredible surface commotion and are available in popping and walking variations. Walking baits create a deadly twitching action that’s commonly referred to as “walking-the-dog.” Popping baits, often referred to as poppers or chuggers, are similar to walking baits except they’re outfitted with a cupped face that splashes water and creates a deep gurgling sound.

Whatever plug you choose be sure it features 3X treble hooks. A bluefish’s mouth is designed to destroy whatever it comes in contact with and cheap hooks will not hold up to repeated attacks. You may want to remove the front treble to make for an easier release, or replace the trebles with single hooks altogether. Bluefish are so infatuated with destroying whatever they come in contact with that their aggressive strikes sometimes result in double hooking.

Even though riled up bluefish aren’t too picky, you may find a specific color that’s more effective than others. Inshore water clarity is often marginal, and a bone or chrome finished lure may conform to conventional wisdom of matching the hatch, although it may benefit you to pick an exaggerated color pattern that provides a stronger contrast. A chartreuse or bright orange pattern will greatly enhance your plug’s visibility.

While specific color patterns can certainly be more visible under varying light conditions, it’s likely the plug’s sound, vibration and action that are doing the trick. An angler’s retrieve can alter these characteristics, with the most aggressive fish responding to a rapid retrieve. When a fish follows your plug for a closer look be sure to increase the speed of your retrieve to create more action. A real baitfish would swim for its life to escape the powerful jaws of a pursuing bluefish.

If you notice that bluefish are rising up on your plug but turning off at the last moment you may need to impart even more action. You can use the same retrieve speed and increase as necessary, but give the rod tip sharper and more frequent twitches. Hopefully your plug will look even more panicked as a hungry blue comes in for the kill.

Don’t sing the blues when your favorite inshore targets won’t cooperate. When bluefish are on the feed their surface explosions are incredibly exciting—especially when you’re in the water right next to them! You may think wade fishing for enraged bluefish is foolish, but it adds and an incredible level of excitement that cannot be matched. Just be sure that when retrieving your plug and releasing fish to take extra care. The razor sharp teeth are no joke and your appendages are at serious risk.

Whether you’re a fan or not, as your read this article bluefish are migrating along the coast and infiltrating inshore waterways. Breakout your favorite light tackle outfit and rig up a trusty topwater plug. A feeding frenzy is about to erupt.

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When a blitzing bluefish tries to decimate your plastic plug you must avoid setting the hook like you would with traditional enticements. It’s hard to believe a bluefish can ferociously attack an artificial and avoid the protruding treble hooks, but it can easily happen. When a fish rushes in to strike a topwater plug it creates a pressure wave that pushes the lure toward the surface. From a distance it may look like the fish has a firm hold on your lure but this is not the case. Hold off on setting the hook until your plug disappears and you feel the weight of the fish.

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