Catch the blues this season

Summer run has officially arrived, and they’re still hungry.

Chester the seafaring terrier checks out a freshly caught bluefish. — Courtesy Mark Bergeron

Picture this: You are casting your $25 popper off the back of a Jet Ski. You can see the concave head fluttering on the surface of the waves, imitating a distressed fish that would serve as an easy meal for a hungry striped bass.

Suddenly, you feel a hard tug on your line, and see a flash of greenish-blue scales swim by. The amount of force causes you to brace yourself for a fight, anticipating a major catch. Before you can loosen your drag and get situated, any tension in that line vanishes, and you are left with a slacked line fluttering in the wind.

Don’t worry, it probably isn’t your knot-tying skills (although I still have a lot to learn). It is more than likely a hungry bluefish saw that topwater lure and immediately thought, “Dinner.”

Known as “the piranhas of the sea” by some, bluefish are voracious predators that feed on the various species of bait fish that churn the waters off Vineyard shores. They have incredibly strong runs, and can frequently be seen launching themselves into the air and surfing the shore break near Eastville, State Beach, and pretty much anywhere around the Island. If you really want some action, head out to Wasque during an outgoing tide, and position yourself directly to the right of the rip. I have also had luck with the blues (and stripers) off the Edgartown Lighthouse, near Fuller Street Beach.

The bluefish’s sharp teeth make them a potentially dangerous fish to catch, but if you know your bluefish techniques, I can guarantee you will come away with all 10 of your fingers.

Bluefish are usually 20 to 25 inches long, but can get up to 42 inches in length. They are blue or blue-green along their back, fading to silver or white along their sides and belly.

They are schooling fish, which means if you come across one when you are fishing, there are most likely others around. When blues are hungry enough, they will swarm so intensely that the water can look like a hot tub with the jets turned all the way up.

To sum it up, blues are a fast-paced fish, and usually require deliberate use of tackle to ensure that you land your fish, and you land it safely.

First off, you need to use a wire leader. Wire leaders come into play when you’re fishing for fish with teeth sharp enough to cut through regular monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders (although I have pulled up bluefish with regular line).

There are a number of different kinds of wire leaders: multistrand, single-strand, and knottable. You can tie the knottable type with any of your regular knots. You can also get both single-strand and multistrand wire leaders that are premade. These have a barrel swivel on one end and a clip on the other end. Tie your line to the barrel swivel, and clip the lure or hook onto the other end.

Some anglers will make their own custom leaders using a cut piece of wire, but the premade ones work well too.

When you see bluefish swimming close to the surface, that means they are most likely feeding on smaller fish (including their own young), along with menhaden, mackerel, sand eels, herring, and squid.

Although bluefish love chunk bait like bunker, they also go hard and fast for most lures that would be suitable for stripers, like topwater poppers and long-range bombers.

As always, keep an eye out for shorebirds, like terns, that are diving for the bait fish below. When I’m out on the water, my favorite thing to do with schools of bluefish is follow the birds around, and troll directly through the school with a light metal lure. Once the blues get into a frenzy, there’s no stopping their appetite.

Pound for pound, you will be hard-pressed to encounter a harder-fighting fish, but bluefish do not have a size limit in Massachusetts currently, whereas the slot limit for stripers is strict. Anglers fishing from shore or on private vessels can bring in three fish, and for-hire fishermen have a limit of five fish per angler.

When removing your hook from a bluefish, be very careful. I recommend that everyone has a pair of fishing pliers, wire cutters, and a fish grabber that locks two prongs around the jaw of the fish for easier control when dehooking. Get the fish back home and filleted as soon as possible for the best taste and consistency, 

Pulling in a coupleof two-pound bluefish for dinner is exhilarating, and the reward is more than worth the effort, as the fish are some of my favorite to eat.

They are a greasier fish, so I normally fillet them, skin them (some people prefer skin-on), and throw them on the grill with some lemon, herbs, and butter. If you are looking for a reason to break out that smoker, bluefish are delicious fish to smoke, and can be made into a pretty awesome pâte, dip, or spread. 

Although the blues were more active in the month of June, they are still hungry, and when handled properly, are a fun fish to catch and a fun fish to prepare.