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Aggressive blues are an exciting catch

Some tips on technique, tackle and productive fishing grounds to start another season on the water

Some tips on technique, tackle and productive fishing grounds to start another season on the water

It’s the day you’ve been waiting for. All the spring prep is done; your second love is afloat and ready; plus the honey-do list is well in hand thanks to months around the house and off the water. The weather has warmed. It’s time to start another summer of fishing.

High on the list of available species are blues. They show up about now, and while they have tails and move around, they can usually be caught from early summer through the late fall. They usually bite aggressively, providing excitement for that friend from Manhattan or the kid down the street who never had the fun of either boating or fishing.

Perhaps the most enjoyable way to catch these critters is with a light, spinning rod, casting a top water plug into a rip early or late in the day. You and your guests experience a great sunrise or sunset then watch in glee (both for big and little kids aboard) as an 8-pounder chases the plug on the surface, finally nailing it in an angry boil all in full view of your drifting boat. Don’t overlook the therapy of getting someone usually bucking the morning traffic tide out on a calm evening, watching Mother Nature at her best, and catching a fish or two for supper at the same time. I’ve had plenty of executive types remark after such a simple trip they understood why people buy boats and go fishing.

I’ve also had trips when it poured rain and the people left in a hurry back at the dock, glad to be back in the leather comfort of their office on wheels.

Places like Race Point at the tip of Fishers Island, N.Y., or some of the rips in Nantucket Sound are ideal for this type of fishing. Some skippers take the hooks off their plugs, wanting only the thrill of seeing the fish on top, shooting great video in the process, not bringing any aboard. This tactic also works to bring fish within range of someone with a fly rod. After pulling the lure away from an ever-frustrated blue, the enraged fish is more than ready to hit anything that comes past its nose.

Another exciting method to catch blues is to find them corralling a school of bunker just outside the inlet or harbor some fine morning. Due to lack of large bunker along many stretches of the Northeast, this isn’t near as common as years past, but with all the juvenile bunker along our shores the previous three falls, hopes are rising for a comeback of this popular baitfish. Last year a run of adult bunker kept striper anglers busy off the New Jersey coast for a month. A short time later a school of large bunker arrived off Connecticut between Norwalk and Westport. Many large blues were caught during the month the fish were around in good numbers along with bonus stripers (including one jumbo of 47 pounds — not a bad way to top off a morning’s fishing).

The usual way to catch blues under bunker schools is with a weighted snatch hook sold in most shoreline tackle stores. You cast this into the school of bunkers driven to the surface by game fish below. With a snapping motion, you try to drive one of the treble hooks of the snatch rig into the side of one of the tightly packed bunkers. When you connect, reel in the bait, unhook it from the snatch rig then re-hook it on a conventional rod with a hook and short trace of wire to keep the blues’ teeth from biting through a mono leader. Drop the bait back in the water then free spool it back into the main school. Keep the reel out of gear so when a blue hits you let it have a little line, then set the hook.

Back in the glory days of bunker fishing in the late 1970s and early ’80s, many first-time fishermen caught 40-pound stripers or 14-pound bluefish on their very first saltwater fishing trip thanks to live bunker anywhere from Asbury Park, N.J., on up past Gloucester, Mass. It was very possible to catch such fish just outside the inlet or in many harbors after hungry blues chased bunkers way up tidal rivers. Watery traffic jams sometimes developed on summer weekends when the boat nearby landed a jumbo fish, far larger than most suspected could be caught so close to their dock.

Today, a lot of the bunker fishing for blues isn’t done with live, but rather frozen bunker purchased at a nearby tackle store, usually in bags of three or four or more. These are fished at anchor, possibly along a fishy rocky point along the beach or out in deep water on a reef or some area where blues move through during a tide. The idea is to cut a juicy section out of one of the baits, drop it to bottom and await a hit. In a current this might require a sinker anywhere from 2 to 12 or more ounces to hold the bait in place. If you’re not sure how to tie up a rig or what type of hook to use, pre-packaged rigs can be bought in the same shop where you got the bunker.

Once two or more baits are on the bottom the rods are usually put in flush-mounted holders, the reels in free spool with the clickers on. When a fish hits, let it have a little line, put the reel in gear, set the hook then hand off the rod, giving you chance to control the situation if there are novices on board. One of the tricks to this very productive method is to buy extra baits for chumming. Cut the bait into five or more pieces and toss those over the side at slow but regular intervals. These draw fish up current where they find your hook baits laying on the bottom.

Another fun way to catch bluefish is with a single hook diamond jig, also sold in most tackle stores. Jigs from 2 to 8 ounces are preferred, though heavier ones are used in deeper rips during the strength of the tide. To use a jig, just drop it to the bottom then crank fast until the lure is about a third of the way to the surface. If there are no hits, repeat the procedure until you drift through a rip or area holding blues showing up on your fish finder. Slashing blues do not like their prey swimming away from them. It ignites something in their makeup, causing them to give chase to the offending party.

Some people bring freshwater rods, and when conditions permit, have an absolute ball landing 5- to 12-pound bluefish on tackle normally reserved for much lighter game in the pond outside town. Jigging doesn’t require casting, just being able to drop the lure to bottom then wind fast. While it can work well any time of year, it’s especially productive in the fall when blues are schooled and keying on migrating baitfish, their presence often given away by gulls wheeling and squawking just above the surface.

Whether yours is a cruiser turned into Saturday fishing machine or a vintage center console still dripping from the kids’ midday swim, you have a vessel capable of catching bluefish. They grace a large portion of our coast and are usually ready to provide sport anglers another notch in the memory book. n

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for 29 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.