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Hard-biting bluefish can save the day

Successful summer fishing entails a designated quarry, a plan of action and a solid Plan B

Successful summer fishing entails a designated quarry, a plan of action and a solid Plan B

The time has come to play captain and take a contingent from the neighborhood out fishing. As the big day draws near, the next question becomes what are we going to fish for? Or, to get more to the point, what we will catch?

During the summer months a likely target is bluefish. They are around most of the Northeast coast in good numbers, bite readily, fight hard and are fair-to-good on the table, depending on who one speaks with. And, we might add, they bite right in the middle of the day so you and your guests don’t have to arise in the wee hours to catch some.

If you don’t like the thought of all eyes on you at the wheel of the family cruiser, searching for fishing success, and ending the day with fish blood on parts of your second love, might we suggest you hire a pro?

Chartering a boat is one great way to get competent help, turning over the job to someone who fishes for a living.

Many charter boats are available, often large, roomy vessels that take six or more people out for half- or full-day trips. Many have spacious cabins where non-fishing members of your crew can sit down and relax on the way out, and all have enclosed heads, a priority for some. Keep in mind some of the more popular boats are reserved well in advance of the fishing season so you may have to call several on short notice.

With the price of marine fuel, fishing may not be cheap but it often impresses visiting clients or co-workers from another town when they get the red carpet treatment by charter. Some charter boats are spiffy affairs indeed — large, plush sportfishermen that cater to high-end people. Expect to pay more for that type of transit.

If you have kids to care for, perhaps a half-day trip is more to their liking. You can take them to the beach in the morning, then arrive at the dock after lunch for sodas on the trip out. By the time you arrive back at the dock in the evening your crew will have had a full day of adventure and you are the man of the hour.

Party line

If chartering a boat isn’t in the budget, consider a trip on a party boat. These are large, safe vessels that take upwards of 30 people out at one time and usually require no reservations. Just show up at the boat prior to sailing, purchase your tickets and step aboard.

These boats sport a galley for light food and drinks and also offer rod rental, cutting down on the need to scare up extra gear if your tackle department is limited.

During the summer, party boats operating twice per day out of the NianticRiver in eastern Connecticut enjoy a large following of all types from young to old. These boats leave twice daily for the short ride out to The Race, a series of tide rips only a couple of miles out, to drift for blues. On the way home, the big fish of the day wins a daily pool and the rest are cleaned for a fee by the mates.

Restaurants from sit down to fast food are nearby for a bite before driving home, often a highlight for kids with 10,000 kilowatts of energy.

This scene is repeated up and down the coast. Ask around for the bluefish port nearest you and assemble your group. Many of these same boats sail for blues well into the fall so if your summer trip is a success, consider a second or third trip later on to break the school routine.

The art of ‘chunking’

If however, you want to go it alone, what method is best for a Saturday skipper to catch a few blues?

I usually suggest chunking, a nickname for anchoring near a likely spot, cutting a chunk out of some type of frozen baitfish, hooking it and lowering it to the bottom, awaiting results. It’s easy to do and allows even a nervous captain to relax, the rods in the holders, waiting on a bite.

Chunking can be done off rocky points or in some areas right in the local tidal rivers if boat traffic isn’t too heavy. The lower Connecticut River from Essex down to the mouth is known for producing blues on chunks sitting on the bottom. People who do it often catch blues without bouncing around if Long Island Sound is churned a bit too much by the prevailing southwest winds of summer.

In some cases chunking in a river might lead to a striper, always the hit of the trip. Last season we had the plug pulled on a cod trip after heavier-than-predicted northwest winds produced 6-foot seas and made it too rough even for Capt. Pete Shea’s 35-footer.

Instead of calling the trip around 10 a.m. Pete went over to nearby Gloucester, Mass., purchased some herring for bait, then proceeded out into the nearby AnnisquamRiver to chunk for striped bass, catching two keepers and several smaller stripers, much to the delight of his friends for the day.

You can buy all you need for chunking at the local bait shop, and at the same time get serious advice about where to set up shop. Blues have a nasty set of teeth so wire leaders are a must. A pair of long-nosed pliers may be a good investment for unhooking one without getting fingers nipped — or worse. Caution is always advised when fishing for blues.

Long Island Sound has many reefs and rockpiles where chunking is productive. Sometimes you need sinkers to keep the bait on the bottom or in other places the weight on the chunk cut out of the middle of the baitfish is enough to stay on the bottom when anchored in close off, say, Stamford Harbor.

If you are in position off some rocks not far from the beach, consider bringing a spinning rod rigged with small popper, bucktail or plastic shad. Casting into the rocks for schoolie bass or more blues often keeps eager kids from getting bored while waiting for a bite on the chunk. Just make sure they don’t clip somebody in the ear while slinging the lure shoreward. If Angler One hooks a fish, expect competition for other young fisher people in your group to try their hand on the casting rod.

Your Day of Decision needn’t be one of dread and dismay. Many weekend captains handle the fishing chore with ease, or at least get through the day without losing friends.

Options are open to your bluefish portfolio, and thanks to the blues’ inclination to bite in the middle of the day, they are a wise choice for either your boat or go-for-hire.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 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.