April Kickoff: Kids & Back Bay Blues - The Fisherman

April Kickoff: Kids & Back Bay Blues

2019 4 Kids Back Bay Blues Catch
The author’s 6-year-old Michael Newhall with a spring slammer on a quick jaunt into Absecon Bay back in 2017 during a banner run.

Seven reasons to get your son or daughter out for a spring bluefish trip in a back bay.

There are all kinds of young people participating in the fishing world. There are anglers like me, who by the age of 5 would cast a line into any puddle that might have a fish swimming in it.  Like many readers of The Fisherman, the anticipation of any fresh or saltwater trip has always had me totally psyched.

Then there are kids that like fishing just fine, but they don’t love it as much as that first group.  That is, they are happy and satisfied to take part in a handful of outings every year, usually with family and friends, but they don’t crave it with every waking thought.

Finally, there is that group of young people that doesn’t care for fishing all that much, or perhaps hasn’t been hooked yet by the sport. Obviously, the three categories bleed into one another; but for discussion sake, we all know children that fall into each group.

Catching huge, estuary bluefish is entirely different than fishing for them in the ocean and it’s perfect for kids (and us kids at heart)!

#1 – Location

The back bay grounds that get inundated by bluefish every year are just a few minutes from most docks, ramps and casting perches throughout New Jersey.  These bluefish average 7 to 12 pounds, but may sometimes reach into the upper teen to low 20-pound range, often a stone’s throw from access points for boaters and casters alike. No head onboard? Want to grab a bite to eat around lunch? Many back bay waters are a quick cruise to restrooms and restaurants, which make the outing more comfortable and appealing to kids. If a child decides that an hour or two is enough for the day, the trip can be ended without hard feelings due to breaking into the college savings to pay for fuel.

#2 – Calm Waters

Many children are very intrepid about going out in the ocean, others more tepid. Bottom line though is that swells on the big pond can worry a lot of kids or even make them nauseous, sometimes requiring years for a parent to overcome. Big bruisers in the back water allow anyone to catch ocean-sized fish without ocean-sized concerns. The waters usually remain under a foot even as a moderate chop evolves.  Let’s not forget that there is always a place for a captain to hide behind and block the wind. Sod banks, sandbars, spoil islands, houses, buildings and bulkheads all decrease the wind fetch and allow skippers to prospect.

2019 4 Kids Back Bay Blues ROD BEND
Eight-year-old Alex Newhall puts the screws to a slammer behind Atlantic City, protected from the offshore wind and swells.

#3 – Fast Action

Parents that rig chunked bunker on the bottom often get rapid-fire action even when there is no visible commotion.  Big spring bluefish will hone right in on the scent and ravage baits. Wire is a must, and anglers can choose any number of rigs provided there is ample wire because quite often bluefish will eat as they swim up current causing them to bite mono above wire. In fact, some slammers will literally swim upstream of the boat before even realizing they’re hooked. Fresh bunker is great, but even frozen bunker will work in a pinch.  I make a point to freeze them by the dozen during the fall run just for this action. In the absence of bunker, clam works; albeit, not as well as bunker pieces. Chum isn’t usually necessary, but if anglers utilize the additional scent, one can expect even faster action with the blues, although the occasional dogfish and skate will pile on as well.

#4 – Training Grounds

Plugging with surface or sub-surface lures on the skinny backwaters is an outstanding way for kids to cut their teeth on the art of properly working artificials. Not only that, young anglers might just fall in love with the giant surface explosions that take place on topwaters. More seasoned kids can practice fishing with lighter rods, reels and tackle. Bluefish are also forgiving of rookie technique so the opportunity to hone one’s craft is a gift to parents.  If the children continue the pursuit throughout their lives, they’ll remember the days on the flats before graduating to stripers and tuna.

#5 – The Fight

Bluefish offer leaps out of the water, destructive surface attacks, tenacious battles and spirited splashes upon release. Their never-give-up style scores points amongst all kids while their sleek appearance is a change of pace for kids that have only toiled with fluke to that point in their lives.

2019 4 Kids Back Bay Blues ANCHOR UP
Should bluefish arrive with intensity this month, tossing metals and topwaters is a surefire way to excite any angler. But anchoring up with chunks is equally effective, especially when marauding schools are harder to find up top.

#6 – Timing

Bluefish often pummel the back bays of Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May counties in mid to late April, and remain through May and much of June some years. For back bay fishermen in waters not connected to a freshwater river where stripers are spawning, the big bluefish are often the first fish that provoke anglers to dust off the cobwebs on the fishing gear. Tautog sometimes show up later in the month, and stripers can be hit or miss in the backwaters not linked to procreation. But blues have evolved into dependable fishing early in the season.

#7 – Bycatch

Although bluefish are the main target, striped bass could find their way onto the line this month. Weakfish too make a showing during the same time period, and when they do bite, they are often of tiderunner proportions in April. Pre-season fluke readily stalk and eat bunker chunks and subsurface lures that scoot within their sight. And of course, there are skates, rays and dogfish. If your child is a little guy or gal, those dogfish aren’t merely trash, but they’re sharks through and through, and one cool compliment to the blues.

No matter what level of zest your son or daughter has for fishing, back bay bluefish are an ideal way of kicking off the 2019 season in fighting style.

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