Maybe I should be ashamed of myself, but I just don’t have a lot of love for the lowly bluefish. And with that in mind, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when I tell you that I have rarely ever caught one, on purpose. The times that I have given in to crushing teeth were either times of desperation or times of undeniable precedence; something I would likely never see again.
One of those times happened when I was still at the helm of the New England Edition of this very magazine. I was driving home from Mystic, by way of Newport, when my friend Rob Taylor called me and said he’d seen a massive cloud of gulls gathering off the east side of Sachuest Point. It was October, and I try to never ride without a rod in the fall so I made my way down to Third Beach and saw the birds diving about a half mile out. I figured the fish would never come in, but I stayed for 20 minutes and, as if by some miracle, they came in. I was disappointed to see that it was all bluefish. But my disappointment quickly changed to amazement when I saw how BIG they were. Every fish was 14 pounds or better; I weighed a 19 and released another that was even bigger. The action was insane. Soon people from nearby neighborhoods were coming down to witness the carnage; I was shoveling a bucking rod into the hands of any kid that wanted to try. The best part of the day was helping an 8-year-old-boy crank in a 16-pounder. My poor Hab’s pencil popper was never the same. But I think old John would have approved.
This is a brave heading for me, given the fact that I admitted, less than 300 words ago, that I have rarely caught a bluefish on purpose. I’m sure you’re thinking that I am going to go on and on about spending time with binoculars looking for birds—I might even suggest looking for the flocks that don’t have any terns in them because this can be a sign of bigger baitfish. Sure, I could go on to talk about not wasting opportunities when big bunker show in the surf. I might suggest making sure to have a snag hook, a Robert’s Ranger and a Hopkins in the bag whenever you go out during the day so that you can cover the bases when the big blues show up. And wouldn’t I be remiss if I forgot to talk about chunking in the evenings after those bunker show in tight? Common sense and basic logic, but I know a better way.
Really Targeting Blues
I could say all that, and it would all be good enough advice, but I want to give you the best shot at catching an absolute giant bluefish. The one that will destroy your tackle, bust your gut and leave you gasping for air. Outside of a chance encounter with a massive school of giants like I had that day on Aquidneck Island, there are only a few surefire ways to make that connection.
Back in 2004 I received a gift from the late Gary Hull in the mail—plug connoisseurs will know him as Gary2. In the envelope was one of his Sidekick Swimmers in the color he called “Raritan Bunker.” The plug was a masterpiece; hand-carved wood with a hand-cut lip and tuned to swim perfectly. I am a fan of surfcasting history, but not so much that I will not throw a plug because it might be valuable one day. I stood on a sandy point in late-June and cast that swimmer into the ebbing tide. As advertised, the plug sprung to life diving to a depth of 4 feet with a drumming wobble. SLAM! Fish on, first cast! The dogged fight that followed had me praying it wasn’t what it felt like it was. Well, it felt like a big bluefish and it was, all 14 pounds of it. That was the only fish that plug ever caught because I was afraid to throw it again. So that’s one method for a guaranteed hook-up with a gator bluefish: throw the one plug that you would die if a bluefish ate. It could be an old Musso from your grandfather’s surf bag or a one-of-a-kind GRS Pike; if you can’t throw it without worrying about bluefish, don’t forget your pliers. Another version of this method is making a crack decision to throw a soft plastic. Hitless for two hours? Throw on a shad or a Slug-Go; come back with half a bait and tooth-grinding lockjaw on the hook.
Really, Really Targeting Blues
But the top-producing, best, A-plus, killer method for catching a big bluefish comes with careful planning and I must warn you, that you might not end up landing the fish. It will all start on that perfect night. New moon in October, all the conditions are perfect for your numero uno big bass spot. You’ll be neck-deep in the chest freezer looking for that mojo riggie that you caught two 40s on back in June. All riggies are not created equal, and this one has the magic.
I will leave you with the events of just such a night some five years ago. The surf was big but I have a spot for that and some real pigs have come from it with storm swell in the past. I made my way out to the protected rock and clipped on a beautiful 18-inch riggie with plenty of love scratches from previous catches. Within 20 minutes of casting I had one decent bass in the mid 20-pound range on that riggie and I side-stepped over to get a new angle on the waves breaking in front of me.
The eel swung through the tide while I jiggled it carefully selling the quick slither of eel that had found itself in the danger zone. Then, out of the blue, a single, violent, strike followed by headshakes. NO! I dropped the rod, waiting for the line to come tight and set the hook. Nothing. I reeled up to find the tail of the eel tenderized and hanging by a few threads, just behind the rear hook. Determined to exact my revenge on this dirty yellow-eyed devil, I slung the eel back into the vicinity of the strike.
The pick-up was instantaneous; I waited an extra-long time, and when I was sure that the fish had eaten past that tail hook, I fiercely drove it home. The fish took a heavy run, smoking my reel as it did. She tried to run back around the rock and in toward shore, but I put the brakes on. She doubled back and veered around directly in front of me before leaping and shaking her head. That heavy Siwash was not letting go. Then she dove, and kicked things into overdrive, the whine of my drag hit a new octave. Leaning on the fish as she powered into the depths, I felt an unceremonious ‘tick’ and the line went limp. I reeled up to find the rear hook missing and only a third of my perfect mojo riggie left. The worst part was losing the hook, a stainless Siwash, modified to my standards. I should have just moved.