Like clockwork, the blues will invade the Northeast once again by the first or second week of May.
In early May bluefish invade the local beaches and back bays around the Northeast. People often refer to these fish as yellow-eyed demons, chompers, gators, and tackle busters. One thing for certain is that their fighting spirit and bullish attitude make them thrilling to catch. That being said, I’ve always found that early-season bluefish can be a bit tricky to dial in. Here are a few tips and tricks to successfully target these fish early in the season.
The first step to targeting bluefish is to find where they are located. Typically, the open beaches and inlets get the first run of fish during the springtime. The first factor to look out for is the presence of bait. Bluefish have a long migration, when they finally arrive they’ll be looking for an easy meal in the form of a bunker, spearing, and even small stripers. Ideally, if I can find big bunker schools, I’ll find massive bluefish too. The second element to watch for is tailing fish. It’s important to note that a tailing bluefish is very subtle. Telltale signs of tailing fish include flashes in the waves, large fins bobbing in the water, and big ring-like disruptions on the surface. The third factor that I search for, and arguably the most overlooked one is the presence of an oil slick. An oil slick will often look like a large grease stain on the surface of the water. Usually, if I’m able to spot these slicks, I know that a large school of fish is in the area. This tactic usually shines best in calm backwaters.
While locating bluefish can be easy in the springtime, believe it or not, these ferocious beasts can be finicky. I personally love plugging bluefish with large topwater plugs — the take and eruption on the water make for an exhilarating battle. That being said, there have been many occasions in which I’ve casted at large schools of bluefish without a follow or blow-up. It’s not to say that these fish won’t eat, but sometimes it takes the right plug to get the job done. There are a few ideas I take into consideration when choosing the right top water for the job. First, I always consider the color of my plug. My favorite colors include green, yellow, and bone white. If the fish refuse one color, sometimes all it takes is a color change to get the bluefish raging behind the plug. Another idea I consider when targeting finicky blues is the vibration and noise of my plug. If I can’t get the fish to explode on a plug with rattles, I’ll simply opt to fish a plug without rattles. Although the adjustment is small, it can make a world’s difference. The final factor that I take under consideration is the cadence of my retrieve. If the fish aren’t responding to fast retrieves, loud pops, and large pushes of water; I usually opt to fish slower-moving plugs that I can pause. Once I do find the plug that works, I can normally get the fish to commit with ease. My bag of topwater choices consist of the Musky Mania DOC, Super Strike Little Neck Popper, Rebel Jumpin Minnow, Gibbs Pencil Popper, and the Stillwater Smack-It Popper. All of these plugs have single hooks attached to them.
Bluefish can be hectic on tackle, their razor-sharp teeth fray and cut line with ease. When preparing for a bluefish outing, I use two different setups. I prefer a 7-foot, 6-inch to 8-foot rod for casting those larger pencils and spook plugs up to 3 ounces while my 7-footer that can toss up to 2 ounces works great for the smaller style poppers. For line and leader choice, 20- to 30- braid tied direct to a 5- to 6-foot section of 60-pound fluorocarbon usually gets the job done. The extra length allows me to simply cut back and retie should a bluefish inevitably fray my leader. In terms of reel choice, I prefer a high gear ratio reel due to its ability to quickly gain line. This is crucial because multiple bluefish often attack a plug at once and can easily bite down on the leader in pursuit of the plug. A high-gear reel allows me to wench the bluefish away from the school so that I can avoid other fish from clamping down on my line.
Like clockwork, the blues will invade the Northeast once again by the first or second week of May. Be ready for the battle when they do!