Spring Choppers: Blues On The Yak - The Fisherman

Spring Choppers: Blues On The Yak

bluefish
While bluefish, especially big ones, have become somewhat rare in New England, a run of large fish have invaded the shallow inshore spring waters of Buzzards and Narragansett Bays in recent years.

Gansett Bay and beyond provides a great opportunity to kick off your season on some gorilla blues.

My logs of the last few years indicate a good influx of bluefish into Narragansett Bay in May. The warming waters of the Bay lure both predator and prey to some of its shallow water locations. This sets in motion an early run of bluefish that will include some hefty blues as well as abundant smaller fish. In recent years, there has been a strong run of two to four weeks that has been memorable for those who know how and when to cash in.

My son Jon and I were out in our kayaks in the Bay last May in a warm, protected location chasing spring stripers. We had been getting good numbers of schoolies along with an occasional slot bass in this spot. However, on this day, we began our outing by hooking into fish that were far more aggressive and far stronger than the stripers we had been catching. They were all bluefish, and suddenly our striper spot was filled with them. They aggressively blasted our topwater Rebel Jumpin’ Minnows. We also got pulled around a lot as we hooked into spring bluefish from 5 to 13 pounds.

May Day Magic

The warming weather of May often sets up predictable fishing patterns for bluefish in Narragansett Bay. Get a few sunny days in the 70s and even 80s and the water quickly warms up and comes to life. In shallow areas of the Bay, the water temperatures at this time of year often average 5 to 10 degrees warmer than deeper spots in the Bay and along the oceanfront which attracts a variety of baitfish. Any bluefish heading into the Bay makes a beeline right to these shallow water spots where the water is inviting and the food is plentiful. Such locations as East Greenwich Bay, Conimicut and the Barrington Beach areas are well known spring bluefish spots. While this scenario plays out in Narragansett Bay, a similar game plays out in other low water, warming locations in southern New England like Buzzards Bay and the South Cape beachfront.

Narragansett Bay can be a difficult place to fish from shore as access is limited in many places. In recent years, my son Jon and I have used our kayaks to get into many private places and to cover more water efficiently. If you can find a legal place to park your car or truck and access the water, you can launch a kayak. Consider also launching from town and state parks which dot the shoreline of the Bay. With the kayak, you can also make a stealthy approach to some very low water spots, many places a boat can’t get into safely.

Another approach that we sometimes use in the Bay is to paddle to a certain shoreline and then beach the kayak where we then get out to fish. With low-cut boots we might even work the edges of a marsh from shore. This works well when good numbers of fish are hanging close to shore.

bluefish
Here’s a bluefish alongside the kayak. It took a bone colored Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow, a hot plug in recent years for spring blues.

Gnashing & Whirling

Fishing for bluefish from the kayak —especially larger ones—presents its challenges. Hooking them is easy, but getting them alongside the kayak and unhooking them can be a challenge. You’re not going to “lip” a toothy blue with your thumb as you would a striper so some type of gripper is a necessity. Further complicating things, bluefish often go crazy and become unpredictable once close to a kayak. Last year I had one fish that I thought was pretty much tired out right in front of my kayak. Suddenly, the fish took a leap that went right over the bow; I was fortunate it didn’t land in the kayak!

My strategy when fighting a blue is to really tire the fish out before it comes near the kayak. Once I have it alongside the yak, I grab it with my Berkley Lip Grip. Once in the grip, I lean over with my pliers to remove the hooks on the plug. Note that I crush any treble hooks on the plug when fishing for bluefish as it makes the unhooking process so much easier on the angler and the fish. I will not take the blue into the kayak except on rare occasions when I want a photo, and if I do, it remains on the grip.

On several occasions last May we found bluefish whirling on the surface randomly. In the cold waters of spring this was not the all-out mayhem you see in the fall when the blues are far more active and the bait is more plentiful. Rather, you might find spring bluefish whirling here and there much like stripers do. At other times we found big numbers of bluefish with nothing showing. Sometimes they just sit in the warmth soaking it in. I’ve spooked many with the kayak just paddling above them.

The Presentation

bluefish
One key to landing a bluefish from the kayak is to secure the fish before unhooking. The author uses a lip gripper and then removes the hooks with pliers. Note that the barbs on the trebles are crushed.

Topwater plugs worked best for us in recent years for bluefish in the Bay. These early season blues can be a bit fussy at times due to the colder water, and they might prefer one topwater chugger over another. Our best success in recent years for fussy fish has come with pointy nosed spook-type plugs including Super Spooks, Yo-Zuri Hydro Pencils and Rebel Jumpin’ Minnows.

I have also done well with old reliable standard straight poppers when the fish are aggressive. I make my own and smaller ones that weigh about an ounce seem to work well. White or bone colored plugs have worked the best by far. While I crush the barbs on the trebles on my plugs, many anglers might opt for switching out the rear treble for a single hook. Some fishermen might even use only one single hook in the rear since blues will generally hit the back of the plug.

When fishing the Bay my son and I use a pair of kayaks. One is a 12-foot Wilderness System Pungo, a sit inside kayak. The other is a 13-foot sit on top Ocean Predator kayak. This year I will be using a pedal-driven kayak, an Old Town Sportsman PDL 10.6. Pedal kayaks have become the new rage with fishermen since they are more efficiently moved with your feet and they free up your hands to fish.

Anytime you use a kayak you need be aware of the weather and pick your days. For the most part, kayaks are great to use in mild weather with gentle breezes and gentle surf. Be aware that the springtime in ‘Gansett Bay is known for late afternoon sea breezes that can suddenly turn a placid surface into a choppy mess on a warm day. Mornings to early afternoons will be the ideal time to get out in a kayak. Places with some protection from the wind also make things easier and safer.

There is a short window of opportunity to fish for early season bluefish in Narragansett Bay. The choppers should arrive sometime in May depending on how warm it gets, and the fish generally stick around in big numbers up to a month. A kayak is a great way to get to these fish and efficiently cover a lot of water. It’s an advantageous craft to stalk bluefish in the skinny, warm waters of Narragansett Bay where you will find the most May bluefish.

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