Spring Gators: From Shore & ‘Yak - The Fisherman

Spring Gators: From Shore & ‘Yak

The author hoists a big spring gator that was landed last May from shore in Narragansett Bay.

Spring has become the premiere season to hunt big blues in southern New England.

Times are changing in the bluefish game here in southern New England.  For decades, it was the fall months that delivered the memorable bluefish blitzes. It’s not that way anymore. Over the last few years, the best fishing for bluefish by far has been late spring into summer. Fall brings a few here and there but I have not seen any numbers of bluefish from shore after Labor Day in years. I can count the numbers I catch on one hand in September and October.

The New Normal

These early season blues, mostly larger gators over ten pounds, seem to show up earlier and earlier.  Last year I landed my first big one in Narragansett Bay from shore on May 13.  It was an evening in which I was fishing a striper hotspot and looking for bass.  I was casting a 7-½-inch Slug-Go. Suddenly, I had what I would call a “big hit”, from, what I thought was, a large striper.  I set the hook and the fish was off to the races ripping off drag.  I was convinced I had a striper in tow until I got it close. Suddenly, it shot out of the water like a missile, and I got a good look at the fish. Confirming my first bluefish of the year, and a decent-sized one, over 10 pounds.  From that evening right through the middle of the summer, I was catching a mix of stripers and bluefish on just about every outing from shore and kayak in Narragansett Bay and along the oceanfront.

I believe this early influx of bluefish, is becoming the new normal, as these fish follow migrating bait, mainly large menhaden, up the coast. They are along the Rhode Island oceanfront as well as in Narragansett Bay in good numbers with many of them of gator size from 10 to 20 pounds. Once in Narragansett Bay they fan out in search of bait. They might be found in the deep shipping channels or hanging under schools of adult bunker. Others seem to seek warm, skinny water where they feed on small baitfish, hatching worms and even alewives where herring runs exist. Such warm water areas in Narragansett Bay, like East Greenwich Bay, attract good numbers of early season bluefish where shore fishermen, kayakers and boaters often target them. The water temperatures in these shallow locations often run about five degrees warmer than the wide open Bay or oceanfront.

The author lifts a jumbo gator blue that was caught on a topwater plug in Narragansett Bay in mid-May.

Divide & Conquer

From spring into midsummer, I like to take a multi-pronged approach to fishing for blues which usually involves targeting both stripers and bluefish. My kayak can get me out into the deeper waters of the Bay on calm days. Find a school of bunker and most likely you will find blues under them. Snag one of these pogies and I can almost guarantee you will not get it back to the boat or yak if the blues are around. When I am not way out in the deep Bay waters, I will often pedal my Old Town Sportsman PDL 106 into skinny water locations under 10 feet deep where I will plug for both stripers and bluefish. I also fish from shore in Bay locations as well as the oceanfront in the evenings and on windy days.

Unlike fall bluefish blitzes of past years where you would find birds diving, fish boiling and frenzied baitfish running for their lives, I rarely find schools of bluefish on the surface in the early going. In the cool water they are just there on the hunt for anything they can find to eat. Other than adult menhaden, bait is not that plentiful in the spring. It seems to arrive in small schools in May. Still, blues will readily attack a surface offering. Last year I had my first big day of catching good numbers of blues from the kayak in Narragansett Bay on May 27 a day I landed 16 big blues from 10 to 15 pounds, using a Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow, which is a really hot plug in the Bay.

When fishing deep drops or heavy current from shore, bucktail jigs spiced with Fat Cow Jig Strips are effective on big blues. Last year’s hot color was pink.

From The Kayak

Let me give you some advice on fishing for large blues from the kayak. Really play them out so that once they are near the boat, they are tired and laying on their sides. I’ve had too many take a wild leap right near the ‘yak, and I always worry that one will jump right into my lap. A couple of years back I had a large gator jump right over the kayak from one side to the other. The last thing I want to do is wrestle a 15-pound blue with a plug in its mouth in the pit of my kayak!

Once I get them near the kayak, I grab them with a Boga or some other type of lip gripper, and, once I have them secure, I use my pliers to dislodge the hooks, keeping them in or above the water the whole time. Note that I tend to crush the barbs on any treble hooks, making the unhooking process much easier. Some fishermen also outfit their plugs with single rear hooks while removing the treble from the belly of the plug.

While bluefish are not very fussy when they are on the prowl, I find that a few plugs seem to score the best in the early going.  From the kayak, I really like the Jumpin’ Minnow in a bone color. It has that alluring back-and-forth sliding action when twitched which seems to drive bluefish and stripers nuts. If you need a longer cast, the Yo-Zuri Hydro Pencil in a bone color is a good alternative and works the same way. I must say that blues love to hit plastic offerings like flukes, paddletails and Slug-Go’s, but be prepared to lose a lot of plastics if you go this route. You’ll get more chopped baits than hooked fish!

A metal lip gripper is essential when landing a big blue from a kayak.

Beach Blues

From shore, plug choice is a different story. There are places where you might need a long cast. You might be dealing with wind and surf. In the daylight, I still prefer the Hydro Pencil or the Jumpin’ Minnow from shore, but there are times when I will also snap on a pencil popper when a longer cast is needed. When fishing deeper drops along the oceanfront I like to use large white bucktail jigs in the 1- to 2-ounce size adorned with a Fat Cow Jig Strip. Pink was my best jig strip color last year. At night when fishing outflows or places with current, I often opt for some type of swimming plug; either a darter or a sleek SP Minnow.  Note that all these offerings are also very effective for stripers at this time.

If you are looking to catch large bluefish, jump on the early season bandwagon. That time period from early- to mid-May stretching into midsummer has been the hottest period to catch these gators in the last few years along much of southern New England.  The big blues will often run with larger stripers as both are migrating northward into our waters in search of bait. You just might land your biggest gator blue of the year in May or June!

Here are two of the best early season topwater plugs to use from shore, kayak or boat for bluefish: Yo-Zuri Hydro Pencil (top) and the Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow (bottom).


Spring Blues: Get To The Choppers!

Is ’24 the year that these toothy predators return to feast on bait and tackle?


Spring Blues: Get ‘Em While It’s Hot

Be ready when the bluefish swarm invades the island.

Surf: Big Fall Blues

This very well could be the season of the bluefish.