Surf: Spring Choppers - The Fisherman

Surf: Spring Choppers

chopper
Pound for pound, there is no inshore species on the East Coast that can compare with a big bluefish. Paul Peluso Photo

Go a few rounds with the toughest gamefish on the Northeast coast!

Gators, gorillas, call them what you like, but they are coming – or have already arrived – with their bad attitudes and gnashing teeth! Every spring, blues invade Mid-Atlantic and Northeast waters, starting south and finishing north. They come in with a vengeance and will invade the bays and estuaries along the eastern seaboard. On the menu is anything they can fit in their mouth, and if it won’t quite fit, they will simply bite it in half with powerful jaws filled with razor sharp teeth!

Bluefish are aggressive feeders and will seek out menhaden, squid, herring, shad and other forage. Casters up and down the coast await the arrival of these magnificent gamefish that will test their gear to the limit. When the blitz is full on, tackle shops often have customers frantically coming in to replenish their supply of lures and rigs that have been ravaged by these toothy marauders. You can generally expect the fish to arrive in late April and early May. Each year is different, so keep your eyes and ears on your local waters for any activity. Their preferred water temperature range is 66 to 72 degrees. Their low limit tolerance is around 50 degrees. Spawning takes place in the open ocean waters in the spring and summer.

Many methods can be used to catch bluefish. Chunking with bunker or mackerel is one surefire way to hook up, but catching them on artificials is much more fun. Tossing tins such as Ava jigs, Hopkins and Kastmasters is a super-effective way to catch these fish.  For me and many others, nothing is more exciting than throwing surface lures to these packs of wolves prowling the bays and beaches. They really get your adrenaline pumping as they assault these wood or plastic imposters with a savagery unmatched by any other species along our shores. Pencils, Polaris-style and standard poppers all work great, so do spooks. Bucktails dressed with a trailer such as a Fat Cow strip will surely get the attention of bluefish, even more so when they are not feeding on the surface.

Setups with 8- to 10-foot medium action rods paired with 30-pound (minimum) braid, and a heavy leader, up to 60 pounds; it will give you some protection from that row of razors on their lips. If using a swivel at the top end of leader, make sure it’s black, because anything shiny has the potential to draw a strike. Make the leader 3 to 4 feet long so you have something to grab. A good quality reel with a smooth drag is essential, especially when a teen-sized specimen makes a run.

When the spring bite is in full force you can find schools of blues in the open surf, inlets and bays. The fishing can be furious. Look for baitfish fleeing, or seabirds diving on schools of terrified prey. There are instances though, when no signals alert you of their presence, but they are still cruising around looking for a meal. Many of the bluefish you encounter will be lean and mean and are looking to put some weight on. During a feeding frenzy, they sometimes strike anything you put in front of them. These fish can weigh anywhere from a few pounds, up into the teens, sometimes eclipsing 20 pounds. The world record stands at 31.75 pounds, caught off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. That had to be one serious brute!

I cannot stress enough the importance of safety when landing and handling these fish. Long nose pliers are a must when attempting to unhook a fish and a pair of fish grippers is very much advised. I have witnessed fellow anglers with hooks buried in their hand or arm with a thrashing fish still attached. I would highly recommend crushing all barbs and replacing all treble hooks with a single.  A pencil popper rigged this way is a safer bet and is easier on the fish too. A bluefish, unlike a bass attacks mainly from behind, so your hookup ratios should remain high. Remember to revive your fish before release. These fish are a great resource, and care should be given to them. Grab your gear, get out and enjoy one of the finest sportfish the East Coast has to offer. If you don’t believe me, trying going a few rounds with a teen-sized bluefish, you’ll change your mind real quick!

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