Toothy Critters

The bluefish arrived in full force the other day. I love to see them arrive as they’re great for kids and snake-bit fishermen. You’ve got to have some bad juju if you can’t catch a bluefish in a blitz. They’re perfect for kids and anglers looking for a tug and they’re the saltwater version of a mess of sunfish found in a farm pond. Once you hook up, though, they’ll test your tackle as well as your skill. Bluefish are called tackle busters for a reason, and I think of them as being good for our economy.

In season, bluefish are aggressive eaters and feed in a chop-and-spin way. When a pod of blues corrals a school of baitfish they will chop off tails of their quarry, spin around, and then eat the head. Many times, pods of bluefish work themselves into such a feeding frenzy that they eat until they vomit and then begin eating again. All that they leave behind is a slick of fish parts and oil. Local wisdom reports that bluefish can see as well out of the water as they do in the water but I’m not sure if a biologist will agree.

Identifying what bluefish feed on is easy. Get one in the boat or on the beach and they frequently leave their last meal for your review. Bluefish are savage when they’re on the bite and they are virtually unselective; to an angler that means that it’s common to find several different types of bait spraying from their mouths, bait ranging from butterfish to silversides to menhaden or bay anchovies. When Mr. Bluefish is hungry, anything is fair game. A Brit I took fishing one time calls them “Cheeky Little Monkeys.”

What you get from bluefish, particularly Fall Run bluefish, are savage hits, hard fights, and occasional jumps and tail-walks. They range in size from snappers (young of the year), to three-to-seven pounders, to adults in the double-digit range. Locals call the big fall bluefish choppers or gators. Whatever size of bluefish you’re catching, the fact is that you will lose terminal tackle and most of your flies and lures. If you catch enough of the fish then even wood pencil poppers will be destroyed.

One of the most common mistakes when fighting bluefish is to treat them like other fish that you’ve been recently catching, namely, striped bass, bonito or False albacore. Saltwater anglers commonly change the direction of their rod so as to control the fish’s head. When you do that with a bluefish you frequently pull the leader across his mouth and give him an opportunity to bite through your leader. When you hook a bluefish, or other toothy fish for that matter, try to keep your rod in one constant position. Maintain position and pressure, and fight the fish from the butt of the rod instead of from the tip. Your fishing position should be slightly above the fish or slightly below the fish. You might need to walk around the boat or move up the beach or shore, but keep the tension on and your line tight at all times.

It’s best to land bluefish with either a Bogagrip, a Lipper, or a pair of pliers. If your buddy has the Bogagrip and is way up the beach, you can still land a bluefish without the heavy artillery. First, tire him out. Next, when your fish rolls, grab him on the dorsal side just behind the head. Once you’ve got a grip, a pair of forceps or pliers will enable you to remove the lure or fly easily. If you’re going to keep one for the table, make sure to bleed the fish and get him on ice as quickly as possible. Bluefish get soft when they’re out of the water and since they are an oily fish they can taste very strong if they sit un-bled in the sun for a long while.

Have fun and watch your fingers. I know I will.

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Tom Keer

Tom Keer

Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at