Feeling Blue

Despite their capricious behavior on the line—and on the grill if you don’t cook fast enough—bluefish remain one of the most fun species to catch.

Here’s the thing about bluefish: they’re not quite blue. Their coloring is really more sea green to a silver belly fade. Here’s the other thing about bluefish: they’re mean. They have sharp teeth. They’re aggressive, and they bite everything in sight. They’ll destroy your tackle and, if you’re not careful, your fingers. So why are they among the most popular gamefish in New England?

Feeling Blue

The striped bass gets most of the press. A majority of all saltwater fishing trips in Massachusetts target stripers. Stripers are bigger—the new world record was set last fall in Connecticut at close to 82 pounds. Stripers are wily and smart. Their pursuers can go a lifetime and not land a 40-pounder. Lou MacKeil, who teaches Catch A Fish courses at Sandwich Community School and Nauset Community Education, and counts many big striped bass from a lifetime of pursuit, including a 49-pounder, says, “[Bluefish] are a relief from the challenge of fishing for a trophy bass, or overcoming a striper’s selectivity.”

Feeling Blue

Officially, they’re called pomatomus saltatrix. You have a pretty good shot at catching one on any given day from June through September, whether it’s Nantucket Sound, Cape Cod Bay, or pretty much anyplace else off of Cape Cod. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries regulates recreational angling and sets pretty ample limits on blues. Whereas the striper has a 28-inch minimum keeper size with a strictly enforced two-fish bag limit, you can take 10 blues with no size restrictions whatsoever. They grow fast, they swim fast, they’re abundant, and they bite whatever you throw out there. They’re the perfect fish for catching, partly because of their careening blitz attacks, and partly because they also feed during the day, unlike the sun-shy striper. Bluefish are generally oilier and flimsier than striper, more gray and gamey than cod. But prepared same-day fresh, bluefish makes good table fare (see sidebar recipe).

A 22-inch female bluefish lays a million eggs per spawn, and they reach sexual maturity at two years. Bluefish caught by recreational anglers average around two to seven pounds. They can grow much larger, too—the Massachusetts record was a 27-pounder landed back in 1982—but they rarely exceed 12 pounds. Which may not sound like a lot, but that’s 12 pounds of pure trouble. A hooked blue is upset. Furious. You’re confronting pounds of pure muscle, fins, and teeth. It’s basically like reeling in a reciprocating saw.

And what don’t they eat? They bite on clams, live bait, fake bait, lures, metals, squid imitators, soft plastics, topwater plugs, Kastmasters, RonZ’s—throw it out there and they’ll bite it. Blues will eat any fish in sight, including their brothers and sisters and offspring. Even a shark in feeding frenzy will simply attack bait and chomp it down. A bluefish hitting a bait ball of menhaden, herring, squid, or sand eels will simply crash through the school again and again, tearing at everything in sight even when they’re crammed full.

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Rob Conery is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Cape Cod Life Publications.

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