Where does this eternal hunger come from? Bluefish biology is such that they can eat almost constantly. Their active digestion systems are highly acidic and break down everything they eat—bones included—very quickly. Some fish, like tautog, masticate their food and grind it up. Blues just chomp down and rip it off by the hunk, leaving nothing but fish oil slicks on the surface as evidence of their frenzy. And should you hook one and get it into the boat, they often vomit as a final act of defiance. (It’s a good way to see what they’ve been eating and “match the hatch.”)
I caught one recently on Nantucket, and he emptied the contents of his stomach all over the deck and still wasn’t done. Even after I dispatched him and put him in the fish box, he had one final message for me. Laid out back at the dock, his right pectoral fin had gone stiff and was extended, ever upwards, like I had just cut him off in traffic.
That’s nothing compared to what happened to Lou MacKeil. “One managed to drive a hook through the top of the knuckle on my left hand and took a chunk out of my thumb while [I was] trying to steady it for the hook removal,” MacKeil says. “First time in 53 years a fish managed to hook me!” He adds that he’s all healed up now and back to fishing the evening tides at West Dennis Beach.
Blues are hard on fishermen, harder on gear. They’ll rip apart hard plugs—nevermind the soft plastics that can be so effective for stripers. Fish live eels and they’ll rip them right off, leaving nothing behind but what some charter captains call a cigar butt. They break off a lot of line, too, and a blue will sometimes free his hooked brother. Not out of any sense of duty—these things eat each other, remember?—but because they’re so incredibly aggressive that they’ll see the little refraction of light where the line goes from air into water and attack that. They use up a lot of gear, and fishermen will grumble about them occasionally, but if anything, this is good for tackle shops.
Bluefish come a little later than the striper, and leave sooner. And while they’re here, in their marauding attack packs, they increase fishermen’s pulses. “I’ve been to the hospital three times in my entire life, and two of those times involved bluefish,” says Vin Foti, president of the Cape Cod Salties Sportfishing Club. “In the first instance, I had one hanging from my hand, from a treble hook. In the second, one bypassed the hook and bit me while I was gently trying to release it. They’re nasty little savages if I’ve ever seen one, but boy, are they fun to catch.”
Rob Conery is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Cape Cod Life Publications.
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