The spring-time appearance of bluefish along the Outer
Banks is usually a direct function of the weather. Pleasant
temperatures, brought about by several days of light southwest
or southeast wind, can put fish on the beach as early
as the last week of March. Mid April is typically the
time, but don't count on bluefish to abide by anyone's
schedule but their own. The big choppers are predictably
unpredictable, and they may not show at all.
The fall migration of the big choppers can last for weeks
as the blues trickle down the coast, slowly moving southward
with the cooling water temperatures. But the blues are
moving quickly in the spring, and may be around for as
little as a week, or as long as a month. I have seen both
ends of the spectrum.
A well equipped angler may often have a few outfits
rigged and ready to make the most of any situation or
surf condition. The primary weapon in your arsenal should
be a surf rod of 10 to 11 feet with enough backbone
to throw a heavy lure or large chunk of bait and a hefty
weight. A spinning or conventional reel filled with
17 to 20 pound test line will balance out the outfit.
This rig will get you to the fish when the surf conditions
are rough, the wind is howling, or when the fish are
laying a long way off the beach. The rig that I use
most of the time, is a 9 foot, Team Daiwa 9 foot 2 piece
graphite rod, matched with a Daiwa BG-30 spinning reel
and 14 pound test line. Most of the blues you catch
may be on lures, and this rig will throw a metal lure
or top water plug the required distances. I like the
graphite for its light weight, and this makes a difference
with hours of repetitive casting. If you are a light
tackle fancier, a small, one-handed spinning rod can
fill out your choice of outfits. If bait fishing is
the order of the day, and sometimes the fish are so
picky they will not hit a lure, then fresh mullet, herring,
menhaden or spot are excellent choices. Frozen bait
is a poor second choice, but can be the only game in
town early in the season. Whatever bait you choose,
change it often, and keep it looking good. Any number
of lures will catch bluefish in the surf. During a blitz,
literally anything you throw out there will result in
a strike, and that's the time I use the oldest, roughest
looking lures in my tackle box.
The hands down favorite is a metal lure, usually heavy
enough to cast a respectable distance in tough conditions.
Popular local names are Hopkins, Gators, and Kastmasters.
Each of these manufacturers makes lures from less than
one ounce to more than four, and the best tactic is
to simulate the size of bait the blues are eating. Try
to vary your presentation, going from a fast or slow
steady retrieve to a jigging motion until you connect.
Many anglers have discovered the joys of catching big
bluefish on top water plugs. That's the way to go. There
is nothing like a smashing strike of a 12 pound bluefish
as you work your plug through the surf. Frequently,
if a fish misses the plug on the first pass it will
return time and again until you hook up. No matter what
your choice of lures, a short piece of wire leader directly
in front of the lure will eliminate cutoffs by the toothy
bluefish. Where is the best place for heading off these
migrating blues? Good question. Even a mobile angler
with a four wheel drive vehicle can be faced with the
dilemma of where to fish, since there is roughly 80
miles of shore line along the Outer Banks.
Your best bet is to check in with one of several local
tackle shops. It's their job to know where the fish
are biting. The shop owners want you to catch fish,
so they will send you in the right direction. A good
strategy is to go where fish were caught yesterday.
That simple plan has produced for me much of the time.
Frankly, the time honored magic times of dawn and dusk
can be overshadowed by mid-day blitzes when the fish
are on the move. Be flexible and be ready to regroup
in a hurry if you want to catch fish. Tides may also
make a difference. The fish will frequently feed on
the same stage of the tide for several days in a row.
It has been a long time since I kept all of the bluefish
I caught. Now, more are released than go in the box.
A 12 pound fish can go a long way on the dinner table,
so if you are fortunate enough to hit them on the Outer
Banks this spring, keep only what you can use and gently
release the rest so we can catch them again next year.