In Praise of Bluefish
by Rich Troxler
From Humble Beginnings-
As a kid growing up in Milford Connecticut, one of my very first fishing experiences in the briny was catching Snapper Blues from atop the outflow of what is now Silver Sands State Park. This was back around 1962, or there abouts. We would mostly catch them casting small Dardevle Spoons with the paint job scratched off, so they would be silver on both sides. Even back as a kid, there were modifications LOL.
We would also catch them with shiners (spearing) that we would seine net ourselves, but to be honest, catching bait was just the excuse we used to see what else we could catch in the net. The kid I fished with had a big seine net, maybe like 12-15 feet and a lot of interesting stuff came up in it, including a large fluke and a 4-½ foot Silver Eel.
I remember the Snapper Blues as being aggressive, fun to catch, and good to eat. Having lived through the Great Depression, my parents always encouraged me to bring home what I caught, so those same Snappers also provided me with the pride that comes from putting a meal on the table.
Less than a year later I would catch my first “bigger” Bluefish, a Tailor Blue was what one of the old timers at the Gulf Street Bridge called it, and that Fall, I caught my first “official” Bluefish. It was probably around 8 lbs or so, but man, what a fight. It had set a new high water mark for my young fishing career, and took a place in my nightly dreams for weeks to come.
Time Warp 48 years-
This spring, a large stretch of Long Island’s south shore was inundated for 4 straight days by hordes of big, ocean-going Bluefish. You know the ones, big shoulders, beautiful purple hue on their backs, gnarly attitude, and almost all teen sized fish. They had been around the offshore bunker schools, but then huge schools of squid tried to squeeze through along the shore, so Calamari went on the menu and drew them in.
Now, I haven’t “actively” fished for Bluefish for many years. I, like many, have become enamored of the fish with stripes, and spend the majority of my time, almost exclusively at night, pursuing them. But when the call came in to me that Blues were all over the beach, I figured I was due for a few early days out of work, and a little fun in the sun, and maybe a few for the smoker.
To be honest, I had completely forgotten how much fun catching big Bluefish could be. On the fifth day, I couldn’t even raise my morning cup of coffee to my mouth, my arms and shoulders hurt that bad LOL. They turned a perfectly good Gibbs bottle plug into a toothpick and gave me 4 straight days of aerobic exercise.
So Here’s The Thing –
Somewhere along the line, Bluefish have taken on a sort of a bad connotation amongst some of the surf fishing crowd. I frequently hear them spoken of in disparaging ways, and what’s worse, have seen them abused by those who catch them. Some of this behavior is downright sickening.
How quickly we allow ourselves to become jaded. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is an expression that comes to mind here. It is easy to forget how lucky we truly are, not only to have an abundance of Bluefish, but of MANY fish. And it just goes to show you how relative situations are to each other.
Back in 1965, Bluefish all but disappeared for a couple of years. Nobody knows exactly why, but they just did, and I mean they were scarcer than hen’s teeth. I remember the older guys lined up on the Charles Island sand bar waiting, hoping, through the whole tide, for the Bluefish to show. Striped Bass, geezz, it was easy, just throw a clam or worm off the Gulf Street Bridge, but nobody wanted them. They wanted the Bluefish.
Several years’ back, my company had a visitor from Japan, and as my position required me to “entertain” him, I asked him if he liked fishing. Oh man, his eyes lit up, so I told him I would take him fishing the next day. Now I wasn’t about to drag him around to the places I fish, so I grabbed some clam and squid and took him to a local rock pile for some “kiddie” fishing.
We started catching some Porgies, Sea bass, Bergals, etc, most under-sized, and he was absolutely amazed at the sheer number of fish we were catching. He actually had no point of reference for how good our fishing was. He told me that guys go out on boats, and that if you catch one fish, that it was a good day, and two fish, killer. He also told me that they fish for trout in artificial indoor ponds that are stocked with mostly yearling trout, but an occasional 2 lb’er, and catching one of those is like getting Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.
So I ask you this. What’s not to love about the Bluefish? Have you ever met a more willing combatant? Are there any fish in our area with more attitude? I think not. I have hit my personal “refresh” button and have come full circle where my respect for the Bluefish is concerned. I consider their numbers as an embarrassment of riches, and if my suspicions on the health of the Striped Bass population prove correct, they may become our only option for a while.
So next time you catch a big ol’ ugly Bluefish, don’t try to kiss it, because it’ll bite your face off, but do thank it for giving you it’s best and release it healthy, back from whence it came.