Fast, tough and vicious bluefish have returned to local waters
Right now there is a fish lurking in the shadowy shallows of Matlacha Pass that is truly bad to the bone, usually hungry and will viciously attack most any fish, lure or bait and even take a bite out of people and dogs. This creature is rocket fast, fights redfish hard, jumps snook high, has razor sharp teeth like an over-sized piranha and will definitely bite you if carelessly handled.
Growing up fishing on Delaware and Chesapeake Bay waters we targeted weakfish (the larger, more colorful, cousin of our southern spotted seatrout), rockfish or stripers, flounder and huge wolf packs of ravenous bluefish. My very first saltwater catch was a 3-pound bleeding seatrout that just moments before weighed 6 pounds, victim of a big blue attack during the fight.
Over the years there have been reports of bluefish schools attacking groups of people playing and swimming along the beach, drawn to the sounds of water splashing, thinking it to be a feeding frenzy and arriving ready to chow down.
When fall bluefish show up on the flats of Southwest Florida they are typically much smaller than their 10 to 20-pound average, northern cousins. Most inshore blues that visit each year are typically in the 3 to 5-pound range but still offer excellent sport on light spinning tackle. A 5-pound blue on a 6 wt. fly rod will definitely be a memorable experience and will typically take you into your reel’s backing.
On local flats, my favorite place to target fall blues is around oyster bars. Top water plugs thrown over and around the bar will draw them in for an explosive strike without getting hung up on the shallow structure. Although a 24-inch long, bad attitude blue will try to eat a 23.5-inch meal, I seem to have better luck with smaller, two-hook style, surface plugs rather than the larger three hook models.
You will definitely get more attention and bites by using a fast and erratic surface splashing retrieve like you would use to get the interest of a big jack crevasse or a snook. A quickly retrieved flashy spoon is also blue fish magic.
The IGFA lists a 31-pound, 12-ounce North Carolina bluefish as the all tackle world record.
If you decide that you would like to take a bite out of a fish that would gladly return the favor, then try some on the grill. The bigger the blue the stronger the taste, so try a few smaller specimens first. The FWC rules allow up to 10 per harvester per day with a 12-inch fork length minimum size limit, with no closed season listed.
Pick your safe weather window morning to visit offshore GPS numbers and arrive back at the dock before the afternoon electric show. Cobia, grouper, snapper, Spanish and king mackerel await your baits. Don’t push it and hang on for just a “couple more” when common sense is telling you to put the throttle down and head for the barn.
Each spring thousands are drawn to the water to pursue the silver king while another group waits for September to target their favorite inshore gamefish; the redfish that gather in our shallows each fall and are the target of shrimp dunkers to high tech sight anglers hoping to see a few tails waving in the air as the fish vacuum the bottom, eating anything that moves and fits into their mouths. A well placed, quiet entry cast a few feet ahead of them will usually do the trick.
As exciting as seeing these happy pods of reds is to witness a massive school of a hundred or more reds moving across the flat in front of you. In this mode they are extremely competitive so don’t be surprised when three or more try to eat your plug at the same time.
Snook remains catch-and-release only.
Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You can contact him at 239-282-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.