Over the past couple of weeks large bluefish have been making their presence known along the NC coast. Tackle shops and social media posters are posting numerous pictures of 8-12 lbs blues being caught in the North Carolina surf. Scanning the various posts, it seems the Choppers are hitting as far south as Oak Island and ranging north on past our coast. I am seeing reports of the Blues being caught in Delaware. Hopefully, these migratory fish will stick around a little longer to give us all a chance to hook one or two. It is a good idea to practice catch and release with these fish. We are not always fortunate enough to see Bluefish of this caliber in the surf – some years they just pass us by completely. The stocks have improved some thanks to conservation minded sportsmen. I remember in the 1990’s and early 2000’s that it was exceptionally rare to catch large bluefish – it seems (on the surface at least) that this trend is reversing. Current NC regulations have generous bag limits for Bluefish – anglers are allowed to keep 15 bluefish a day – however only 5 over 24 inches total length are allowed in that bag.
For me, bluefish are some of the most enjoyable fish to catch. When hooked, they don’t make spectacular jumps or hunker down like a bull red drum – they just fight! They hit the bait aggressively, pull harder than expected for their size and they strike most anything. They forage on most anything in the ocean. Mullet, mossbunker, spot, whiting, shrimp, other bluefish… the list goes on and on. If you like surf fishing with artificial lures, bluefish are good target species. I for one like to catch them on Hopkins Lures. I know a lot on fishermen like using Got-Cha plugs or curltail jigs and they certainly work on bluefish as well. Just remember these are toothy fish – if you opt for a soft artificial, it will get torn up. In particular with the curltail jigs, expect to lose some. They’ll bite the tails off and miss the hook. Should you be using live or dead finger mullet for bait, be sure to use a stinger hook to increase your chances – again, the blues may bite off the tail and move on. When fishing bait for Blues, I like to use a two hook fireball rig. This is your basic two hook rig, made up of a leader of heavy fluorocarbon with a swivel at the top to attach to your shock leader and a duolock attached at the terminal end for attaching a pyramid sinker. Along the length of the rig are two dropper loops. Each loop has a brightly colored Styrofoam ball and a hook.
A word or two about preparing your bluefish for the dinner table. Blues have a very rich, fishy taste. They are not for everyone, however if you do like a fish with a strong fish flavor, then certainly put some bluefish on your table. Blues are best eaten fresh – same day you catch them is my recommendation. Also, bleed them as soon as possible and ice them down quickly. Small snapper blues are great fried – I prefer the larger chopper blues to be fileted and baked (be sure to rim away the dark meat). My main (top-secret) prep for bluefish is to soak the meat in buttermilk for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking.
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