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"Busting the Blues"
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

long the New Jersey coast the month of June traditionally holds some of the best fishing since the onset of the early spring. By the early part of the month surf temperatures have risen into the upper fifties or low sixties and our beaches have become inundated by a large variety of baitfish. Stripers and blues have migrated back in great numbers into our waters from their wintering grounds and are very eager to take a wide variety of flies. At this time of year we usually look for the magic surf temperature of fifty-five degrees for these fish to aggressively strike out at and take one of our feathered imitations. There is no better way to start another season in the suds than by hooking into either one of these magnificent fighters on the long rod.

So much is said and written about the striped bass and false albacore as being the prized trophy of the saltwater flyrodder that the bluefish is often neglected and sometimes poorly treated. Pound for pound the bluefish is equal to and in many cases exceeds the expectations of even the most experienced flyrodder when it comes to hooking a great sport fish on light tackle. Every blue no matter how small will send copious surges of electrifying energy through the rod that will stimulate surges of adrenaline to rush through your body. Blues are one of the most vicious, voracious, and aggressive pelagic species to ever inhabit the salty brine. Their razor sharp teeth coupled with their elongated, torpedo shaped body and powerfully forked tail has evolved them into an efficient killing machine. So much so that they delight in the very nature of the act, feeding to gluttonous proportion until full and then regurgitating to feed some more.

It is this innate greed that has made them an easy target for the long rodder. These predators will devourer almost anything that comes within their path. Those flies that you spent hours working on at the vise can be put away and replaced with your mistakes. These ravenous June blues will not be shy or particular. They will be more than willing to satisfy your long rod fix.

Along the eastern seaboard bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) will range from Maine to Florida. It is a migratory species moving northward in the spring and southward in the fall. Their preferred temperature range is from the middle fifties to mid-sixties. Thus we see them arriving later in the spring and disappearing much earlier in the fall from our Jersey waters when compared to the striped bass.

Synonymous with the word bluefish we often hear the term's snapper, cocktail, tailor, slammers or alligators, and racers used. These terms are descriptive of a classification by size for the bluefish. A snapper is a juvenile from several inches to approximately a half a pound. A cocktail follows next and ranges up to two pounds. A tailor blue is between two and five pounds. And the slammers or alligators are jumbo blues in excess of ten pounds. Racers describe hefty blues, seven pounds or more, that arrive first in our waters in early spring (April/May) that are hungry and fast.

When blues are on the scene hooking into them doesn't require artful casting or flawless technique. There are however certain considerations that you want to pay attention to in order to maximize your efforts while on the water.

As far as your flies are concerned leave those expensive store bought ones at home. Tie some clousers or half and halfs with blue, chartreuse, olive, or yellow backs with white under bellies and some silver flash tied in and you are set. Hook sizes should lean towards longer shank hooks. The longer shanks will present more steel for the blue to bite into. This will keep its razor sharp teeth farther away form your mono tippet. Don't worry too much about paying attention to detail when tying because after the second or third fish the bucktail or feathers will be gone. Don't over look tying some flies in hot neon or fluorescent colors. At times this color will just ignite our yellow-eyed brute.

Another option is to dabble with tying some synthetics, which will add an extended life to your fly. Ultra hair or kinky fiber will be the materials of choice. These materials are stronger than naturals like bucktail and saddle hackle, and will not be "chomped up" as fast by sharp teeth. When small baits are prevalent use the ultra hair materials in olive over white, or tan over white to tie surf candies and clousers. This will best represent spearing, sand eels, and rainfish. If blues are on big baits like bunker or herring, use the kinky fiber in olive and white or blue and white. Adding epoxy to the heads of all of your flies will also enhance their life and versatility.

The typical retrieve you are going to use will be a two handed retrieve. Bluefish like a fast moving fly particularly when the water is warm. At times you can not retrieve fast enough to satisfy the appetite of a gluttonous blue. The exception to this rule will be in the early spring when the water is cold. A slower retrieve will work better at this time when the blue's metabolism is lower.

A large blue will easily inhale any fly completely and bite it off. This can become rather expensive not to mention frustrating, as you will have to tie on a new fly after almost every cast. To prevent a bite-off a wire tippet or tracer will be needed. These wire tippets, often referred to as shock tippets, should be tied directly to your fly with a haywire twist. Let the wire extend about four inches and put another haywire twist in the wire. You can now attach your monofilament leader with an albright knot or clinch knot to this end. The wire diameter to use is .012 inches and is rated at thirty-two pound test. This would be #3 wire. It is best to have some of these wire tippets already prepared before hand haywired to your flies. If you come upon a school of toothy blues unexpectantly you can quickly tie the wire to your leader. This will save you some time and possible prevent the school from passing you by.

If you find that this wire tippet is preventing blues from hitting your fly because they become shy, you can replace this wire tippet with a piece of heavy monofilament approximately six inches long. Sixty-pound test will work well. Many times this clear tippet will make the difference when trying to get the fish to hit. Check out a new product on the market manufactured by the American Wire Company. They have produced a wire tippet that is clear and has the ability to tie knots in it.

In either case you can still lose your flies with any of these types of tippet set-ups. A big blue could inhale your fly and the wire completely and bite it off or another blue could bite your line as it tries to attack the fly as it is dangling out of the hooked blue's mouth.

Bluefish can provide when of the ultimate fly rod experiences when they are blitzing on the surface. This term that has been coined to describe a fast, furious, all out assault of predator on prey. To the uninitiated it appears as if Mount Vesuvius was erupting from below. The water actually boils as the blues indiscriminately rip through clouds of bait.

One of the most difficult things to do during a blitz is to try to keep your composure when in the midst of the action. Trying to rush your cast when the adrenaline is pumping will only result in poor technique. Take your time and enjoy the hook up.

If you are delivering your fly right down the center of the action and not getting any hook-ups try changing to a larger fly and increasing the speed of your retrieve. This will help the blues to pick out your fly from amongst all the commotion. A large surface popper is ideal for this situation. Watching a ravenous blue chase down your popper and explode on top of it will be one of your flyfishing most memorable moments.

Keep in mind when blitz conditions occur you will be landing one fish after another. Release all fish not slated for the dinner table with care. One way to release the fish quickly is to pinch down the barb on your hook. Quite often the bluefish will come off when it jumps into the air and shakes it head violently. If you land the blue the hook will come out more easily. Remember to be mindful of the blue's razor sharp teeth when removing the hook. Long needle nose pliers will work best for this task. The jaw strength of a bluefish is incredible. If it clamps down on your fingers it is almost next to impossible to pry its mouth open.

As with any fish in the ocean the bluefish should be treated with respect. So many of us have seen anglers kicking them back into the water after they have provided us with the sport of the catch. Blues can be safely handled by tailing them. Keep things in perspective and be thankful that such a superb fighting fish is readily available for our indulgence. Targeting blues with the long rod is a great way to kick off your summer season in the suds. End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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