Catching the Big Blues - by Joe Malat

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.

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