Volume 16, Issue 40 - October 2 - October 8, 2008

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The Piranha of Chesapeake Bay

When seeking bluefish, bring lots of lures

The perch hit my spinner bait well out at the end of the cast. I suspected it was a good-sized fish because it just stopped when it felt the hook. Finally, as I applied more and more pressure with my ultra-light rod, it moved off laterally and began a determined run for deeper water. Then suddenly it accelerated, surged twice in still more powerful lunges — and the line went dead.

As I reeled in, my bent rod still indicated some resistance. Thinking the fish had fouled some debris as it gave me the slip, I paid little attention until my line neared the boat.

As I lifted it out of the water, only the head of my perch remained. Behind the gills were two cleanly cut arcs where its chunky body had been. Bluefish, the piranha of the Bay, had been at work.

Quickly I put down the spinning rod and grabbed my medium-weight plug rod. Selecting a silver-sided, three-quarter-ounce Rattletrap and clipping it on, I thumbed the spoon and sent the glittering bait far out over deeper water where the dirty work had just been done.

Fish Are Biting

Lots of blues and Spanish mackerel are still sprinting around the Bay on both the Eastern and Western shores. Rockfish are often found underneath the feeding schools. Look for birds to guide you to good fishing. Stripers have also been found on channel edges near the mouths of all of the major tributaries, and live spot are getting them when the blues aren’t around. Big perch are deep over shell bottoms as well as in the shallows near rocky structure. The top-water bite for rockfish in the shallows that had been stalled by bad weather has picked up again. Get there at first light or at last light for some memorable action.

First letting it sink for a slow five count, I began the retrieve. Cranking like mad, I brought the lure back, sweeping my rod to the side for extra speed. It took only a moment to get results. My rod bent over double, and line poured out against the drag. Fish on!

Water broke out at the end of my line as a bluefish, furious at the double-cross, surfaced, changed directions and began another run. It took longer than I anticipated to bring in the four-pounder. A blue will invariably surprise you with its power and tenacity. They are one of the strongest fish in the sea.

After netting the flashing, blue-green-backed speedster, I sought my long-nosed pliers. Even as I brought the net over the side, the fish’s evil incisors flashed as they ground away at the now-scarred surface of the lure.

Carefully grasping the fish behind the head, I removed the hooks as it glared at me, still savaging the plug. There is no doubt that a bluefish sees the angler; there is also no doubt that it is just waiting to get in a bite on your fingers.

Adding to the menace of its razor-sharp dentures is the lore that they are coated with an anti-coagulant. Whether or not that is true, one thing I can guarantee: If they do bite, you will bleed profusely.

I gave my aquatic Pac-Man a good tap on the noggin to quiet it as I pushed it down deep in the ice. Keeping bluefish extra cold and cleaning them promptly are two secrets to maintaining their table quality. Fresh bluefish, grilled, broiled or pan-fried the same day it’s caught is as tasty as good seafood gets.

They Earn Their Nicknames

Bluefish come in many size categories: slammers, fish weighing over 10 pounds and up to 30; choppers, fish from five to 10 pounds; snappers, weighing one to five; and tailors, those under a pound. Once you’ve caught a couple, there will be no question of how they came by those size monikers.

The fish swim in fast-moving schools, never hesitating in one place for long as they seek schools of baitfish. They often eat until fully gorged, then purge themselves and begin again. Seabirds in particular like this aspect and will follow bluefish schools in great numbers, wheeling over them to pick up the copious fish scraps.

In fishing for blues, any flashing lure moved quickly will draw their attention. Steel leaders are usually necessary to protect against their savage bite. Even then, you will lose many fish to competing blues who will bite anything they see around the hooked fish, including swivels and parts of a lure protruding from the struggling fish’s mouth.

Larger bluefish have a hard, abrasive surface on the leading edge of their forked tails. When a hooked fish sprints through a dense school of its brethren, any line that contacts another fish’s tail will likely be parted. When seeking bluefish, bring lots of lures.

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