Fish on: Gearing up for the gorillas

COURTESY PHOTO Careful! Bluefish jaws want your fingers.

Careful! Bluefish jaws want your fingers.

One of the jobs of any fishing columnist is contacting people to ask if they’re catching fish, where they’re catching them and what lures, bait or tackle they’re using. Prime contacts include local tackle shops, charter boat captains, fishing friends and even a few fishing guides.

So, I dutifully made all of those calls and all I heard this week was bad news, or worse, no news at all.

Most of my sources said that things were slow and the winds around the big, cloud-bursting storm mid-week kept many of them in port. In spite of the few stripers and bluefish caught in Plum Gut and at the Race by local anglers using bucktails, eels or jigs around the full moon tides, reports were that “it just wasn’t happening.” News was so bad that my Number One guide said he was heading out to Montana to fly fish for trout for a week. What does that tell you?

Thursday morning, out of pure desperation, Mike McConnell and I decided to try the early morning outgoing tide near Gardiners Island. Mike is on the injured reserve list so he volunteered to run the boat, net the fish and take photos.

What a job he did as we had the best day of the year — all in 90 minutes! Since I was the only fisherman on board I landed and released seven bluefish from 10 pounds to a whopping 14 pounder and two legal striped bass of 29 inches.

It was like a dream cast: Hit, hit, hookup, fight the fish, net the fish, de-hook the fish, release the fish and cast again and then, suddenly, it was all over! Needless to say, I’ve booked Mike as my guide for the rest of the season.

So, now that we all know that the first wave of “gorilla blues” is somewhere in the area, how do you go about catching them on spinning or casting tackle? It’s really a pretty simple process with a few major caveats.

Let’s start with the warnings: All bluefish fight like the devil until they are boated and then the battle really begins. A 10 pounder is enormously strong both in the water and in the boat. They have a stunning array of razor sharp teeth that can chop fingers off with ease and any bite will cause significant bleeding.

They are one of the few fish that can actually see well out of the water and will try to get you if they can.

Because of these abilities, I strongly advise you to remove all treble hooks from the plugs you use and replace them with a single 4/0 triple strong “J” hook on the aft hook mount so you’re dealing with just teeth and one hook while trying to get a fish unhooked.

Single hooks don’t tangle up in the net, damage the fish less than trebles, and since bluefish attack their food from the rear, they snag up very well with only one hook back there.

Since these fish are so strong, you need fairly tough tackle to hold them once they are hooked. Casting from a boat, you need a “heavy action” rod not over 7 to7 1/2 feet as longer rods get in the way The heavier rod will let you cast the larger lures, which is an added plus.

You should match the rod with a spinning reel in the “five” category (they are strength rated from 1 to 10+) loaded to within 1/8th of lip of the spool (for added casting distance) with 20 to 25 pound braided line from Power Pro or Berkley.

I don’t use monofilament casting for large bluefish but you can if you want, since mono is less expensive. Next, tie a 3-foot section of 40 or 50 pound monofilament leader to your line using an easy to tie Double Surgeons Knot. To learn how, go to Finally, I would tie my lure on using a No Slip Loop Knot.

When you are rigged and ready, pick an early morning, an evening or any time you can get out when the falling tide has an hour or so to go, and cast to all the rips around Gardiners, Plum, Jessups or the Sluiceway. Be alert for birds diving on bait and cast under them. But if there are no birds, explore the rips and keep on casting and retrieving your plug fairly quickly and noisily.

The gorillas are waiting.