Fish on: Bluefish are jumping

DEBBIE WEAVER PHOTO Dancing bluefish at the end of our columnist’s line.
DEBBIE WEAVER PHOTO Dancing bluefish at the end of our columnist’s line.

Last week was another interesting but unproductive time for fishermen around Shelter Island and, according to several other sources, from Gardiners to Plum and farther to Jessups.

The main culprit was winds that blew for days on end interrupted only by rain showers followed by more wind, primarily from the northwest. Usually, after a big rainstorm the northwest wind blows for about 36 hours and then we’re blessed with gentle breezes until the next weather pattern comes through.

For some reason, this wasn’t the case this time and for most of the week my boat sat at Clark’s dock hiding from the 25 mph gusts so it wouldn’t get blown to pieces by the tempest on my dock. Judging from the boat traffic on Coecles Harbor, I wasn’t the only one staying near home.

As a result, I heard practically no reports of any bass caught from the beaches or from boats except one from Orhan Birol who took advantage of quiet morning conditions last Saturday and caught a 37-inch bass on a live bunker from his best “Secret Spot.” That was the exception however, as I spoke to a guide friend about what he and another guide had done on the bass. They cancelled several planned trips so that species “got a week off.”

However, that doesn’t mean that no fish were caught. Bluefish were all over the place on every tide eating everything they could chase and ambush. I watched several nice-sized fish come out of the surf one evening at Menhaden Lane beach and heard of good numbers being jigged up at Jessups and even some coming over the gunwales at Plum Gut.

The arrival of bluefish in numbers fit right into my plans. I had the good fortune of having daughter, Debbie, and her husband, Dean, visit this week to celebrate Debbie’s birthday. She’s a great photographer in her spare time and she wanted to photograph fish being caught and ospreys and other birds in flight.

Because the winds were so strong from the northwest, the only place we could go without getting soaked and bounced around was near shore just out of Coecles Harbor. The winds were so stiff that we simply went upwind near the beach where Dean and I threw popping plugs downwind a long way, thanks to the following gale.

The retrieve the fish seemed to like best was when we made a big pop at a moderate speed; they weren’t giants, with the largest in the 5 pounds area and many more at 3 to 4 pounds. But when you land 15 or so fish each and lose a bunch more in a little more than 90 minutes, it is some sport!

The cool, 68-degree water temperature had them supercharged and they spent a lot of time in the air doing serious head shakes trying to throw the hooks. We were using 7-foot medium heavy spinning rods with 4,000 series Penn Reels loaded with 14 pound braided line and still, every fish seemed to take an eternity to land.

Then came the nervous process of unhooking a very aggravated fish with razor sharp teeth and getting it back in the water for the next angler to catch. In the three trips we made we landed over 75 fish and lost another 25 that were hooked and got loose, plus we had an uncountable number of hits that we missed. I only got one scratch from a glancing bite from one fish, so it was a huge success and

Debbie got lots of photos of the action.

How To Corner: Casting for bluefish is one of the most exciting fishing adventures you can experience and is an excellent way to get kids interested in fishing. The fish are aggressive, hard fighting, usually plentiful and, if handled properly, most swim away after they are unhooked.

My suggestion is use tackle heavy enough to land them with popping plugs that have just a single tail hook on them. Tie the lure to a minimum three foot length of 40-pound test monofilament so you can use the leader to yank some of the smaller fish over the gunwales and into the boat and you are all set to go.

I recommend the one hook system for three reasons:
1. With one hook, the fish can be easily unhooked with a pair of pliers or, better yet, with a “J” shaped de-hooker that will allow you to hold them over the side and unhook them so they fall right back into the water. This method is better for the fish and the fisherman.

2. Bluefish attack bait from the rear and cut the tails off their prey if they can’t swallow it whole on the first pass. Then they come around and finish off the crippled baitfish. So, a single hook in the rear does it most of the time as it’s right where they bite.

3. Having several adults or kids casting from a boat is always somewhat hazardous but is safer if the lures only have a single hook on them. Treble hooks magnify the risk when the action gets hot and bluefish (and people) are really hard to unhook from trebles.

Cuba bound: About 15 years ago I got interested in trying to get to Cuba to fish for largemouth bass that were being caught by others, mostly Canadians and Russians who were allowed to fish for them. Before I could take action, however, one of those fisherman wrote an article on the lakes that held the big ones.

Soon, impoverished Cubans read the article and had netted almost all of them so I forgot my plan.
Recently there has been a lessening of restrictions for Americans to visit Cuba and it renewed my wanting to flyfish there, but this time for the shallow water species like tarpon, permit and bonefish.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see if I could arrange a week’s guided fishing on the flats in Cuba and was lucky enough to do just that. With Islander Mike McConnell and two other old fishing buddies, we are off to that mystic isle as you read this and will, hopefully, be back on June 25.
I’ll fill you on how we did when I get back.