Fishing for Bluefish – tips, tackle, and techniques for anglers to succeed
This blog post will focus on fishing for bluefish. Bluefish are very powerful, using their broad bodies and large, wide tails to put up a terrific fight. They are generally found in fairly large schools, and this adds to the aggressiveness. Competition forms within the group to see who can catch and devour the prey. This makes them a fantastic game fish! Capt Jim Klopfer is a fishing guide in Florida and grew up in Maryland fishing Chesapeake Bay. He loves fishing for bluefish!
Bluefish, Pomatomus saltatrix, are an unusual in that they are the only fish in the family Pomatomidae. Bluefish are widely distributed throughout the temperate and subtropical parts of the world, excluding the northern Pacific Ocean, including the Caribbean, Coast of Gulf of Mexico, and up the eastern seaboard to the mid Atlantic. Bluefish put up a terrific fight, but while edible, they are not considered the best table fare.
Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.
Best tackle for bluefish fishing
The tackle required for catching bluefish will vary greatly depending on the region of the country being fished. In Sarasota where Capt Jim fishes, most bluefish are under 4 pounds. In this application, medium light spinning tackle is the best option.
Anglers can shop at Amazon for a Daiwa Black Gold reel and St Croix Triumph 7′ MF rod spinning combo in this link.
Anglers fishing the mid-Atlantic and northeast will need stouter tackle. Bluefish are larger there. Also, deeper water and stronger currents require a heavier rod and reel combination. The 5000 series reel on a medium action 7′ rod works well for casting lures and fishing live and cut baits. Both outfits can be accessed from the link below.
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Anglers fishing off of the mid Atlantic will also want to keep a conventional rig or two on the boat. A light conventional outfit is quite versatile for bluefish and other species as well. Anglers can vertically fish spoons and jigs. Live and cut bait can be used. Conventional outfits are much better than spinning rigs for trolling as well.
Surf fishing for bluefish is extremely popular on the East coast from South Carolina to southern Maine. Anglers cast large artificial lures as well as cut baits in search of these terrific game fish! Surf fishing is both relaxing and exhilarating at the same time. Hours of quiet are interrupted by moments of bedlam. Anglers can shop a variety of Penn Battle outfits here. They are affordable and reliable.
Best lures for bluefish fishing
Bluefish are an aggressive species that will readily take an artificial lure. Generally speaking, fast moving lures with flash and vibration work best. These include jigs, spoons, and plugs. Below is a list of Capt Jim’s favorite bluefish fishing lures.
1) Bass Assassin Sea Shad
The Bass Assassin Sea Shad bait is Capt Jim’s favorite soft plastic bait for bluefish. It is 4” long and comes in many different colors. The bait has a shad style tail which has great action. It is perfect for casting to bluefish in fairly shallow water. It is fished on a jig head. The weight of the jig head will vary depending on conditions. It works great in the surf when blues are in the foam. These lures work well and are economical, which is an issue due to the sharp teeth of bluefish.
2) White bucktail jig
White bucktail jigs have been catching bluefish and just about every other saltwater species for many decades. These are versatile lures that can be cast, vertically jigged, or trolled. Many anglers add a strip of cut squid or fish to entice more bites. The only negative to these lures are the durability. Bluefish will tear them up in short order.
3) Kastmaster spoon
The Kastmaster spoon is another excellent bluefish lure. It is quite versatile, being used cast, jigged, and trolled. Kastmaster spoons are heavy and can be cast a long distance. It works great in the surf. Anglers can vertically jig over bait schools or structure. They can also be trolled. This bait has a large single hook. This makes releasing bluefish much easier.
4) Rapala X-Rap Saltwater Extreme Action Slashbait
The Rapala X-Rap is a very productive bluefish lure. They cast a long way and have a terrific erratic action. X-Raps float at rest then dive down several feet when retrieved. The #12 is a good size for northern bluefish. Southern anglers can drop down in size. They are an excellent trolling bait as well. The one down side is that the treble hooks can make releasing fish more difficult.
5) Clark Trolling Spoons
Trolling spoons work very well for locating schools of bluefish. They are fished behind weights or planers to get the bait down. They are long and slender. Trolling spoons can be trolled very fast. They put out a ton of flash and vibration. They are great when hunting large areas for bluefish.
6) Pencil Poppers
Pencil poppers are not only effective bluefish lures, they are great fun to fish! They are cast out, allowed to settle, then twitched sharply. Poppers draw some explosive strikes. They can be used by anglers fishing from the surf, jetties, piers, and boats.
Bluefish fishing techniques
One technique that we use here in Sarasota quite often is drifting the deep grass flats. We simply drift over the submerge grass with the wind and tide while casting out lures in search of game fish. Jacks, trout, mackerel, and pompano will oftentimes be found in such locations, even when surface activity is not present. As with bluefish fishing everywhere, they usually school up and are quite aggressive.
The jig and grub combo is a great all round saltwater bait. It is a great choice when targeting bluefish, and really any other inshore species. A quarter ounce jig head with a 3 inch- 4 inch shad tail grub is a good all-around combo. Color doesn’t matter that much, though when possible it is best to match the clarity of the water. Light-colored baits work best in clear water while darker colored baits work better and water that is stained.
Drift fishing for bluefish
Drifting with either lures, live bait, and cut bait produces plenty of bluefish all over the world. In deeper water with swift currents, heavy jigs and jigging spoons work well. They mimic wounded bait fish and stay in the strike zone the entire time. As with all lure fishing, the baits should match the size of the available forage.
Anglers drifting with chunks or strips of fresh or frozen cut bait catch many bluefish as well. Squid is a top frozen bait. Where possible, most anglers prefer to use fresh caught cut bait. Pogies, spot, sardines, and any other oily fish make great cut baits. These can be fished right on the bottom or drifted higher up in the water column. A 2 hook high/low rig works well. Wire should be used, especially if the water has some color to it.
Fishing for bluefish with artificial lures
Anglers casting plugs enjoy some terrific light tackle action on bluefish. They will draw some ferocious strikes! Top water plugs are fun and exciting, however shallow diving plugs are generally more productive. Anglers can blind cast likely looking spots such as mangrove shorelines, seawalls, docks, and other structure. Casting plugs into breaking fish is obviously great fun. Two drawbacks to using plugs are the initial cost and having to deal with a pair of treble hooks. Some manufacturers are now offering plugs with a pair of single hooks.
Spoons are very effective lures for bluefish as well. They cast a mile, can be worked back aggressively, and closely mimic most bait fish that are in the water. They are reasonably priced and anglers can easily replace the trouble hook with a single J hook.
Fly anglers will do well with any bait fish imitations. An all white or chartreuse over white Clouser Minnow on a number one hook is a great all round choice. One of the few times that blues can be fussy is when they are feeding on tiny glass minnows. This is a circumstance where the fly fisherman can shine, as it is easier to match the hats with a small fly than it is with a heavy artificial lure.
Surface feeding bluefish
Most anglers agree that the most enjoyable bluefish fishing is had when they are feeding on the surface. This is termed “breaking fish” or “busting fish”. However, whatever you call it, it is great fun! Bluefish will herd bait fish to the top, trapping then against the surface of the water. The bluefish will chase the helpless bait out of the water! This can be seen from quite a distance away on a calm day. Diving birds are a great indication of feeding fish.
This type of fishing is relatively straightforward. Fish are seen on the surface, and the boat is placed in front of them. Anglers cast lures out in front of the fish, and a strike almost always occurs as they are in an aggressive mood. This can happen close to shore for anglers surf fishing as well. Spoons, plugs, and jigs will all produce fish when they are breaking on the surface.
Trolling for bluefish
Trolling is an excellent technique that many anglers use to locate bluefish, especially when they are not found feeding on the surface. This technique allows anglers to cover a lot of water in a short time. Also, lures can be presented at several different depths to cover the water column as well. Spoons and plugs are the top trolling lures, though jigs will work, too, especially at slower speeds.
Tackle requirements can get complicated for anglers that troll. In most cases, heavier conventional tackle works best. Also, anglers will often use wire line, planers, heavy weights, and downriggers to get the baits down in deeper water. However, in shallow water, it can be as simple as trolling a lipped plug or two out behind the boat.
The tackle an angler uses when targeting bluefish depends on the size of the fish that may be encountered. After all, the world record is almost 32 pounds! In Sarasota where I fish, most bluefish are in the to to 3 pound range with the occasional fish reaching 6 pounds. For this fishing, the same light to medium spinning tackle that is used for other inshore species works fine.
In Florida and other places where the water is clear, many anglers use flourocarbon leaders. A 30 pound to 40 pound piece of fluorocarbon leader is used between the running line and the lure to help reduce cutoffs. You notice I said “reduce”! Anglers using flourocarbon leaders will lose some tackle. Wires leaders will eliminate cutoffs and many anglers use them, especially in water that has some color or when bluefish are feeding aggressively.
Anglers who fish on the East Coast may need to beef the tackle up a bit. Schools of large bluefish are notorious for tearing up tackle from North Carolina to Maine. Light conventional tackle may be a better choice, especially when drift fishing or trolling.
Surf fishing for bluefish
Surf fishing for bluefish is very popular all along the east coast. Hatteras is a world renowned surf fishing destination. There are also many spots in New England as well as almost all of the mid-Atlantic beaches. Surf fishing does require more patience as anglers are limited as to where they can fish. They will chase fish up and down the beach should a “bluefish blitz” occur.
Anglers can use both artificial lures and cut bait. Many take a two pronged approach. They will put out a chunk or strip of cut bait on a fairly heavy rod using a “fish finder” rig. This allows for the bait to float around naturally. While waiting for a fish to find the bait, anglers can cast lures out in search of a feeding fish. This works well and keeps the angler busy!
It is hard to beat a chunk of fresh cut bait when it comes to surf fishing for bluefish. Just about any fish that is legal to use will work well. Oily fish such as spot or even other bluefish are fine. Strips of cut bait can be used if flounder are a possibility. Otherwise, a chunk will stay on the hook better and still attract bluefish.
Fly fishing for bluefish
The same decision holds true for fly anglers. While an eight weight outfit is perfect for the Sarasota area, anglers on the East Coast or in the Caribbean might be better off with a 10 weight outfit. With either selection an intermediate sink tip line is the best all round choice. An 8 foot to 10 foot tapered leader with a 30 pound bite tippet finishes off the rig.
As a fishing guide in Sarasota, I’m on the water around 200 days a year. Rarely do I actually target bluefish. In most instances they are a happy interruption as we target other species on the flats and in the passes. I treat them as a target of opportunity, never turning down a chance when I see a school of bluefish foraging on the surface. In most cases, a fast, aggressive retrieve works best.
Read a detailed article by Capt Jim on fly fishing in Florida
18 useful bluefish fishing tips
Bluefish put up a great fight on light tackle! Bluefish are aggressive, leap often when hooked, and pull incredibly hard. I also think they are underrated eating when properly handled. Here are 18 bluefish fishing tips.
1) Jigs catch most of the bluefish for my anglers. Jigs are very effective when the water is a bit cooler, under 70°. This is the time that we normally run into bluefish on the deep flats. Often times, the bluefish will be out an 8 to 10 feet of water. Jigs are more effective as a can get down in the water column where the bluefish are feeding. Jigs are also easy to cast and have a great action.
2) While bucktail jigs and synthetic care jigs can be used, the jig and grub combo is a better choice. There are several reasons for this. The primary reason is a practical one; bluefish will destroy an expensive buck tail jig after a fish or two. However, with the jig and grub combo, the body is relatively inexpensive and is easily replaced.
3) 1/4 ounce jig heads are the best choice for fishing water of this depth. Anglers fishing deeper water or waters with stronger current may need to bump it up to 1/2 ounce or even a 1 ounce jig head. I don’t find that jig head color makes much of a difference. I often use unpainted jig heads with good success.
4) In my opinion the shad tail grub is the most effective for Florida bluefish and other species. These tails have a great built in action that mimics bait fish. Paddle tails also work well, though they are more reliant on the angler to impart the action. I have found twister tale baits to be too fragile for saltwater fishing. They draw strikes, but the tales just do not remain intact for very long. Small bait fish can easily remove them.
Fishing for bluefish with plugs and spoons
5) Plugs are another effective artificial lure for catching bluefish. This is especially true when the fish are working on the surface. We call these “breaking”fish. Shallow diving plugs such as the Rapala X-Rap Slashbait work very well. Often times the trouble hooks will become damaged after a few fish. I do just as well by removing both trouble hooks and adding a single “J” hook on the rear. The bait remains effective and handling and releasing fish is easier and safer.
6) Spoons also catch a lot of bluefish. A spoon is a very simple lure. It is basically a piece of shiny metal formed in the shape of a teardrop. A half ounce silver spoon is the perfect size here in Sarasota. These lures cast a long way. This can be important on days when the fish are breaking and moving around a lot.
7) All three of these lures are worked in a similar fashion. Bluefish for the most part are very aggressive. The jig and spoon are cast out and allowed to sink for several seconds. Most plugs float on the surface at rest. Then, the lures are retrieved back in using an aggressive twitch. The slack is then reeled up and the lure twitched again. Often times the bite will occur during that pause.
8) When bluefish are very active, a fast steady retrieve will often produce. When fish are busting and they are in a feeding frenzy, it rarely matters what you cast at them. As long as the lure remotely resembles the size and shape of the bait fish that they are feeding on, they will generally strike it.
How to catch bluefish on live bait
9) While artificial lures catch many Florida bluefish, live bait produces as well. The number one live bait on the West Coast of Florida is the shrimp. Shrimp are available year-round at all local bait shops. The best approach when using live shrimp is to free line the bait out behind the boat and let it drift with the tide. A small split shot can be used to get the bait down on breezy days or if the current is strong.
10) Live bait fish can be used successfully as well when targeting bluefish. The number one Florida live bait is the scaled sardine, also known as a pilchard. These bait fish are usually around from June until November. Anglers cast net them on the shallow grass flats. Anglers on the East Coast do well with pogies and finger mullet. Using a long shank hook will help anglers reduce cutoffs when using live bait.
11) The water is clear and Florida most of the time. While wire leader’s can be used, strikes will be significantly reduced. Most anglers choose to use a ”shock leader”. This is a 30 inch piece of heavier monofilament. 30 pound test to 40 pound test works well. Hooks and lures will still be lost to the sharp teeth of bluefish. However anglers will get more strikes, so it is a trade-off.Northern anglers fishing in stained water for larger fish often opt for wire leaders.
12) The same rig is used with both live bait and artificial bait. I double the last 3 feet of my running line, whether it is monofilament or braided line. Then, I attach a 30 inch piece of 30 pound test to 40 pound test fluorocarbon leader using a Double Uni Knot. I then attach the lure or hook to the tag end of the leader.
13) Bluefish are found in the bays, passes and inlets, in the inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. They are seldom encountered very far offshore. As mentioned earlier, grass flats and 5 feet of water to 10 feet of water are prime spots. Anglers drift over the flats casting lures or live baits until the fish are located. Anglers can also choose to “run and gun”in search of breaking fish.
14) Passes and inlets are great spots to catch bluefish. These are fish highways that connect the inshore bays to the open Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic ocean. Many of these passes and inlets offer access to anglers without a boat. Rocky jetties and peers that line these inlets and passes can be terrific spots. Anglers can drift the passes both casting lures and drifting live baits. Often times the fish will be right out in the middle. Casting to shoreline structure can also be effective. Anglers need to be careful of swift currents and boat traffic when fishing passes and inlets.
Surf fishing for bluefish
15) Many bluefish are caught by anglers fishing right off the beach as well. This is more of an East Coast technique. While anglers on the West Coast of Florida to catch bluefish off the beach, it is less frequent than on the Atlantic Ocean side.
16) Anglers surf fishing off the Atlantic Ocean beaches use specialized tackle. Long rods are used, between 10 and 13 feet long. They are matched with large reels and high-capacity spools. These long rods are used to achieve both casting distance and to keep the line up above the crashing waves.
17) Most angler surf fishing for bluefish use cut bait. Artificial lures can certainly be used, especially on calm days when fish are seen breaking on the surface. Just about any freshly caught legal fish will work. Fresh mullet is tough to beat. The bait fish is either cut into strips or chunks and fished on the bottom. Strips of squid can also be effective.
Fly fishing for bluefish
18) Fly anglers love catching Florida bluefish! A 3 pound bluefish puts up an incredible fight on a fly rod. An 8wt outfit is a good all-around choice. Intermediate sink tip or sinking lines work best as bluefish are often found in slightly deeper water. The leader is a 9 foot tapered leader with a short 30 pound bite tippet. Just about any bait fish pattern will produce, with in all white Clouser Minnow being my number one all round choice
Are bluefish good to eat?
As mentioned in the beginning, I think bluefish get a bad rap when it comes to eating. However, they do require a bit more care. The meat is a little darker and the fish is a bit bloody. Bleeding the fish when it’s caught really improves the quality of the meat. While the fishes alive, the gills or cut and the fish pumps all the blood out of its body. This is best done in the bait well. The bluefish send needs to be put on ice immediately and eaten that they are the next. I find small bluefish and the to pound to 3 pound range to be very good eating.
In conclusion, this article on fishing for bluefish will help anglers catch more of these hard-fighting fish!