by Ken DeBarth
After a long cold and quiet winter, many fishermen feel the blues. By the time April arrives most of us will have checked our reels, emptied and cleaned and repacked our tackle boxes, while dreaming of the big fish we will catch in the upcoming season.
April brings warming temperatures to the air and the water. It brings migrations of red drum and sharp-nosed skates through Ocracoke inlet. Perhaps the best cure for the winter blues, however, is the arrival of the annual migration of Bluefish.
As Bluefish make their annual migration from the waters off Florida, they pass Ocracoke in April and early May. Bluefish travel in schools and are aggressive feeders. As they follow the warming water temperatures north, they eat any other fish they encounter, including smaller Bluefish. They are extremely predatory and are the only fish known to kill for the sake of killing.
Anglers can catch Bluefish on baits or lures. When Bluefish are feeding on the surface, they can be seen jumping and chasing baitfish into the air. There are almost always flocks of birds over the feeding schools. Bluefish have been known to chase baitfish right up onto the beach, in some cases following the bait onto the sand. A “Bluefish Blitz” is exciting. Bait and predators thrash the surface and birds wheel and dive. You can watch this activity work its way along the beach to your location or you can move to the action. Either way the anticipation is a big part of the excitement.
During a surface feeding frenzy, Bluefish will strike just about any lure (expect those significantly larger than the baitfish). Metal lures like Hopkins and Slingsilvers work well. They provide for long casts and are durable. The Bluefish’s sharp teeth will scrape paint off of coated lures and tear up wood and some plastic lures. Large jigs work well, too. Plastic trailers on jigs don’t last long and will require frequent replacement. One article I read claimed that during a blitz Bluefish will strike coins and sometimes bare gold hooks. Subtlety is not needed when a feeding frenzy is underway.
Surface lures and popping plugs are an exciting and productive way to catch Bluefish during a blitz. This type lure is more difficult to cast for distance, but if the Blues are near shore there is nothing more exciting than a surface strike from these fish.
Live baits also catch Bluefish. Mullet, whole or chunked, and menhaden are common baits but squid and clams work as well. Subtlety is not required here either. If Blues are present and feeding, they will strike.
Be very careful handling any Bluefish. They have very sharp teeth and you should never get your fingers near them. Pliers or forceps will keep you on the beach instead of at the health center getting stitches!
Stop at Tradewinds or your local tackle shop for advice on rigs, hook size and, of course, fresh bait. Pick up your fishing license, check on bag and size limits, and get up to the minute information on what works and where the fish are.
We have had great Bluefish catches on Ocracoke the last two years. They should be here anytime now and they will be just what we all need to get over our winter blues.
Ken DeBarth lives and fishes on Ocracoke. He can’t wait for the Blues to cure his winter blues