Today, we’re going to visit a species of fish that we hardly ever mention in the article here in Southwest Florida and for good reason. Their main feeding, nesting and voracious character domain is along the Northeastern USA, mainly Long Island Sound and the waters surrounding New England.
So, let’s start our story a few years back before we moved to Collier County from Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, NY, and I was a corporate manager that owned a 17’ Grady White moored to a free floating mooring buoy in the Harbor Basin.
When the weather was good on spring and summer weekends that you’d where you’d find the local fishing club from sun up to sun down.
Our pictorial targets were limited, to a degree, as the “hot water times” we're limited to a couple months a year. So, anglers from that domain had to “adjust to conditions.” That adjustment many times included changing your targets to less desirable table fare
Late spring brought a fierce pictorial predator screaming into the Long Island Sound from the North, South and East Atlantic sectors. They were labeled bluefish; aptly named with their bright blue shiny coat.
That’s all you could say nice about them. They were the most slashing nasty fish on the planet. The bigger blues would devour the schools of other small bluefish if getting food got tough.
Let’s fast forward and we’ll recite a day where those bluefish captured the day right here in tranquil Marco. Happened one frigid early March weekend when two fathers of teen age boys wanted to give these teenagers a nearshore fishing trip before they trundled back to the frozen tundra of Chicago post spring break.
In the booking phone call, I asked their interest if working the backwater docks for some plentiful big sheepshead that were inundating the river and connecting backwaters. Response: “No thanks, Captain, we’ve been catching big sheepshead all week right from our dock” Let’s try something different.
I agreed and had learned of Spanish Mackerel action occurring big time right along the channel running R#15 the sea buoy on nice big macks. So, after we cleared the Capri Channel we set sail for amidst the sunken barges that were obviously holding those mackerel in place.
The wind was up a tad out of the Southeast at 12 knots as that allowed us to breathe easier. No sweat, good conditions.
As we dropped out first box of frozen chum right into a jumble of now slashing fish. The slashing action literally flooded the Fishfinder screen. We were dead quiet as we waited for the first glance of our targets.
It took about 10 milliseconds for us to thankfully discover they weren’t the mackerel either.
There were an enormous herd of bluefish, so thick they blackened the Fishfinder screen from top to bottom. As they flew aboard we noted that most of the blues were just at or under legal size. The fathers became the “releasers’ and boys took over the fishing with yells and hoots.
We didn’t stop to ask questions as we had locked into an astronomical school of slashing bluefish. Even getting these blues off the hook is a challenge. Swinging back and forth on the hook these guys think it’s all a game. When you would ask an Eastener if they catch blues they usually they show you a chunk gone from a finger.
We were releasing all these small bluefish when one of the father’s asked “Captain, these guys any good to eat?”
“You gotta be honest even when it hurts, right?”
“Some people like them but not too many”
“Let’s just say they are of robust flavor”
“You mean like a strong fish taste?”
As we dropped block of chum into the melee, we kidded about various famous bluefish recipes where you lather the fish in solid mayo; or the option of smoking the filet in hickory so it tastes like wood; or the most famous where you cook them with a brick, throw the fish away and eat the brick.
The reply was as expected. “Thanks for your candor, keep throwing them back. We’ll go with the boy that’s high hook and a nice prize. We caught literally full time for the balance of the trip. The high hook took 42 fish that day. Back at the marina his prize was a great pair of sunglasses.
The boys danced out of the marina that Saturday afternoon doing a little victory dance. Fathers were totally surprised at the diversity of the species and the strength of the catch.
Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.