The author holds a healthy fish that smashed a squid pattern in a rip.
Bluefish (love them or hate them) are a great saltwater species to target with a fly rod.
While they do not frequent as wide of a variety of habitats as striped bass do, they have their own eccentricities that make them unique. As an angler, playing upon these eccentricities is part of the strategy and fun.
Bluefish vs. Stripers
While there have been many comparisons made between bluefish and striped bass, particularly their respective merits as gamefish, I believe that any such exercise is rather moot.
Striped bass are like a fine wine, to be appreciated on many subtle levels and appropriately savored. They have more geographic range and are one of the first saltwater to fish to have ever been targeted with a fly, with records of such activity dating all the way back to colonial times.
Bluefish are more like a shot of whiskey, providing a quick rush that can go straight to your head. While perhaps not as refined as stripers, they have their place and will fight harder than any striper of the same size.
So rather than choosing between bluefish and stripers, I prefer to embrace fishing for both and appreciate what each can provide over the course of the angling season.
When targeted with appropriate gear, bluefish can provide plenty of action and excitement.
Gearing up to fly fish for bluefish is fairly simple. Use rod weights that are appropriate for the fishing situation at hand. If you are to be fishing estuaries where the fish run small, six- and seven-weight rods are entirely appropriate. Eight- and nine-weight rods are great for flats fishing, where intermediate and floating lines are commonly used.
Any fishing that will require flies to sink deep will require heavier rod weights. When we fish the rips of Long Island Sound, we typically fish fast sinking lines on ten- and twelve-weight rods. A twelve-weight rod might seem like overkill, but casting ten-inch long flies with eight-hundred grain sinking lines to large bluefish in heavy current makes all aspects of the fishing easier on the angler and the fish being caught.
Fight times can be shortened with the right gear, increasing survival rates for catch-and-release fishing.
Never underestimate the importance of bite guards with bluefish. Their razor teeth, meant for shredding prey, can also shred standard leader material. Without a heavy mono bite guard, this Double Barrel popper would have been bitten clean off during the fight.
Bite guards are an absolute necessity when targeting bluefish.
Many anglers like wire, and it certainly has utility for this type of fishing. My personal preference is for eighty-pound test hard mono. It is fairly abrasion resistant, and has the added advantage of being less obtrusive to incidental species such as striped bass that tend to inhabit many of the same locales as blues, especially rips.
Check the bite guard after every fish caught, and when in doubt, always retie.
When it comes to bluefish, you can often pick your poison with regards to fly pattern and presentation strategy. Here, Rich Strolis shows a blue that took a brightly colored fly pattern from fast-moving rip water.
Fly pattern selection for bluefish should not be complicated. Generally speaking, flies that attract a lot of attention are very good for bluefish, particularly the larger members of the species. On any given day, blues can be feeding on various small-, mid-, and large-sized baitfish, as well as squid. Other prey species can be on the menu, but these are the bulk of a blue’s diet.
Flies spanning the water column, from topwater poppers and sliders to bottom-bouncing weighted patterns, will cover your needs. Bear in mind that most weighted patterns, when fished in fast currents, will only get a few feet down in the water. This might seem like a weak use of the weight, but very often getting the fly down this short distance can drastically increase catch rate, even during topwater feeding binges. For every fish seen busting bait on the surface, there are many more feeding below, and the subsurface presentation can yield more strikes. That being said, one of the bluefish’s signature moves is to absolutely wreak havoc on a surface presentation. This is a visual and auditory phenomenon that is tough to beat.
Bluefish often have the reputation for being complete pushovers. There are times when just about anything moving through the water will get their attention and draw a strike, and because of this they are a great species for beginners; however, I've found numerous occasions when they can be rather selective. This has occurred under a few different conditions.
The first is when blues are daisy chaining, which is a behavior linked to spawning. Although they are less prone to strike a fly because their instincts are driven towards mating, a well-placed presentation can get results once the correct pattern is found. The right fly pattern in this situation is rarely the same thing from one time to another, so keep trying until you figure it out. This is sight fishing at its finest, and this behavior can enable an angler to target bluefish up to twenty pounds.
The second situation in which I have found bluefish to be picky is when they are casually grazing on acres of bait. This is not typical blitzing behavior, but rather a very slow and deliberate feeding style. My most common experience with this scenario happens when blues are feeding on bay anchovies. In this instance, fly color does not seem to matter, but fly size does. Smaller flies are readily grabbed, whereas typical large baitfish patterns have been far less successful.
These two scenarios are based on many years of observation, so don’t be afraid to experiment in your own angling situations.
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About Captain Mark Dysinger:
Mark is the owner of Flyosophy Charters. He's located on the Connecticut coast and guides in the nearby waters of Long Island Sound, where he specializes in the Northeast slam of striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore. Mark is a recognized authority on fly fishing for northern pike. His works have appeared in numerous online and print publications, and he has contributed to a handful of books. Mark is a regular fixture at the Northeast fly fishing shows, where he readily shares fly tying tips and fishing strategies. His fishing activities can be followed @flyosophycharters.