Fishing for Bluefish in Key West
Bluefish offer anglers many chances for fun, as they may be caught from boat or shore and they fight well when hooked.
Bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix)
The Bluefish is a migratory pelagic fish that is widely distributed in temperate and tropical waters around the world. It is a uniformly proportioned fish with greenish-blue coloration on the back and silver down the sides fading to white on the belly. The tail is broad and deeply forked, and the dorsal and pectoral fins fold back into grooves. The Bluefish has a large mouth, with a single row of uniform-sized sharp knife-edged teeth in each jaw. The fish range in size from seven-inch juvenile Snappers to adults 2-3 feet long and weighing up to 40 lbs. in exceptional cases. The average size in Florida waters is 3-5 pounds.
Bluefish Habitat and Behavior
Bluefish are found over most of the continental shelf along the eastern coastline of America, but not in the Caribbean between southern Florida and northern South America. They range off Florida during the winter months, then head north before April, arriving off Massachusetts by June. In October, they move south again, following schools of mullet and other baitfish down the coast. Some Bluefish do not migrate and are present in the Gulf of Mexico throughout the year.
Bluefish gather in large schools to follow and attack baitfish, and around Florida, they are typically found in clear, moving water near surf beaches, in estuarine channels and Backcountry waters, or by rocky headlands. Members of a school tend to be about the same size because Bluefish are cannibalistic and will eat their own young. Adults are strong and aggressive fish, and they will often continue attacking a school of baitfish in a feeding frenzy even after they have eaten their fill. In Florida, Bluefish will eat Jacks, Grunts, Mullet, Shrimp, and Squid, but in other areas they seem to prefer oilier fish like Menhaden and other Sardine-like fish. Bluefish will chase bait into shallow water and churn the water wildly as they attack baitfish savagely in what is called a Bluefish Blitz.
Bluefish reproduce offshore during spring and summer, and Bluefish fry are zooplankton, mostly floating at the mercy of the ocean currents. In the western North Atlantic, at least two populations occur, separated by Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. Fry spawned south of Cape Hatteras North Carolina can be carried to the north by the Gulf Stream, with eddies spinning off and carrying fry into populations found off the coast of the mid-Atlantic and New England states.
Fishing for Bluefish
Bluefish offer anglers many chances for fun, as they may be caught from boat or shore as well as from piers and jetties, and they fight well when hooked. They are sensitive to differences in water temperature, and will be found deeper during hot weather. Offshore, they are often located by the presence of diving birds feasting on scraps as the Bluefish chop up a school of baitfish.
A wire leader must be used to prevent fish from biting through the line, and a variety of plugs, sand eel type jigs, and squid- or mackerel-like lures will work well. Large, flashy spoons, jigs tipped with Shrimp, and baitfish-imitating flies are all effective depending on the conditions. Cut baits will work, and common live baits include mullet, mackerel, and squid. Chumming will help in attracting and exciting the fish. In fact, when Blues are in a feeding frenzy, it is not uncommon to be able to catch them on a bare gold hook.
Bluefish are good to eat, but are a bit oily for some people. They are best eaten fresh or smoked as they do not freeze well. Use caution when landing Bluefish as they will lunge to purposely bite a careless fisherman, and they can inflict serious injuries. A large Bluefish should never be handled by the head or mouth, and heavy gloves are a good idea.