Stalking and Catching Big Spring Bluefish on Northeast Flats

Tailing bluefish is a sight to behold.

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Angler holding up a bluefish
Bluefish are truly vicious animals. Jon Whittle

“What the [expletive] am I looking at?” asks Roger, fly rod in hand and 60 feet of line on the deck, most of it in a messy tangle under his left foot.

Twenty-five yards in front of us, the tip of a caudal fin gently pokes out of the glass surface and lazily pushes water.

“Permit,” I say.

“Really?” is Roger’s response.

“No dumbass, we’re in New York,” I laugh. “Bluefish…Big f’ers too.”

“But I wanted to fish for striped…” I shush him before he can finish. This was some cool stuff. I was pushing a flats skiff in maybe 12 inches of water, and fins were appearing and disappearing pretty much everywhere we looked. “Man, screw striped bass,” I say. The truth is that I could care less what he wanted.

With just about every push, we’d spook at least one monster bluefish. Every single one of them looked around 36 inches. “Boy, I sure as hell wouldn’t wanna wade here,” I laugh. Bluefish are truly vicious animals.

“Dude, there’s a half-dozen of ’em at 11 o’clock, 40-foot,” I say, pointing with my left hand as I squint to make out a bunch of daisy-chaining fish. “Don’t mess this up,” I say in a hushed but forceful tone, with the full understanding that it was likely he would. And he did. But I was ready. Grabbing a spin rod out of a rod holder on the poling platform frame, I put a popper 20 inches in front of a pushing fish. One pop and it turned. Another pop and a different fish darted from the other direction and violently smashed the thing. Dozens of fish spooked and shot off in different directions, creating puffs of mud and boils in a 50-yard radius. There must have been hundreds of bluefish in that flat.

For a minute, the fish stays in the same spot, thrashing its head, astonishingly bright lipstick-red gill pates flaring. Then it tears off to the south, dumping line off my Daiwa Saltist 5K and making several extraordinary leaps out of the water.

Man, I love that kind of stuff. I mean, really love it. Having fished for tailing bluefish on the flats for a good two decades, every time I see this kind of thing materialize, it affects me in the same way as when I saw it the first time. Those tails, man—it’s like I’m being offered a glimpse of something I’m not even supposed to see.

Hell, I’m getting excited right now just writing about it.

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