Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats

Sight-casting to tailing and waking bluefish in the shallows of Long Island

In late spring, most years, bluefish move onto shallow flats around Long Island during flood tides to feed on small baitfish. Lots of anglers keep their focus on stripers, but to overlook the bluefish option is to miss one of the Northeast’s most exciting inshore fisheries.

New York fly-fishing and light-tackle guide John McMurray had suggested we check out the flats on the evening of our first fishing day to see if the blues were around.

I'd flown into the Big Apple the day before, meeting up with Damon Olsen at the Allegria Hotel in Long Beach. Olsen, who runs Australia's renowned Nomad Sport Fishing and has recently developed a line of lures, Nomad Design Tackle. One of his goals was test out some of those lures, proven Down Under, on New York stripers and blues.

The sun was falling below the horizon when McMurray cut the outboards on his 33 Contender center console. In short order, we began seeing the flat surface disrupted by splashes, tails and wakes. And until dark, we had a real ball with blues to more than 15 pounds following, assaulting and latching onto Nomad poppers and walking lures.

The next day when we discovered that the stripers were pretty small (and a run of big fish off northern Jersey never materialized for us), so we found ourselves unable to resist the chance to tangle with bluefish again on flats.

Tough Customer

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
A big bluefish, held by Capt. John McMurray, slammed the Nomad Dartwing lure thrown by Damon Olsen, the lure’s creator.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Socked In

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
Thick fog made for cautious running until it eventually lifted.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Big Blues on Patrol

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
A drone’s-eye view reveals one of dozens of packs of blues — in this case, big ones — circling as they look for baitfish.Nick Jones / Nomad Design Tackle

Under Attack

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
A swing and a miss as a hungry bluefish tries to eat a Nomad Dartwing skipping over the calm water.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Doing the Dance

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
A bluefish takes to the air with a large Dartwing barely in its jaw.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Relentless Predator

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
Damon Olsen pauses for a quick photo before releasing yet another blue that grabbed a Dartwing. Olsen had pinched down the hooks’ barbs on these lures to facilitate easier release.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Nearing the End Game

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
Nomad videographer Nick Jones takes some time to enjoy the action, here working to keep a determined bluefish away from the Yamahas’ lower units.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Walking-Lure Works

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
Olsen found some trophy-sized bluefish eager to climb all over his surface-walking lure, Riptide.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Blast Off

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
McMurray throttles up his Contender for the short run to the bluefish flats on a misty early-June morning.Nick Jones / Nomad Design Tackle

Small Blues, Bent Rods

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
On a sunnier day, we make one quick drift among other boats that had located good numbers of feisty little chopper blues in deeper water.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Doubled Up

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
Olsen launched his new popper, the Chug Norris, and came up with a double on blues.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Bluefish at the Boat

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
While targeting stripers, Olsen still finds bluefish, here near the JFK International runway (big commercial jet visible at far left).Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Schoolie Striper

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
The slender, walking-popping Dartwing was responsible for many stripers during these days, also.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Bass With a Tag

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
John McMurray about to release a small striper sporting a tag.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Hey, Baby! Nice Pecs!

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
Apparently stripers and blues weren’t the only predators to find the surface walking action of the Riptide tempting, as this fat sea robin showed.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Bluefish Gone Wild

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
A small blue hanging onto a pink Chug Norris popper shows its aerial dexterity.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Swing and a Miss

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
In their haste to clobber Nomad's walking Riptide lures, bluefish seemed to miss more often than they connected.Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Hooked!

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
This blue obviously caught up with Olsen’s Riptide and stayed connected (even with barbs pinched for easy release).Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

Same Lures, Different Targets

Popping for Bluefish on New York Flats
About three weeks after we fished with McMurray, the bluefin had moved in offshore in good numbers. The captain, who took this shot of a happy angler, now cites the Nomad Riptide as his new fave for tuna.John McMurray