New England'™s Bluefish Master?

New England'™s Bluefish Master?

For over 40 years, Connecticut's Tom Migdalski has been fishing for Long Island Sound bluefish and he's learned how to find and fool big slammers with regularity. Here's how he does it! (July 2008)

Tom Migdalski finds big bluefish in the seam of currents over ledges and dropoffs.
Photo by Cindy Lawyer.

Tom Migdalski ranks as one of the best Long Island Sound bluefish anglers in Connecticut and spends most of his free time fishing on the Sound.

He's written three books on hotspots in Connecticut, the north shore of Long Island, the north side of Fishers Island and New York City waters. His third book, Fishing with Diamond and Bucktail Jigs, will be published this year.

In addition, Migdalski has written numerous articles for many outdoor magazines, including this one. A New Haven native, he spends much of his time on the New England waters where he gathers background material for his books and articles.

A FISHING LIFESTYLE
"I began fishing for bluefish by sitting on a dock or jetty and catching snapper blues," he said, speaking of juveniles about 6 to 9 inches long.

"The waning weeks of summer have always been special for me," Migdalski added. "Days become shorter, and crickets chirp long into the night. The first crisp northwest winds break the stifling humidity and hint at what's to come. That's when you know it's snapper time.

"Most of the kids used a bobber, tiny hook and small shrimp or minnow cast a short distance into the brine. With eyes riveted, we watched for that red and white float to vanish beneath the surface.

"Or we zipped out bright one-ounce Kastmasters and were delighted by the metallic green flashes of fish attacking our fleeing lures."

Migdalski started out with a 16-foot aluminum boat. As his income grew, so did the size of his boat. Snapper bluefish gave way to chopper bluefish that, pound for pound, are considered the strongest inshore fish in the Northeast.

EATING MACHINES
Bluefish are voracious, consuming up to twice their weight in baitfish every day. Being the only member of the Pomatomidae family, Pomatomus saltatrix has a reputation for being the hardest fighter of any fish its size.

Saltatrix means "leaper." A bluefish may bulldog into the depths, burn a drag across a sand flat or jump clear of the surface. It can shake its head hard enough to throw a 6-ounce lead jig back at the angler.

Nicknamed "choppers" and "marine piranhas," bluefish often feed in large pods that gorge on schools of bait. When in a feeding frenzy, these voracious choppers will bite anything in their path, including floating soda cans and their own young. On several occasions, they have even attacked hapless swimmers.

HOW TO CATCH THE BIG ONES
Depending on their size, bluefish are known by several names, including tailors, harbors, snappers, racers and alligators. Late in the summer and throughout the fall, prior to their southern migration, bluefish go on an incredible feeding spree.

The largest and strongest of them range from 10 to 20 pounds and are known as slammers.

Diamond jigs are the most effective way to pull big bluefish off the reefs, said Migdalski. Jigs are efficient because of their plain, chrome-plating-over-lead construction.

Rigged with a single 8/0 hook, a diamond jig is clean and simple. No empty hooks to re-bait, no bitten-in-half plugs to discard and no mauled bucktails or surgical tubes to replace.

Migdalski said that diamond jigs plummet to the bottom fast, even in the strongest currents.

Yet when retrieved like a fleeing baitfish, they are brilliantly shiny and wobble irresistibly.

"When you're into white-hot action, these jigs have a speedy turnaround time.

"You can wrestle a diamond from the maw of a slammer and quickly slip the lure back into the brine."

Migdalski recommends that anglers use the lightest jigs possible for the water conditions. According to him, 4-ounce diamond jigs are the ideal size for Long Island Sound. However, for the Race, Block Island Sound and other deep-water hotspots, you may use jigs as heavy as 12 ounces.

JIGGING TACTICS
Migdalski said that to his jigs, he ties 40 inches of 80-pound-test monofilament abrasion leader. This setup handles the bluefish on the hook as well as "buddy" fish that graze the leader while swiping at the lure. When fishing diamond jigs, it helps to change treble hooks to singles to make unhooking blues simpler and safer -- for you and the fish.

"We fish diamond jigs with medium to medium-heavy action, fast taper, 6-foot graphite boat rods matched with a medium conventional levelwind reel," Migdalski said.

"I load my reels with 30-pound-test superbraid. Twenty- to 25-pound-test monofilament will work. But each time the line is whacked and parted by another fish, you'll wish you had used the tougher superbraid.

"Anglers plying deep water ledges or rips routinely use 50-pound-test superbraid or monofilament and heavy-action rods matched with 3/0 or 4/0 high-speed reels."

Migdalski said that fishing with a diamond jig is easy. Run the boat upcurrent of a rip or reef and where the ledge levels off to a flat bottom, cut the motor. This is the "sweet spot" where bait and predators suspend in the lighter current found in these areas.

Free-spool the jig to the bottom. Take 10 fast turns up, and repeat the process until you've passed the crest and entered the rip line.

If the jig suddenly stops in mid-drop, be ready to strike -- a big bluefish is probably on your line.

"Another popular technique is using bunker -- the local term for Atlantic menhaden, also known as menhaden, pogies, bunkies, fatback, and mossbunker," Migdalski said.

"They are an extremely valuable commercial species and are the primary forage species for striped bass and bluefish in the Northeast."

Bunker 12 to 18 inches long are easy to spot when massive schools dimple the surface in estuaries of southern New England, especially when the schools move inshore early or late in the day. During these

times, a bunker -- which resembles a large, deep-bodied herring or shad -- can be snagged with a big treble hook and spin-casting outfit.

"Fished live after snagging, or cut into chunks, they make excellent bluefish bait. Some of the biggest slammers are caught on bunker.

When fishing diamond jigs, it helps to change treble hooks to singles to make unhooking blues simpler and safer -- for you and the fish.

"Striped bass also follow bunker schools and inhale individuals whole or pick up leftover parts -- the heads especially -- as they sink during a bluefish feeding frenzy."

It's easy for anglers to see when predators are harassing a school of bunker, Migdalski said, because as they try to escape, baitfish start pushing the surface of the water.

Periodically, blues will rocket up and tear through the school. The panicked bunkers will leap in sheets of whitewater with a whooshing noise that resembles the sound of a small wave crashing on a beach.

"Casting a surface lure across a bunker school seems like an obvious choice for hot action. And it does work, but not always, because with so much bait in the water, a plug often goes unnoticed.

"However, a live hooked bunker swims below and behind the school -- the direction the bluefish are coming from. And its wounded motions creates an attractive target."

Migdalski said an appropriate spin- casting outfit is a multi-purpose, medium-heavy 7-foot rod and medium reel with high-quality drag.

Load the reel with 20- to 25-pound-test monofilament and tie on a black snap swivel. Bluefish will often mistake a silver swivel for a small baitfish and can easily sever the line with their razor-sharp teeth.

Migdalski's time-tested methods have led to many successful bluefishing excursions along the New England coastline. He's already looking forward to his 2008 adventures.

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