There are still lots of bluefish angling opportunities to enjoy in our states from Lewes to Ocean City and beyond.
The primary reason bluefish are attracted to different locations in Chesapeake Bay and the waters off Maryland and Delaware, is baitfish. The myriad structures provide cozy homes for schools of menhaden, butterfish and other forage species, a place where they can take refuge from various predators. Ironically, the bluefish themselves become prey for bluefin and yellowfin tuna and a half-dozen species of pelagic sharks. Therefore, when you're fishing the following locations, be prepared to battle everything from slammer bluefish to possibly a mako shark.
THE JACK SPOT
Located 25 nautical miles south of Ocean City, Maryland, the Jack Spot is a vast uprising from the ocean's floor that ascends to within 8 fathoms of the surface. The surrounding depths rapidly fall off to 17 fathoms, thereby the half-mile-long structure is similar to an oasis in the midst of the area's bleak, featureless bottom. Live coral, rocks and at least two wrecks comprise much of the bottom's content, an environment that makes up a thriving ecological community.
Slammer bluefish usually arrive here early in the season and hang around until the water starts to cool in the fall. If weather conditions are unseasonably warm, bluefish will stay until late fall, even past Thanksgiving during some years.
If you are fortunate enough to encounter these conditions, rig up a heavy-action spinning outfit with 12- to 15-pound-test line, and an 18-inch length of 50-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, or a similar length of coffee-colored 100-pound-test stainless wire. This will usually prevent the bluefish's razor-sharp teeth from severing your leader.
To the end of your leader you can attach a large topwater plug, such as a pencil, needlefish or even a small diamond jig like a size 007, depending on the size of the bluefish. Set the reel's drag, fire a cast along the edge of the school, and then crank the reel's handle as fast as possible. Most of the time your lure will only travel a few yards before a slammer bluefish takes up the chase.
The secret to success here is to motor upwind or upcurrent of the school, kill the engine and allow the boat to drift to the fish. Avoid dropping things on the deck, limit your movements and turn the VHF radio down. When the fish are feeding on the ocean's surface, they tend to be extremely wary because of their increased vulnerability to larger predators, such as sharks and tuna. It doesn't take much noise to send them scurrying toward the bottom and going off their feed. Additionally, unless the blues are actively feeding, do not cast into the middle of the school, as this, too, would be something unnatural.
Topwater action can occur at almost any time through the end of August; however, as water temperatures rise, chumming with ground menhaden is the preferred method of attracting large schools of slammer bluefish. This can be done from an anchored boat, or if conditions are favorable (light winds and slight tides), from a drifting boat.
Chumming is an art, a technique that involves more than just tossing chum in the water and waiting for the fish to arrive. The most effective method involves the use of fresh-ground menhaden: the fresher, the better. Two five-gallon buckets filled with chum is usually enough to last most of a tidal change, especially during July and August when water temperatures are in the low 70s and the fish are actively feeding. Mix the chum with equal parts of water, then cast it overboard at the size of a large soup ladle filled to capacity every 30 seconds. This puts just enough chum in the water to get and keep bluefish around. Use just enough to keep the blues around your boat, but don't feed them too much or they'll soon stop eating or vanish into the deep.
For bait, fresh-cut slabs of bunker, butterfish, spot or any other oily species seems to work just fine. The bait is attached to a 5/0 to 7/0 stainless hook by passing the hook through the thick end of a 4- to 6-inch slab of meat that still has the skin attached.
When the blues get all fired up from the chum, that slab of bunker will seem like a piece of fillet mignon. The secret to success is to allow the bait to drift naturally with the chum, which means there should be no weight used to carry the bait down. Just lower the bait overboard and feed out line at whatever rate the current is flowing. Let out about 50 to 75 feet of line and then repeat the process. Don't worrying about feeling the hit. There will be no question in your mind when you get a strike from a hungry bluefish.
THE BASS GROUNDS
As the season progresses from late July into August, additional schools of bluefish will arrive on the scene. Large schools of this game fish will lay claim to an area known locally as the Bass Grounds, which is located about 12 miles due east of Ocean City Inlet. This particular spot has always been popular for anglers seeking seabass and tautog, both of which congregate within the submerged rubble of an artificial reef.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) put this reef in place many years ago. While the DNR no longer maintains the reef, the Ocean City Reef Foundation continues to add materials ranging from lengths of concrete pipe to abandoned boats, which have been cleaned and then sunk at the site.
"I've caught most of the bigger bluefish here over the past 20 years while trolling 10-inch-long Hoochy-Trolls, red surgical hose eels, and an old lure made from a length of lightweight chain with a bucktail head called a Rag-Mop," said Captain Ted Ohler, skipper of the charter boat Volcania out of Ocean City; he can be reached at (410) 879-0939.
Ohler caters to smaller parties, often four or fewer anglers. He'll run offshore in his 26-footer that cruises at 30 knots on a calm day. He is a veteran charter captain who spends a lot of time chasing tuna, marlin, dolphin and wahoo along the canyon edges, but there are days when the weather will not permit anyone to venture that far offshore. Therefore, under these circumstances, he fishes closer to the inlet, but still provides his parties with lots of big fish action.
"The Bass Grounds is one of those locations that has saved a lot of days for charter captains. When the tuna bite is off, or the weather's just too sloppy to run offshore, I can usually find all the slammer bluefish anyone can handle at this location. Usually, I'll rig up some heavy-action spinning outfits or lightweight boat rods for trolling, and then drag the lures over the dropoffs near the wreck site. More often than not, all four rods will go down at the same time and everyone onboard will be grunting and groaning trying to l
and a 12- to 16- pounder," Ohler added.
Ohler said that similar to the Jack Spot, the Bass Grounds also holds a number of other species.
"We've had some big sharks cruising through the area at times, not many makos, but there have been some big dusky sharks, a few hammerheads, bull sharks and an occasional blacktip. The way you usually discover the sharks are around is while you're fighting a big bluefish; the line suddenly takes off like a shot, and then you bring in just the head of a 14-pounder. It takes a pretty big shark to do in a 14- to 16-pound bluefish with a single bite."
Among the most popular summer hotspots for bluefish is a location known locally as the Hotdog. This 18-fathom lump is situated approximately 35 miles due east of Ocean City Inlet and is surrounded by depths ranging from 24 to 37 fathoms.
The bluefish are here to feast on the massive schools of butterfish, which spend much of the summer foraging over this elongated upwelling from the ocean floor. A series of smaller lumps extends southwest for a distance of nearly 20 miles; therefore, if the Hotdog resembles a parking lot for large charter boats, you can merely head southwest until your depthfinder locates the next uprising. Nearly all will have jumbo bluefish throughout much of the summer.
The bluefish are here to feast on the massive schools of butterfish, which spend much of the summer foraging over this elongated upwelling from the ocean floor.
Most of Ocean City (Maryland) and Indian River (Delaware) charter boats will converge on this location on a daily basis to chum and chunk for tuna. The majority of these captains could care less about bluefish, and most would be ecstatic if the bluefish decided to pull up stakes and move to another location. However, because truckloads of butterfish and ground menhaden are tossed overboard every day to attract tuna, the bluefish look at the Hotdog as just another location to find a free meal.
Consequently, just as soon as that first chum bag hits the water at sunrise, schools of bluefish will materialize to feed. If you're in the area and toss a piece of meat over the gunwale, within seconds, something with razor sharp teeth will slam it hard. And that something will likely be a hefty bluefish.
This offshore lump, known as the Hambone, is just approximately 30 miles due east of Ocean City Inlet. This lump rises to within 19 fathoms of the ocean's surface. The surrounding depths plummet to 27 fathoms, thus forming an offshore oasis for a multitude of species.
Schools of butterfish and tiny, transparent baitfish can be found swarming among the particles of chum as it's released from a suspended chum bag. This attracts a mix of jumbo bluefish, king mackerel, bluefin and yellowfin tuna, plus an occasional mako shark. A 500-plus-pound mako was caught here during the summer of 2002 by an angler chumming for bluefin tuna. After hooking several slammer bluefish, he decided to suspend one beneath a balloon and use it for bait. He said he knew he was in for a long day when the balloon took off like a water skier, as the 12-pound bluefish was tightly clamped in the jaws of a leaping mako.
Similar to the Hotdog, there are a number of smaller lumps adjacent to the Hambone, uprisings that tend to hold large concentrations of slammer bluefish from late May through early October. While their ranks will thin out to some degree during late summer, there are usually enough resident bluefish around to keep your rod bent double through most of a tidal change.
THE DELAWARE LIGHT
Ask anyone who fishes out of Delaware's Indian River Inlet where to find bluefish and most will tell you to head about 20 miles offshore on a course of 120 degrees until you see a post sticking out of a floating platform in the ocean. This is where Delaware Lightship was once anchored; however, a large platform buoy equipped with both lights and a transmitter to alert cargo ships of the approach channel to Delaware Bay has replaced the ship.
The buoy is solidly anchored in 13 fathoms of water, surrounded by a subtle dropoff that falls slowly to 15 fathoms. While there is very little structure at this location, the floating platform attracts swarms of tiny baitfish, small dolphin, various species of shark and lots of bluefish.
This is a great location to toss surface plugs and bucktails close to the floating platform, allowing them to sit for a few seconds, and then begin a quick retrieve. More often than not a jumbo bluefish will blast from the platform's shadows, slam the lure, and then vault high above the waves in a vain attempt to dislodge the hook.
More often than not a jumbo bluefish will blast from the platform's shadows, slam the lure and then vault high above the waves in a vain attempt to dislodge the hook.
THE DA BUOY
The run to DA Buoy, also known locally as just plain "A" Buoy is approximately 14 miles from Indian River Inlet. On a clear day, when bluefish arrive at this popular destination, you can see a large fleet of charter and private boats fishing this particular location. Most will be trolling an array of red surgical hose eels, large silver spoons, Hoochy Trolls and large, saltwater crankbaits over a series of lumps and bumps situated about two miles due north of the buoy.
These underwater patches of live bottom rise to within 8 fathoms of the ocean's surface, with most being surrounded by depths ranging from 10 to 14 fathoms. While the uprisings are not very pronounced, there is sufficient coral and wrecks to support a host of smaller species, which in turn attract marauding schools of jumbo bluefish all summer long through early October.
By mid-October, most of the bluefish will be rapidly migrating south to the offshore waters of North Carolina, where they'll spend much of the upcoming winter. Throughout the migration they'll be pursued by large schools of bluefin tuna, pelagic sharks and other fish larger than themselves. Some of the charter boats will also head to North Carolina's fertile waters as well. And while most of those captains will tell you they're hoping to hook up with a giant bluefin tuna, they won't turn up their noses at a slammer bluefish that just happens upon their tuna bait.