New Jersey Bluefish Highs and Lows
Every spring New Jersey anglers wait for the return of lean and mean gator bluefish.
Every April since I can remember, I have looked forward to the arrival of big spring bluefish. They are mean and lean, and bring outstanding fishing to the surf, inlets, and back bays.
Back in the 1980s, when I decided to make the Jersey Shore my home, the first reports of mackerel being caught by early-season headboats meant that, shortly thereafter, we’d start seeing big gator bluefish moving inshore and north from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. When these schools of migrating fish merged in New Jersey, the fishing was insane.
It didn’t matter where I fished because the blues were there day and night. At that same time, the striped bass population was severely depleted, so bluefish provided the best opportunity for catching big fish from shore.
I recall walking all the way out on the north side of Cold Spring Inlet and some of the biggest bluefish just about pulled me into the water with their strength and attitude. On one occasion, I got stuck in the rocks trying to land a particularly ornery blue.
In the back bays at night, the blues were so thick that I could barely avoid them while trying to catch tiderunner weakfish (and losing many lures in the process). I grew to resent them back then, and it took me many years to really appreciate what wonderful gamefish they really are.
Out in the surf, if I fished a mullet rig using four dozen frozen mullet from the previous fall, I’d catch four dozen blues in a single outing.
Come summer, the big schools of bluefish headed back out to sea but not far. On any night during the summer, an angler could hop on a party boat that would anchor up a mile or two off the beach and chum up enormous bluefish. When the fish found the slick, the incredible bite would last all night.
The anglers on board dropped down a weight and a huge chunk of mackerel, and within minutes, all of them would be locked into serious battles. At times, the mates could hardly keep up with the calls for “Gaff!” Losing a few fish was inevitable, but most anglers still left the boat with a burlap bag full of 15-pound blues that they could barely drag off the boat at 4 a.m. In many cases, after battling about 10 of these fish, I was done and needed a break to give my arms a chance to regain their strength. At that point, I’d sit back and watch the craziness unfolding around me.
I think back now and wonder what we did with all those fish we kept. Some ended up as shark bait for the big-game offshore fishermen and I am sure some made it into a smoker, but far too many were wasted.
As the striper population rebounded in the 1990s, even more anglers began to regard the bluefish as a nuisance for stealing and destroying expensive striped bass plugs and lures. Even back then, there was a noticeable decline in the stock, but it was overshadowed by excellent fishing for striped bass and weakfish.
After the turn of the 21st century, bluefish were still around, though not the same as in the past. There were still decent spring and fall runs, but then in 2016, I experienced some of the best bluefish action I have seen in my lifetime. Worldclass bluefish running 10 to 20 pounds and up to 40 inches invaded our inlets and back bays in massive schools. The runs lasted 4 to 6 weeks, with fishermen catching every day. Blues of all sizes are, pound for pound, some of the hardest fighters in our waters, and fish of that size are especially strong.
Unfortunately, fishermen showed the same lack of respect for this resource as they did in the 1980s, leaving the jetties with hundreds of pounds of bluefish, even sometimes exceeding the 15-fish limit.
The spring run of huge bluefish still arrived on time for the next couple of springs, and they made decent showings in the fall, but during the last couple years, the blues disappeared. It was as if they vanished, spring, summer, and fall.
In 2020, bluefish were declared overfished, and the daily bag limit was cut down to three fish (five fish on for-hire vessels). Over my decades of fishing for blues, they have earned my utmost respect as a great gamefish and are a crucial part of both the ecosystem and the local fishing community. I hope everyone also shows them this respect going forward so that the next generations of anglers can also enjoy these great fighting fish.
17 on “New Jersey Bluefish Highs and Lows”
The tuffest fish pound for pound around.
The last few years guys were pulling hundreds of pounds of blues from the surf, all used for fertilizer, they make tomatoes grow to the size of softballs
I used to go to barnegat light on the Doris Mae 4 to the ridge and it was a all out slaughter from end April to July then after hurricane sandy the area changed big time fishing areas gone and the blues gone we had great times I hope they come back.
Second only to cownose rays. But less disgusting.
UR.RIGHt AND THats THE.BEST ADVIce FOR.EVERy ONE TAKe WAT.YOU.NEEd BUT DO NOT.WASTE.THE.FUN FOR.YEArs 2.COME
The small ones are delicious the larger ones get a little oily the best way is to smoke them
This is the same old crap of blaming American sportsmen.Commercial foreign companies should be looked at.We need to stop pointing ?the finger at ourselves and look for the real cause of fishing depletion.SPORTSMEN ARE NOT THE ENEMY HERE.I find your comments demeaning and fruitless.
I did a lot of blue fishing all through the 70’s. Myself and a fishing buddy became quite deadly with our Bingle Bannas. We would take a few home and gave the rest to the mates. They sold them and picked up some extra money and a lot of needy people got good protien on the cheap. I was planning on going to Seaside Park and do some fishing off the piers in the bay. As a kid in the late 50’s I spent hours fishing there. Then I saw the 3 fish limit. It is just not worth the gas to get there. I feel for the 8 and 10 year olds who can’t go home with a bucket full of these tasty little fish. I’m also a little perplexed why you are allowed to keep 5 on a party boat. Why does paying to go fishing with rented gear on a boat not effect the fishery? While the guy who spent hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars on gear to go surf fishing has a detrimental effect on the survieabilty of the species. I have been away from fishing for years becaue I took up sailing. I’ve spent years sailing on Sandy Hook and Raritan bays. Every year the draggers show up. After they leave, the bay becomes innodated with thousands of dead fish. What I’ve heard is they all died because of alge. The draggers come in catch everything they want and leave the bay loaded with dead fish. But yea, it’s little Tommies fault.
I understand that the last keeper sized Weakfish caught off the suds
At the Alexander St. Jetty area is now on display in the Rare Fish and
Game section of the Smithsonian Institute..LOL,Not worth the cost of
blood worms anymore.
Jo Ann Quigley
In the early 60s, I’d go out on a fishing boat from Belmar. Great memories! I’d catch all sea robins and he caught the blues! Mom made a great meal, bluefish w butter and lemon, corn on cob, potatoes! It’s still my favorite fish to eat! And some of my fondest memories of my Uncle Mike!
I sat at a restaurant in Point Pleasant and watch commercial fishermen bring in thousands and thousands of blue fish with no State supervision watching stop blaming the the recreational fishermen
The good old days weakfish in the delaware bay long lines at fortascue boat launch now gone possibly forever but you always had night blue fishing to do now that’s all but gone fluke will be next only good fluke fishing is up north montauk or Raritan bay spring stripers not as good thank God sea bass and black fish
Oh my God!!! How can you print lies.. This situation is due to COMMERCIAL FISHING. As technology increased so did yearly catches .They even pull Blue claw crabs out of the mud in the winter. NOWHERE TO HIDE.. The fishing grounds off the eastern seaboard is. basically a television show..STOP COMMERCIAL FISHING IN SAFE ZONES.
We must stop Commercial Fishing in pre determined safe zones.. Those Chuckleheads don’t realize that there destroying the environment
They don’t care!
The demise of summer fluke all around the cape may point north to Townsend inlet is due to the introduction of voracious bottom feeding striped bass combined with the devastation of muscle beds caused by draggers. The striper regulations should be more generous. Sea robbins disappeared too. Sand darts o-plenty, skate o-plenty.
Then , artificial reefs are born. But, Commercial traps are allowed to depopulate the reef areas. Defeating the whole principle. I call the waters off Wildwood and Cape May the Dead Sea. It’s a long trip offshore with 14oz /cannon ball to hold bottom at 70ft to catch fluke, what we caught just off the beaches before 1980s
It will take smarts and true grit with time to turn this around.
Can’t wait till the big blues come in – my tomato plants need some blue fish head!
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