There’s a lot of speculation as to the rather sudden virtual disappearance of bluefish over the last few years, but it’s pretty sure that they didn’t swim overseas.
Martin Smith of Sea Bright brought up that subject in a reply to my last blog by mentioning that he saw 10-12-pound blues in fish stores at Cadiz, Spain. He noted that they were highly regarded as food there.
Actually, bluefish are found in widely separated areas of temperate and tropical waters worldwide. The IGFA world record when I was growing up was a 24 3/16-pounder from the Azores in 1953. It seemed impossible that we’d ever see anything like that in the U.S., but the upcycle of blues in the 1960’s concluded when James Hussey trolled a 31 3/4-pounder in Hatteras Inlet on Jan. 30, 1972.
I’ve caught bluefish in such unexpected areas as the Florida Keys, Trinidad and South Africa — though they were all small blues caught on the bottom with bait. Obviously, such populations are isolated, and I’ve never heard of cyclical abundance in those areas.
Though there have been signs of a bluefish problem for a few years, there was a good sign last spring. We had been getting great inshore runs of jumbo blues in early May for several years, but the 2018 run consisted of little more than some smaller choppers. Yet, the big blues returned last May to provide great popper fishing at times in areas such as Barnegat Bay. On May 7 I had my best ever popping plug action for large fish in Point Pleasant Canal one morning with mostly 8-to-10-pound blues blasting an old single hook Gibbs Pencil Popper with no paint left on it almost every cast for some time even though nothing was showing.
Despite that, there were only brief flurries in the rivers further north. Striper fishermen in Raritan Bay used to have to fight through blues with bunker baits shortly after the bass got started. Capt. Sal Cursi would go through hundreds of hooks cut off from mono leaders, but there that was almost unheard of last spring. There used to be fleets of party and charter boats fishing for blues day and night, but now there are only a few still trying — and the night fishery is almost a dead issue. From abundance to almost nothing in a couple of years!
Nothing much changed the rest of the year as even the fall run was a disaster. It used to be hard to catch a striper under diving birds in the fall. Now it’s the blues that are unusual. I only caught a couple of small blues while casting small poppers for stripers in the summer and fall Jersey surf. Ironically, while there were also very few blues in Shark River during the summer, I ended up having my best shore casting there ever on Sept. 3 while releasing 17 blues from about 3 to 7 pounds on poppers. Unfortunately, that lomg-awaited “run” only lasted a couple of days.
We can only speculate how much of this dismal situation was due to NOAA transferring the blues released by anglers to commercial interests for years, but there’s no question that those tons of bluefish could have reduced the impact on recreational fishing while providing a great deal of reproductive potential. We had a good fishery management plan, but NOAA chose exploitation rather than conservation.
Monday’s forecast is for northwest winds at 20-25 knots before dropping to 15-20 in the afternoon. The rest of the week looks good with light west winds through at least Thursday.