Early migrating bluefish should be around major inlets

Published 1:08 pm Friday, May 16, 2014







Similar to the annual southern migration of wild ducks and geese, some fish have migration patterns that take them to the north every spring. One such fish that makes this northern migration each spring is the bluefish. They usually pass through North Carolina’s coast in the month of May and savvy fishermen get a shot at them by casting their lures on or near ocean inlets.

These migrating fish are usually hungry in May. They’re often described as being “lean and mean” because their long-range swims have used up a lot of energy, shrinking their bodies due to malnourishment. The Atlantic’s waters aren’t swarming with bait minnows, like they are during the summer, and the pickings for food is a bit better just inside the North Carolina sounds and inlets.

Anglers trolling just offshore can usually catch some of these hungry bluefish, notorious for hitting any lure that looks to be edible. If they have gorged themselves and their stomachs are bulging with food, the bluefish will often regurgitate that and go back to feeding again. They’ve even been known to take bites of us humans who might be swimming where the bluefish are foraging.

In their quest for food, these bluefish often take a trip off the open ocean’s waters and go into the more food-rich waters of our sounds. They can be caught there, but over the years our Tar Heel anglers have found that some of the most exciting sport fishing is in the shallow waters back in the sounds.

The waters just inside these ocean inlets usually have a series of very shallow, sandy flats. I’ve often heard light tackle anglers compare these flats to similar areas where bonefish anglers fish in the Bahamas or Florida Keys.

I was introduced to these Tar Heel flats some years ago by N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries biologist Jim Brown. We were testing out a “new” boat that was being made here in N.C. called a Carolina Skiff. The boat was designed to operate well in the very shallow waters of our coastal sounds and bays and was just the ticket to venture into the backwaters of Core Sound.

It was mid-May and we were trying to catch some early speckled trout, either in the sound or off Cape Lookout around the rock jetty. We weren’t having much luck until we saw some seagulls working on minnows. The way the birds were behaving indicated that something bigger was driving the bait minnows to the water’s surface, so we worked our boat as quietly as possible toward the area. We immediately started catching bluefish that were feeding on the minnows. For about 15 minutes we caught a 1- to 2-pound “blue” on about every cast. On light tackle these small bluefish were really a lot of fun to catch (and release).

Over the years, we’ve been able to catch some of these early bluefish on these same flats and our fishing methods have evolved into one of the “purist” methods bone-fishing enthusiasts are noted for. We’ve docked the shallow water boats and started wading with very light casting and fly rodding tackle to catch the “early blues.”

These wade fishing anglers often can sight cast to schools of 2- to 4-pound bluefish. Since these fish are notorious for eating about anything that looks edible, they’ll hit streamer flies and top water popping lures. Any lure seems to produce, but to see these feisty fish bite on top lures is really exciting.

In recent years, we’ve discovered that there are even larger bluefish lurking in some of the deeper holes that occasionally form in the flats. These holes range from four to 10 feet in depth and are not easily “wadeable”. That’s when the fishing from a boat comes back into play.

It didn’t take long before we learned that these “holes” held bluefish that ranged from five to 20 pounds each. Medium weight spin casting gear or casting gear of the same class that the largemouth bass fishermen use is called for. Again, top water lures that caused a lot of fuss attracted more vicious strikes. Fly rodders learned to use titanium or steel leaders and really had a tussle with these larger bluefish.

It’s May and with any luck, these sporty fish will again show up on the shallow flats near the ocean inlets. It’s a great way to spend a day on the coast casting for bluefish.