By Capt. Alex Majewski, Lighthouse Sportfishing
Entering my 18th year of being a professional saltwater fishing guide I have learned that I can often rely on my back bay bluefish strategies to bend the rods and put smiles on my client’s faces. Beginning in late April or early May, until the end of my season, I am dialed in on the bay’s fishery including bluefish.
Fishing artificials, early morning after sunrise or the magic hour before sunset may be best. On the flats I love throwing poppers. However, sometimes you need to stay off the top. There is nothing like a visual strike! Working the bay’s shallow flats, bright sun will often put the fish down. Still, cloudy days may extend surface action. When that occurs, my go to lure are soft plastics. Use the lightest jig head possible to keep you below the surface but off the bottom. Usually that is about ¼ – ½ ounce. On the flats boat traffic is always a factor but in the channels it may not have a negative effect. More on that later. Although you may not get into all-out blitzes with hundreds of birds working, subtle signs of just a few birds picking can give the location away of actively feeding blues. The passage of a spring cold front followed by a wind from the northerly quarter can often turn the bite off.
When working artificals, I do it on the drift. And when on the flats I have my clients cast down drift or to side drift of the Debbie M since the boat may spoke fish when fishing in two to three feet of water. Yes I fish that shallow. When in the channels, fishing bucktails tipped with fresh bunker strips, I make sure my offering is close to the bottom. One thing to note is to always keep the slack out of your line so you can set the hook as efficiently as possible. Closer to the inlet you can get away with metals in the ½ to 1 ounce range.
Probably the most overlooked method for spring bluefish is bait fishing. It is simple and a deadly method. Anchoring up in prime locations such as the channels or even in the open bay where blues are roaming, fishing bait can result in nonstop action during the right tide. In the spring the bay warms up much quicker than the ocean. The closer to our inlets you are fishing, the further into outgoing tide you will need to fish. Pay attention to your fish finder’s temperature gauge and note when the bite turns on. My experience has shown that the bite turns on when the temperature gets around 58 degrees. For this method I fish conventional outfits with a fish finder rig. While at anchor, use enough weight to securely hold bottom. I can’t say enough about circle hooks here. Most times I don’t go to wire and use 18 – 24 inches of 50 lb. fluorocarbon and a 6/0 to 8/0 circle hook. If the fish start running into slammer territory I may switch to a wire leader. You can’t beat fresh bunker from Fisherman’s Headquarters, but if that is not available other meaty baits like frozen salted mackerel or mullet will get it done.
Anyone that knows me knows that trolling is my least favorite way to fish. I’m a live bait specialist and will leave it that. The best areas to troll is the open water of the western side of the bay. When trolling for spring blues, leave the heavy bass trolling gear home and go with tackle rated in the 8-12 lb. range. You can even use spinning gear if you want. Suggested lures are: pony tails; swimming plugs; Clark spoons with a 1-3 ounce drail (depends on speed and line test-the heavy the line or the faster the speed to more trolling weight needed). Trolling bucktails or plastics will even be effective as long as you keep them greater than two to three feet from the surface. I usually do not troll the bay any faster than 3kts.
Even though our summer inshore bluefish fishery seems to have hit rock bottom, there has not been any change in Barnegat Bay’s spring bluefish run. Some years we see fish over 10 pounds. Like we did in the years of 2016-2019 where I had several fish around 15 pounds. Hooking a 10 pound blue in 2-3 feet of water rivals world class flats action offered by species such as bonefish. Most years we see fish from a few pounds on up the eight. Regardless of their size, when you match your tackle to the size of the spring blues invading the bay, there is nothing like a screaming drag after a bluefish explodes on your popper!
Are you looking to get out fishing Barnegat Bay and the Surrounding waters of Island Beach State Park and Long Beach Island? Give a call to Captain Alex at Lighthouse Sportfishing today!
Captain Alex Majewski – Lighthouse Sportfishing – 609-548-2511