Fly Fishing for Bluefish in Buzzards Bay

It seems that just about everywhere you go the locals say that the best time to fish is in the late spring and the early fall, and this is no exception here in the Southeast portion of Massachusetts along the waters of Buzzards Bay. I have been fortunate to fish these waters for many years and now find myself guiding others to one of the greatest fishing experiences I know, hooking into a giant Bluefish on the fly. In early May the waters are still quite cool, and the fishing season is just getting under way. These cold spring days and generally warming trends in the afternoon sun trigger a chain reaction that bring the largest of the migrating Bluefish to the shallow waters along the coast of the Northeastern United States, and my home area of Southeastern Massachusetts.

The first fish to arrive in New England are the small Striped Bass. They generally first show up in our local waters in mid April. Then just a few short weeks later the large Striped Bass and the Big Blues show up! This coincides with the arrival of large amounts of baitfish, mostly Herring, and Squid. The Herring wander into the local harbors and streams with a strong odor that any predator is sure to smell from great distances away. Sometimes on calm windless days you can fallow an oil slick created by the herring that stretches miles out to sea. And the Squid charge the shallow waters in the local harbors with great force and speed. They come into the areas in Buzzards Bay in these early spring weeks by the truckload, and when you see your first ones, you know the big blues are not far behind.

It is along the beautiful coast of Buzzards Bay that these monster blues ravage through the bait in the last weeks of spring. For the most part the coast of Buzzards Bay is a rough rocky coastline with harbors and large estuaries spaced out along the interior of the Bay. Some of these Harbors have become famous for the great sailing conditions that they provide and the harbors usually start to fill up with sailboats around the time the big Blues arrive. The rocky coast provides a perfect habitat for the Bluefish to find cover and surprise the bait as it happens by. This is one reason that this type of fishing can be so explosive and exciting! From time to time if I am lucky I have been able to drift the boat within a hundred yards of the shore on a full high tide and find a monster Blue behind every rock. Places like Round Hill in South Dartmouth and along the banks of Padanaram Harbor there are as many rocks as any boater will ever want to know. The rocks seem to be a great place to throw a popper on the fly rod, or perhaps if the fish are fussy, a long squid fly will do the trick. I have seen Blues up to twenty pounds crash a popper the size of a golf ball and Wow is that one exciting way to hook a big fish! I grew up fishing for blues in the summertime in Buzzards Bay, where one can expect to find smaller blues in places like Great Ledge and Quick’s Hole. On these hot summer days we often fished spots at low tide and waited for the cooler water of the incoming tide to get the fish into a feeding mood. Fishing the surface with blue and white atom type poppers quickly brought blues to the surface. I learned that from there it was just a matter of placing a fly in front of their face to start the reels screaming.

There are other great Harbors in Buzzards Bay that I have come to love fishing in the early season for blues. I have found that harbors like New Bedford, Mattapoisett and Wareham have some of the best fishing opportunities in the spring, and fishing for these blues is exactly why I am there. The Coast of Buzzards Bay has several points and small islands that stick out in the northern portion of the bay. I have found that the blues will feed in very shallow water in these areas. In these areas it is key to time the tide right. I have fished the same spot in the same day or many days in the same week and the fish would not bite on the incoming tide, only the outgoing. This is just one of those things I guess, but not a rule of thumb, because I have seen the same size blues act differently in other areas nearby. This is always nice because it gives the guide an opportunity to switch locations and find some hungry fish that are ready to take the fly no matter what the tide is doing.

Along with the rocky structure that provides us with a first point to start looking for these large marauding monsters there are several soft bottom estuaries and coves that the early season blues find their way into. This fishing can be extremely difficult but not always. I find this to be the best conditions for fly-fishing because the fish will stick in one spot for quite a while and with a trained eye, you can pick up their fins sticking out of the water. These tailing fish provide for some excellent sight fishing conditions and with a little wind to help the boat operator it is possible to get within casting distance. Sometimes bluefish can spook when a large fly or popper first hits the water near them while they are tailing, but quick movement of the fly and the look of wounded bait fish can often bring them right back when they are feeding in shallow water. Many of the places that these creatures can be found exhibiting this behavior is in areas where there is a soft muddy bottom generally with a dark color. It is the decomposing leaves, mud and other unusual organic substances that draw these fish in to shallow water. I believe it is due to the fact that it is these bodies of water that warm the fastest in the mid day sunlight, and at this time of year these blues are a long way from the warm water currents of the Atlantic Ocean that they usually call home. In fact the water temps in the coves of Buzzards Bay when these fish first arrive are just slightly above fifty degrees, and that is cold water for almost any fish, especially a bluefish.

These shallow water conditions are both exciting for the angler interested in sight fishing, and for the angler that thrives on the excitement of hooking into a fish that takes long roaring runs across the shallows. I have seen a large blue strip off 150 yards of line in only a moment, and then turn right straight back around and head back for the boat. Hooking these fish and fighting them is only half of the battle, the second half is safely getting them off the hook and returning them to the water. Most people know, but I will state the importance of caution here to add extra effort towards being careful when landing a big blue. You see they have razor sharp teeth and have a tendency to bite anything that moves. I have been landing blues for years so I prefer to do it with my hands, but this is difficult on large boats with high sides. I have found that the most effective way to releasing a bluefish is to grab them by the tail, and hold their head away from any valuable body parts. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME KIDS…

It is sad but true that these great creatures are cold-water fish and by the time the end of June rolls around they are headed off to deeper water. There are a few however that straggle into the shallows even during the summer months and when the nights are once again cold, and the bait is schooling up to head south along the coast in the month of September the Blues come back! I find there are three major signs that tip me off to the return of the toothy creatures to the shallow waters. First there is the distinct smell that only a school of heavily feeding Blues can produce. The fish will gorge themselves until they are so full that they are actually regurgitating the bait that they have eaten. This produces a smell on the ocean that is quite distinctive. Some people say it smells like watermelon. I think it smells like Bluefish, but what do I know. The second sign that the Blues are back is the large slicks on the surface of the water. These can sometimes be strong enough to be noticed on a windy afternoon. I find these slicks most often where a large shallow area will dump out into deeper water on an outgoing tide. Here the blues will trap the bait fish and use the forces of the tide to work as a counterpart in the attack. The third way I know the Blues are back is to look for them behind a large rock or submerged structure at high tide. These are the places they are known to hide so that they can ambush the schools of bait as they cruise by. In these circumstances I can often sneak up on the blues in the fall and see their fins sticking out of the water. This brings sight fishing to a whole new level because they can be very difficult, and challenge even the best anglers to a tough day on the water. It is nothing like the spring when the Blues are more likely to strike, and will charge at a fly from fifteen feet away when it hits the water. In the fall often times the fly needs to land within a couple feet of the fish. But it is that challenge that keeps the great anglers coming back and lets the amateur know they have some practicing to do.

The larger blues are in sharp contrast to the younger generation (blues that many people call skip jacks or runners which are just slightly larger than the smallest blues the snapper blues) and are quite a challenge. They are in fact not the same at all because they are both difficult to catch and even harder to land, especially on light tackle. This is one great reason to look forward to their arrival every spring and fall, and get ready for another year of terrific excitement on the water hunting for big Blues.

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