Hi sea kayakers and kayak fishermen. Welcome to another episode of Notes from a Local, your online resource for tips tools and pointers useful to see kayakers and kayak fishermen around the world. I’m your host, Adam Bolonsky, writing on the web from Twitter at sea kayak.
Today’s topic: bluefish from a kayak.
Bluefish have a wholly unwarranted reputation oiliness, whatever that means, and a tendency to taste fishy at the table. This reputation is not wholly undeserved, but not due to any fault of the fish. Bad tasting bluefish is always the fault of the fishermen. In short, a bluefish that tastes oily and fishy is one that has spoiled. And chances are, the fish spoiled soon after capture because the fisherman who caught failed to bleed and gut it. Short and long of it is, the issue with bluefish is, they don’t freeze well, have to be eaten fresh, and they spoil very quickly if they’re not kept cold. Their high fat and oil content – no higher, really, than the more widely-accepted salmon – make this fine fighting fish vulnerable to spoilage, and to all sorts of put-downs from anglers who don’t know better.
Bluefish are all muscle, stem to stern, and where you have muscle you have an intricate lattice work of the veins, arteries and and capillaries. And of those vessels hold blood. And as any fish inspector will tell you, fish that contain blood oxidize quickly. Oxidization is one form of spoilage-tasting.
So the key to enjoying bluefish and presenting fillets that your family and friends will enjoy, is to head off oxidization, and other forms of spoilage, right there in the cockpit of the kayak, and withing an hour or so of landing a fish.
Draining the blood and cleaning a bluefish from the cockpit of a kayak is a pretty easy set of maneouvers so long as the sea is relatively calm, you have a good sense of balance, and keep a sharp clasp knife handy – one you’ve tethered to either your kayak or your lifejacket.
The easiest, simplest method of catching bluefish from kayak is trolling. You don’t have to chase them, as is often the case in nearshore waters when a school has surfaced and is feeding on a shoal of baitfish. Use a steel leader (a blue’s teeth will make short work of monofilament, nicking and scratching it, which leads to bite-offs) and a large swimming and diving lure that wriggles and wobbles and wanders in the water column anywhere between six and ten feet deep.
You don’t even need a rod holder on your gunwales or aft or fore deck to troll. Simply stick the butt of the rod between your knees and point the tip of the rod aft, resting it on your thigh and against your hip. It’s a good idea to set the rod up this way on the side of the boat opposite your stronger, more coordinated hand.
For me, because I’m most decidedly right handed, happens to be the port, of left side, of my kayak. Next step is a simple matter: set the drag tight enough that trolling won’t peel any line off your reel. The cast the lure off to one side, set the rod down, and begin paddling. Paddle faster than you would for striped bass. You’ll cover more ground, will set the lure deeper, and your mind won’t wander. If there are bluefish around, they’ll find your lure, and you’ll feel that solid, frantic jerk, a real thrill, once a blue detects your lure and darts over to snap at it.
So this is what you need for a successful bluefish kayak fishing trip: A small tackle box that holds a couple of spare lures and steel leaders. Use a tupperware container to hold the spare gear and it won’t get wet. You’ll need a sharp knife, too. Tether it to your boat or to your pfd so that if you drop it you won’t lose it overboard. Just make sure the tether is long enough that you readily handle the knife and work with it: two and a half feet is a good length to start with.
Finally, add in a reliable, simple and easy to maintain saltwater spinning or trolling reel, a short casting or boat rod, and you’re all. After that, it’s just a matter of launching your kayak into bluefish waters, trolling around or looking for a surfaced school, and having at it.
I’ve always enjoyed fishing off this low-lying rock island, comprised of a huge mound of glacial till and covered with seabirds, that lies off this rocky section of shoreline in northeastern Massachusetts. The island isn’t much: rocks and boulders, washed-ashore commercial fishing gear, a mouldering old cattail swamp and lots of rough thickets.
The whole jumbled mess is surrounded by ledges, its boulders and cobble, stones and berm, deposited here ten thousand years ago, by glaciers inching down over the coastline from the vast expanse of the Canadian Shield a thousand miles or more to the northwest. Mastodons and cavemen roamed the earth then, and this temporary-looking little island, geological detritus that is little more than a huge pile of rocks, boulders, pebbles and stones, is accessible via a hardscrabble beach a quarter mile to the west.
The island’s rocks and boulders, its tight-knit, scruffy vegetation, drops off underwater at flat ledges that slant down towards a rocky bottom beneath 15 to 30 feet of water. Bluefish gather around this island regularly between late June and the end of September, the New England bluefish season. It’s not unusual for the kayak fisherman who haunts this area to meet the Massachusetts ten-fish bag limit in the course of a an afternoon.
Well that’s it for today’s installment of Notes from a Local, your resource for tips tools and pointers useful to see kayakers and kayak fishermen around the world. Remember, if you target bluefish, you’ll likely have the fish to yourself. Just remember to bleed your fish when you catch it, and to remove its gills and stomach and organs while you’re still in the cockpit. Your fish will taste better and will stay fresh longer. Thanks for stopping, and until next time, see ya ’round.