Spring Bluefish on the Flats
May 12, 2019
One of the most exciting early-season fisheries in New England is the run of “bighead” bluefish along the southern shore of Cape Cod and in parts of Buzzards Bay. These early-season choppers—powder-blue and seemingly all head—run anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds, and provide topwater action for both plug and fly fishermen.
The key to this fishery is the presence of squid, which normally move inshore along the South Cape beginning in mid-May. Indeed, once you see the commercial squid boats trawling just off the beaches from Centerville to Falmouth, you can bet that the blues aren’t far behind. Several days of warm, summerlike southwest winds usually help to push the bait and blues inshore along the south-facing beachfronts, where the best fishing takes place. Prime fishing usually lasts until the second week in June.
The sandy shores of South Cape Beach (from the Waquoit jetties to Succonessett Shoal), Popponessett, and the flats off Osterville and Cotuit tend to produce the most dependable action. In Buzzards Bay, any flats exposed to southwest winds are prime spots to look for these early fish. On sunny, calm days it’s possible to drift along in depths of 5 to 15 feet and watch the blues moving across the flats in “wolfpacks.: This sets up some exciting sightcasting opportunities, although the fish can be surprisingly selective at times.
Watch a short video of a bluefish being fought and landed on the flats off Popponesset.
I prefer an incoming tide for fishing the South Cape area, as it tends to trap the squid and other prey along the sandbars and against beaches as they attempt to flee the blues. The blues, famished from their winter break, find the bait and become very aggressive.
A good way to locate the blues, if you can’t actually see them (sometimes they’ll even fin lazily on the surface), is to set up a drift and fan-cast the area with big topwater poppers. I like to throw Cordell pencil poppers and Rebel Jumpin’ Minnows, both of which have a squid-like appearance and an internal rattle that seems to make a big difference to the fish. However, most any plug that kicks up a commotion will do the job if the fish are hungry.
Once the blues are located, you can expect numerous strikes. I usually rig my poppers with single hooks to facilitate catch and release when the action is hot.
Fly fishermen can score well at this time by casting long, squid-like streamers or poppers on floating or intermediate line. A nine-weight outfit will do the job nicely. If the fish are scattered, have a friend locate and tease them to the boat with a hookless popper fished on spinning gear.
Spin tackle for these fish should be beefy, so you can land the fish quickly without exhausting them and get back in the game. I prefer a fast-action 7- to 7 ½-foot rod rated for 12- to 25-pound line and a medium-size spinning reel spooled with 12- to 15-pound-test monofilament or 30-pound-test braid. Many anglers use a wire leader, but I find that a three-foot section of 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon does just fine. Cut-offs are usually not a problem, especially with longer plugs.
Wind direction can be critical to this fishery. A passing front producing sustained northwest winds can shut things down, either by lowering the surface temperature or blowing the bait offshore, or both. In other words, it helps if you can pick your days and wait forwarm, calm conditions. If it were only that easy!