Bluefish on the Fly: Fighting Tooth and Nail

Photo: James Manning (@theanglerslens)

Catching bluefish with a fly rod is some of the most fun I’ve ever had in the great outdoors. They are underrated quarry, overshadowed by the more popular striped bass. Pound for pound, they fight harder than striped bass. I’m here to tell you that landing a decent bluefish on a fly rod approaches the challenge of hooking a false albacore or fooling a big striped bass. If the tug is the drug, bluefish are a prescription that I will take!

Sending a nice bluefish back home.

I recently had the opportunity to target them on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound with Captain John Schillinger of Little Tunny Charters. This was actually the third day I had had the opportunity to go bluefishing. The first two were great for my spinfishing boatmates, but lousy for me stubbornly waving my fly rod in the air. I had been using my own tackle, spending a lot of time changing lines, leaders, and flies, unable to solve the puzzle. By the time I finally made an adjustment and accelerated my retrieve, I hooked a bluefish, only to have it bite through my inappropriate 20lb fluorocarbon.

On the magical third day, I sucked it up and told John that I wanted to use his tackle. This was my salvation. He had a short length of wire attached to a large slim white fly that could be called a squid imitation. John’s terminal tackle was much cleaner and neater than the snap swivel that I had rigged up on my ineffective gear. It took a while and more than a few drifts, along with a teaser lure in the water at times, but I eventually hooked up. What a thrill! And then, what a fight!

A short strand of wire and a big white fly.

We were lucky on this day, as the bluefish we tangled with were in the 25 to 30 inch range. They would slash out of the water to attack your fly, then tail walk on the surface like a tarpon trying to get rid of it. I loved every second of it, which partially had to do with the dozens of fruitless casts on previous days that I had nothing to show for.

Heading in after a good day.

Yes, striped bass are glamorous and more reliable. They have a reputation as great table fare and a yearly migration. Whereas bluefish have oily flesh and are less frequently encountered.  But I can’t wait to go bluefishing again. I don’t have a ton of advice for you other than to experience it for yourself. The gist of the advice that I usually hear is to fish a big fly with a fast retrieve. This does get exhausting, so eat your Wheaties the morning of. At times, I used a two-handed retrieve which was successful. Bluefishing will reward the talented distance caster. Not being one myself, I just did the best I could to make the long casts required for a good presentation.

Finally, be careful handling these fish. Pliers, full finger gloves, and fish grippers are helpful. To me, the danger of their sharp teeth is part of the appeal, which requires using wire or thick monofilament. But maybe that’s because I’ve never been sliced by a bluefish tooth before!

If you want any input on guided trips for bluefish out of Massachusetts, feel free to reach out to me at da********@gm***.com and I’ll do my best to help.

More resources – Fly Lords – How To Fly Fish for Bluefish

Salt Water Sportsman – Fly Fishing for Bluefish in the Surf


2 thoughts on “Bluefish on the Fly: Fighting Tooth and Nail

  1. I absolutely love bluefish and fishing for them! One of the best fish to chase out there. Miss it so much! And bluefish are underrated table fare too. Used as meat balls or smoked, fantastic stuff!

  2. A good sized bluefish in Outer Harbor in Marion was my best fish of the year. Maybe 32 inches but I released it and did not measure, But it did something that I have never before experienced in many years of fly fishing- He took me into my backing, three times. It was a fantastic fight and I was will treasure that memory. I did not get any photos I was by myself in my 8 foot dinghy so I don’t think anyone heard my whooping and yelling.
    But yeah I think pound for pound the blues have it over the striped bass, they just don’t have as good PR

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