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Chris French
Mike Roberts

Roberts: Singing the Blues

My first introduction to bluefish came up on Cape Cod many years ago while doing some surf fishing from the Cape’s beaches. We were fishing Race Point, hoping for some stripers, when a huge school of bluefish came along and just about every fisherman on the beach had a bluefish on. We were using popping surface plugs and the blues hit them with a savagery that had to be witnessed to believe.

However, during this bluefish bonanza I was also able to witness the greediness and ignorance of a few of the anglers, not realizing that eventually it would come back to haunt us someday.

We were all fishing from the beach and some of the anglers had to walk a bit of a distance to where they were fishing. When the bluefish began attacking the lures that the anglers were casting, many of them simply kept hauling them in, unhooking them and recasting to catch another bluefish. Some of them had quite a pile of bluefish lying on the beach by the time the school had moved on.

Many of the surf fishermen had more fish than they could carry out and, when they left the area, they took only a couple of the bluefish they had caught with them and left the rest on the beach for the seagulls to pick over.

Unfortunately, I had seen this practice many times on the beaches of Cape Cod. We were always taught that if you were not going to harvest a fish for food, then return it back to the water unharmed.

Later on as the bluefish numbers seemed to wane, these same fishermen moaned and groaned when those in charge regulated the bluefish creel limit to 10 fish per day including the baby bluefish called snapper blues.

Historically, bluefish numbers have been known to fluctuate, even in colonial times. Information that I came across tells us that as early as 1764 bluefish virtually disappeared and did not reappear until 1810, and in 1945 they again reached a very low number.

Back in the late 1940s and early 50s our families had boats moored down in the Guilford area, and while we fished for flounder, fluke, blackfish, and weakfish, I do not remember anyone harvesting bluefish, although we did fish for snapper blues during August and September.

In later years, I really began to look forward to August and the snapper blue fishing it offered. When I first got into snapper fishing there was no limit on the amount of snapper blues you could harvest and many of the anglers who fished for them every day would catch them by the bucketful and take them home with them not even having a clue as to what they would do with that many snapper blues.

I know for a fact that they could not eat them all, yet they would fill their buckets until they were overflowing and return the next day to repeat the process.

This type of greedy angling never helps any fish species and it wasn’t too long before it took its toll on the bluefish numbers.

Fortunately, the powers that were in charge recognized what was happening and they came up with a 10-bluefish-per-day limit. This meant 10 bluefish per angler per day regardless if they were mature bluefish or the babies of the species called snapper blues. This did not sit well with the five-gallon-bucket-of-snappers-a-day anglers and you could hear the wailing all over the Long Island Sound at the 10-snapper-blue limit and many of them said, “I’m not going fishing for just 10 snapper blues, it ain’t worth the effort!”

They don’t get it. Fishing is supposed to be a fun outing for the most part, not a contest to see who can catch the most every time they go on the water. Yes, I know that so many of the TV shows depicting fishing tournaments teach us otherwise, but it was not always that way.

The added bonus to a snapper blue fishing trip is that they are great tablefare. There are some who cringe at the thought of eating bluefish. What a shame. Prepared correctly, they are excellent eating.

I continued to fish for snapper blues after the 10-fish limit was installed (and I still do). Since Edna will not eat any fish that has bones in it, I get to enjoy my snapper blue bounty by myself (and of course our two “girls” Daisy and Lily).

Ten snapper blues alongside some batter-fried yellow squash and a tomato salad will satisfy my fish craving any day. I prefer the fresh-caught snapper blues over any that are frozen simply because any bluefish, adult or snapper, tastes best when it is cooked the same day it is caught.

Catching bluefish can be contagious regardless of their size. Although striped bass are the sought after quite heavily in Connecticut waters, especially after my buddy Greg Myerson landed that world-record striper a couple of years ago, bluefish still are an important gamefish.

Regardless of their size, bluefish strike bait and lure with a murderous intent. Bait fishermen, including snapper blue fishermen, are often caught daydreaming when a bluefish hits, the strike is so sudden. They hit the bait and before you can react they are gone. Getting bluefish to hit a lure, especially if you are fishing for them from the beach or a jetty, is also an experience you won’t soon forget.

An outing for snapper blues can be fun for the whole family. When fishing for snapper blues, any freshwater tackle will do. When they are in, snapper blues seem to want to eat anything that moves, Their voracious appetite is what makes them grow from four to five inches in size in August to seven to nine inches (and bigger) in September until they migrate south.

Just about any silver freshwater lure like a phoebe works well for snappers, and I know quite a few fly fishermen who have a ball fishing for these tiny battlers.

Frozen spearing, a type of saltwater shiner, has always been a go-to bait for many snapper fishermen. This year however might be just a tad different. Dave Wetmore and I made a trip to the shoreline last week and could not find any frozen spearing at any bait shops both local (Fishin’ Factory in Southington and Uncle B’s in Wallingford) or any of the bait shops on the shoreline. No one has any answers for the shortage of these frozen baits.

I can give you an alternative from the “good old days” of my snapper blue fishing, though. I used to go to the fish market and purchase a quarter of a pound of fresh shrimp. I would then cut the bait into hook-size pieces and always caught as many snappers as I wanted on the shrimp.

The fresh shrimp also stayed on the hook well. While Dave and I did not limit out (10 per angler) on the snappers, we did get some on frozen sand eels as well as silver phoebes about two feet behind any type of a float. The float churns up the water when you reel it in, with the phoebe trailing behind it, and the snappers seem to like it.

When they are hungry, snapper blues can be a bit cannibalistic. I have caught snapper blues with teeth marks from other snapper bluefish on their sides, especially the runts in the school of feeding snappers. Knowing this, I have used the belly flesh from snappers previously caught for bait and it worked admirably.

Snappers are very easy to prepare for the frying pan. I use a pair of scissors (don’t tell Edna) and first snip off the head and then turn the scissors and snip off the entire belly entrails, ribs and all. A quick rinse under the faucet and they are ready to cook.

Get the oil hot in the frying pan, dip the snappers in flour and fry them. The flour helps make the skin crisp and tasty. I love a platter of snappers alongside some batter dipped, fried yellow squash and a fresh tomato salad.

I prefer fresh-caught snapper blues for eating. I even prefer fresh-caught adult bluefish fillets for the best tablefare. I have a couple of really good recipes for bluefish fillets, but we will do that at a later date. The snapper blues are beginning to show up in numbers along the shore and offer some really fine family fishing fun.

PRE-UPLAND BIRD HUNT AT MILLSTREAM

My good friend and St. Jude supporter Don Favry at Millstream Hunting Preserve has come up with a special price for a Chukar Partridge Hunt. Normally a two-gun, 14-bird hunt goes for $430, but he is offering the hunt at a special price of $320 for two guns and 14 birds. This is a fantastic price! Additional guns, seven birds would cost $187 per gun.

Don tells me that that there is no limit on the amount of hunts for this unbelievable price. This offer expires August 20. Respond by telephone only and a $100 deposit will lock the hunt in for the Millstream season (Sept. 15, 2013 to March 31, 2014).

Do not respond by e-mail. To get more details and to receive this special with or without specific reservation date, call Don Favry at (860) 295-9974 or (860) 836-5744.

See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be..



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