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WOODS ‘N’ WATER: How Big Mike got hooked on the blues

WOODS ‘N’ WATER: How Big Mike got hooked on the blues


Would you believe me if I told you I “think” I ate a record bluefish?

It was quite a few years ago when my folks lived up on Cape Cod.

In fact, it was on the Cape that I had my very first introduction to fishing for these voracious critters of the sea. I was with Nelson Flannigan and we had made the trip to Cape Cod to experience some of the fantastic surf fishing we had heard so much about.

It was late afternoon when we pulled into the parking lot at Corn Hill on the Cape. We could see an excited group of fishermen and they seemed to all be busy catching fish. We rushed to the shoreline and had bluefish on our first casts.

As many of you know, when a school of bluefish are in the area, slashing their way through a baitfish, it can be pure mayhem. You get a savage strike on your lure, battle the blue in and quickly cast out in hopes of landing another one.

This was the case with me, and since this was my first ever blue fishing experience, while I knew enough to keep my fingers away from the tooth-studded jaw of this ferocious fighting fish, I got a bit careless in removing the plug from the bluefish I had just landed.

The bluefish thrashed and, the next thing I knew, another set of hooks was now imbedded deeply into the palm of my hand!

Nelson was nearby battling another bluefish.

“Hey Nel, I need a hand!” I yelled to him.

“What’s the matter? You can’t get the hook out of the fish?”

“No,” I yelled back, “I can’t get the hook out of my hand!”

A lady was passing by and nearly fainted at the sight of the hook imbedded in the palm of my hand while also attached to a struggling bluefish.

Nelson came over and cut the line, then removed the plug from the bluefish, but it was still in my hand. After a brief conversation, Nelson said we had to go to a medical facility to get the hook out.

At the medical office, the doctor came out with a HUGE bolt cutter. I winced asking him if that was for me. He answered in the affirmative and explained that it took less pressure to cut the hook with the big bolt cutter than with a smaller one.

He was right.

So much for my first entry into the bluefishing gang. I fished Cape Cod for many years afterward and caught enough bluefish to keep my hunger for these tasty fish satisfied.

Oh, I can see the wrinkled up noses already. “Bluefish? Yech! I tried them once and they are oily and smell fishy when you are cooking them.”

We-e-ell, I guess it all depends on how you cook them and who is doing the cooking.

For me, there is nothing more satisfying than a fresh-caught bluefish cooked the same day. For me, it doesn’t matter how they are cooked, just so they are fresh.

I do have to admit that, at times, frying bluefish in the house can bring on a fishy aroma. Then again, when you fry onions you get an onion aroma, right?

I like to take a bluefish fillet, dip it in flour and egg wash, then fry it. If I am cooking it for myself, I might leave on the dark swim muscle in the middle of the fillet. Sometimes I cut it out and, believe me, it makes for a different taste.

I wish my friend and co-worker from the L. Suzio Company, Ken Statske, was still here to verify the taste of fresh bluefish. Ken was one of those who turned his nose up at the thought of eating bluefish, and he loved fresh fish.

One day I brought some of my fresh-fried bluefish fillet into work and did not tell him what it was. He devoured it and asked for more and would not believe it when I told him it was bluefish.

Another buddy of mine, Tom Hanlon, gave me a recipe for doing them on the outdoor grill. Put down a couple of layers of foil and cover the fillet with tomato sauce, sliced onion and sliced lemon. Sandwich this with another fillet and seal the fish in the foil.

About 20 minutes on the hot grill should be all it takes for some mighty tasting eating.

If you have gone to one of the Meriden Lions picnics you might have sampled bluefish cooked on a slab of wood. Ed Haberli gets an open fire going, attaches bluefish fillets to the wood and then sets them up around the fire. They don’t last long when they hit the food table.

Over the years there has been a great deal of moaning and groaning because of a 10-fish limit that was set on ALL bluefish, including their offspring, the snapper blues. Thankfully, this helped turn away some of those who would fill a five-gallon pail to overflowing with the tiny snapper blues when they were in. They would eat some and dispose of the rest, then go back to their fishing spots to repeat the carnage.

For me, the 10-fish limit is more than enough for a meal.

Historically, it has been recorded that even back in the early forming of our nation, bluefish numbers had the ability to plummet every now and then, and I do not believe that any reason was ever found.

However, there is a different reason for their disappearance at times. Overfishing them! There are some who will argue with this, but I have seen for myself the wanton waste of some of our saltwater species, especially the bluefish.

Again, I was on Cape Cod in my earlier surf-fishing years when the bluefish were running. I went to one of the beaches that some of the tourists fish and was shocked at what I found. Dead and decaying bluefish scattered the beach!

Those fishing for the blues evidently got caught up in the excitement of the ferocity of their feeding frenzy and simple caught and landed fish at almost every cast. After the blues left the area, the fishermen grabbed what they could carry and left the rest of the carnage they had created on the beach for the seagulls.

The bluefish are now back in our area and some reports of snapper blues have been coming in. If you are fishing for bluefish, either the adults or the smaller snappers, remember to have a cooler with ice in it to keep them fresh. Nothing can take away the good taste of fresh-caught fish than to leave them out in the boiling sun!

Oh, about that record bluefish I “think’ I caught and ate. Again, I was up on Cape Cod visiting my folks, Mike and Jean Roberts. I had just got on the beach and threw out a line baited with a couple of sand eels, with the rod set in a sand spike to hold it upright.

I then turned to hook up another rod with a lure when something made me turn around and look at the baited rod. It had pulled out of the sand spike and was half in the water. I grabbed it and battled a really huge bluefish to shore.

I went back to my parents’ house to get the fish filleted and into the cooler. Neither my parents nor I ever gave any thought to fishing records. We just fished for the table and that was it.

Over the years I have seen some big bluefish, but nothing the size of the one I caught that day. The fillets off of that bluefish were bigger than most of the bluefish they catch today.

Bluefish tourney

An event billed as “The Greatest Bluefish Tournament On Earth” runs Aug. 25-26. Grand prize is $25,000, second place $7,500, third place $2,500, with more cash prizes.

You can get more info from the Fishin’ Factory on Meriden-Waterbury Road in Milldale or call them at 860-621-8145.

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