Bluefish are one of the most vicious predator game fish that roam the Carolina ocean surf, which makes them one of the most fun sport fish as well. They are one of the first fish to start making big runs in the fall on the Carolina coast, and can be targeted from surf, pier, or small boat.
Blues come in distinct sizes—from small snappers to larger tailor to huge choppers—and run they in school of the same size because if they didn’t they’d eat each other.
Bluefish will take most natural and live saltwater baits and a wide variety of lures. But when catching them you sometimes need to employ especially rugged terminal tackle.
The following are all simple rigs for catching bluefish:
Two hook bottom rig
The standard two-hook bottom rig is good for snapper bluefish when surf or pier fishing. The best rigs will not have a bunch of snaps and swivels (blues often strike at shiny snaps and cut your rigs) but instead be very simple: a black swivel at the top, two hooks tied directly to the leader on the rig, and a snap for a pyramid or bank sinker at the bottom.
Bottom rigs for snapper blues should be made of about 40 lb mono line or a comparable fluorocarbon leader. Sinkers are usually two to three ounces and hooks size 1 to upsize 3/0 (depend on the size of the blues you are catching. Gold kahle-style hooks are my favorite for blues, but standard J-hooks are fine.
Some anglers use circle hooks for the easy release of bluefish if they aren’t planning on keeping any for dinner. Remember that with circle hooks you don’t ‘set’ the hook because the fish will stick itself, and if you jerk back you’ll pull the hook out of the blue’s mouth.
The best bluefish natural baits are fresh cut bait (from any fish including mullet or bluefish), shrimp, or bloodworms. Blues will hit almost any natural bait, and fresh is a lot better than frozen. They also hit Fishbites synthetic bloodworm strips and other synthetic cut baits.
One-hook bottom rig (fishfinder)
If you are into larger blues (such as tailor blues in the three to four pound class) or big chopper blues, you want a one-hook rig. I use a fishfinder-style: a sinker on the line (a pyramid in the surf and a bank or egg sinker elsewhere), a big black swivel, about twelve to twenty inches of either heavy mono line (like 40 lb test, heavy fluorocarbon leader, or black wire).
It all ends with and a wide-gap kahle-style hook (3/0 or higher). You can use circle hooks, especially if you are just going to release the bluefish, but read the above instructions about them
I try not to use wire rigs unless the biggest blues are around, since mono and fluorocarbon will draw more strikes.
This one hook rig should be baited with live bait (finger mullet, mud minnows, small pinfish) or big fresh cut bait. A whole head from a spot, snapper blue, croaker or any small fish will do. Fresh cut mullet is excellent big bluefish bait.
Using a fishfinder rig lets you feel the bluefish when he takes the hook (which is really fun with a blue). It also allows the live bait or cut bait to dance around in the current.
Some pre-made bluefish rigs come with large floats (usually red). These are the two-hook and one-hook ‘fireball’ rig, meant to baited with cut bait and anchored to the bottom with pyramid sinkers.
The floats are designed to keep your bait away from pesky crabs and attract blues. The crab idea is mostly a fishing myth, since blue crabs swim and can steal bait from a fireball rig just fine. But there is something in the ability of the floats to attract blues, since it is has been pretty much proven that bluefish are attracted to the color red.
No one knows why. I think it makes them mad, just like bulls in a bullfight.
I don’t use fireball rigs much myself, but they do work. If you are fishing exclusively for bluefish and you want to test the color red trick, go for it.
All of these rigs (including fireball rigs) you can tie yourself, although they are available in most tackle shops at pretty cheap prices. When fishing for bluefish you don’t need to actually have your bait anchored to the bottom. Blues are aggressive fish attracted to movement, so you actually want to move your rig around a little. Even cut bait should be moved around a bit to bring the bluefish in to you.
For many more free fishing articles and tips check out my blog A Dash of Salty and my website Surf and Salt