Written for http://www.atlanticrancher.com
They are called Tailor in Australia. Known as Elf or Shad in South Africa. Simply, Blues along the east coast of the US. Big ones are choppers, little ones are snappers. The Bluefish is caught in subtropical temperate waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as well as the Mediterranean and Black Seas with great appeal to many anglers.
Often times besmirched, the Bluefish has provided a great deal of enjoyment, many a hearty meal, a good deal of money to charter boats, head boats and allot of proper training to young mates learning the charter fishing trade.
On the Mid Atlantic US east coast, the bluefish after World War II became the staple business of charter and head boats. Surf fisherman have enjoyed their play with lustful enthusiasm all along the east coast from Hatteras to Cape Cod. Recreationally they can be caught trolling, jigging, top water casting, drifting bait chunks, chumming— you name it, they are game and a thrill on light tackle. With their large broad forked tail they assume a good pound-for-pound fight to the angler. Often times breaking the surface and showing themselves as gamefish would.
A noted food source, commercial gill netters made plenty of money when they would set on a school. The long duration of their season made them a viable product to ship to the large markets from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston.
So it was in the late 1940’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s that Bluefish were the target species out of many ports on the Jersey and upper east coast to New England, particularly Beach Haven,NJ with its busy charter fleet sailing from the Beach Haven Yacht Club, Coney’s Dock, Howe’s Marina, Priestley’s, later Morrison’s and others. My father was a mate out of the yacht club in the 40’s and 50’s and I got my first real charter job on the Sapphire Lady with Capt. Fred Kalm in the summer of 1977.
Capt. Kalm was a waterman through and through. Hardened by the tough work of clamming the bay most of the year and charter fishing the late spring, summer and fall. He chose to tong clams, a laborious method using two toothed baskets on opposing sticks that required not only strength but, a sensitivity to “feel” the clams when working the sticks. Tonging also allowed the clammer to stay in the boat and work deeper water, not as restricted by the tides, as treading for clams is. He was quiet and direct. A task master yet completely pleasant to be around.
He had built the Sapphire Lady with his father in their back yard after serving in the Navy during WW II. By the time I went to work on her deck, she had been in service for over 25 years. Allot of bluefish and tuna had come over the stern into her transom fish box and it was going to be my job to continue that effort.
I was young and had some private boat experience along with of course fishing with my father on the boats he ran. Needless to say it was a tough start. Money and Capt. Fred’s livelihood was on the line. But I worked through it with Capt. Fred’s guidance and tutelage and things really clicked. He bumped me up to $22.00 a day by July and all the tips I could make along with some fish cleaning money if the charter wanted their fish filleted.
I learned so many basic things that are the foundations for catching fish of all kinds. Knots, leader make up, setting up a spread, letting lines out without tangling, tackle maintenance, boat care, fish care and one of the most important things — how to interact, communicate and entertain folks from all walks of life. If your charter had a good time, whether you caught 2 or 200, you were going to get a good tip.
We fished six rigs, two long outriggers, two short rods and two planers down deep on hand lines off each corner of the transom. If you got tangled, it cost time and money. If you lost a rig, well that was really expensive. Those losses for a charter operation are not acceptable so you also learned how to be frugal and really careful.
All of these little things add up to create a larger picture, but when the fish were biting, knowing how to capitalize was critical. Recognizing when Capt. Fred put the boat in a circle on a school and knowing what to do with utmost speed and precision was a learned skill over time.
Getting the charter to wind the fish in, putting lines back out while in the turn and not tangling. This is a universal fishing skill on schooling fish and also comes into play on larger pelagics like tuna and billfish. This is the critical element for catching multiples — two, three, four and more fish at a time.
Sometimes you don’t know what you’re learning when it happens. Other times you know you are supposed to learn something but it may not come together for awhile and sometimes it hits you like a brick to the forehead.
For me, I owe a great deal to the bluefish. It was a critical start to a career path I didn’t know I’d be taking. But those fertile fishing grounds off the Jersey coast gave many a mate and captain including me, a great start, and the bluefish probably taught us more than we could ever imagine. For a fish that takes a bit of a beating I’m damn glad for the bluefish, it provided far more than sport for our family.