Day four at Holden Beach - my big, flat feet are sunburned, I'm tired but having a great time. I've been fishing each high tide. I go out about two hours before high tide and come in about two hours after. The action has been moderate. I've been landing small bluefish every day but yesterday. The blues have been very fun to catch and to watch. The come tearing along the shore, chasing finger mullet - toothy little torpedoes, jumping in the air, flipping and dancing on the waves. All of them that I have caught have been in the 12 to 15 inch range - perfect for eating.
Those who do not care for bluefish probably dislike it because it was handled improperly before they ate it. Bluefish is no only an oily fish, but it spoils quickly after being caught. All of this can be solved through proper handling and cooking. Immediately after catching the fish, hold it firmly by the back, with a towel. If it is a keeper, remove the hook (I use an old large pare of needle nose pliers), avoiding its sharp teeth. As soon as the hook is removed, insert your bait knife through the gills and cut down and through the throat. Hold the fish by the tail. It will bleed out in under a minute. Then, gut it, give the cavity a quick rinse and put it on ice. All of this should be done in less than 5 minutes - this ensures that off flavors from the liver will not taint and soften the meat through the blood. This gives you a nice, firm, fresh tasting, savory fish. In cooking, you just need to counter the oiliness. Frying just won't work with bluefish. Grilling is best, but broiling works as well. Just slice a lemon and put the slices in the cavity, with some black pepper and onions or herbs if you like. I prefer just lemon and pepper, grilled whole. Then serve with plenty of additional lemon, so that the lemon and natural oils in the fish make a nice sauce, flavored by the smoke from the grill, the brine of the ocean and the pepper - this turns the oiliness of the fish into an asset. I like to serve the fish on a bed of bitter/peppery salad greens, like young mustard greens, because the bluefish/lemon combination makes a nice dressing for the greens, as well.
Yesterday, the blues seemed to be running from something rather than feeding. I went out about 1 pm. The guy who had been fishing for about an hour down the beach came over to tell me that something BIG hit his rig, but he lost it. He said that it nearly jerked the rod out of his hands when it struck and broke his line. Thinking that it might still be out there, I tied a wire leader the 50lb mono shock leader on my big rod - it is 13 feet, heavy and the reel holds nearly 400 yards of 30lb braid. I put on a big hook, sharpened it and baited it with the head of a small bluefish. I cast it out (yes, I finally learned to cast the behemoth) about 100 yards and stuck the butt into a surf spike. The, I baited the double rig on my smaller rod with cut bait, cast it out about 50 yards and waited. I re-baited and re-cast the smaller rod all day - something kept stealing my bait. Instead of really striking, whatever it was felt more like repeated taps as it stripped the bait. I tried smaller and smaller hooks and casting farther out, but nothing worked. About 5pm, just as I was about to call it a day, something hit the big rig. I jumped up and grabbed it, as the tip shook violently. I ran into the water, battling hard against the fish. The huge rod was bent nearly double! I let up on the drag as the fish ran about 200 yards down the beach. I reeled in as he ran back toward me. Then, he turned and ran for open water... and was gone. I never got a look at him, but whatever it was actually straightened my hook!
If you come to Holden Beach this week, bring two rigs - one with the heaviest tackle you own. There is something out there. I don't know what it is, but it is BIG and STRONG. Some spanish mackerel have been spotted int he surf south of here. The way it ran, that could be what it was, but if so, it was a MONSTER!