In South Africa, this fish is commonly known as shad on the east coast, and elf on the west coast. Shad can not be commercially sold in KwaZulu-Natal and has a closed season (currently October and November) to allow for breeding. On the west coast Elf is a commercially fished species.
Other common names are Blue, Chopper, and Anchoa.
The bluefish is a moderately proportioned fish, with a broad, forked tail. The spiny first dorsal fin is normally folded back in a groove, as are its pectoral fins. Coloration is a grayish blue-green dorsally, fading to white on the lower sides and belly. Its single row of teeth in each jaw are uniform in size, knife-edged and sharp. Bluefish commonly range in size from seven inch (18 cm) "snappers" to much larger, sometimes weighing as much as forty pounds (18 kg), though fish heavier than twenty pounds (9 kg) are exceptional.
United States migration patterns
Bluefish are found off Florida in the winter months. By April, they have disappeared, heading north. By June, they may be found off Massachusetts; in years of high abundance, stragglers may be found as far north as Nova Scotia. By October, they leave New England waters, heading south. They are also present in the Gulf of Mexico throughout the year.
Bluefish larvae are zooplankton and are largely at the mercy of currents. Spent bluefish have been found off east central Florida, migrating north. As with most marine fish, their spawning habits are not well known. In the western side of the North Atlantic, there are at least two populations, separated by Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. The Gulf Stream can carry larvae spawned to the south of Cape Hatteras to the north, and eddies can spin off, carrying the larvae into populations found off the coast of the mid-Atlantic, and the New England states. The bluefish population is highly cyclical, with abundance varying widely over a span of ten years or more.
Depending on area and season, they favor menhaden and other sardine-like fish (Clupeidae), jacks (Scombridae), weakfish (Sciaenidae), grunts (Haemulidae), striped anchovies (Engraulidae), shrimp and squid. They should be handled with care due to their ability to snap at an unwary hand. In July 2006, a 7 year-old girl was attacked on a beach, near the Spanish town of Alicante, allegedly by a bluefish.
Bluefish are extremely aggressive, and will often chase bait through the surf zone, and literally onto dry beach. Thousands of big bluefish will attack schools of hapless baitfish in mere inches of water, churning the water like a washing machine. This behavior is referred to as a "bluefish blitz". Baitfish, such as bunker, will willingly run themselves high and dry on the sand, where they will suffocate, rather than be shredded by the marauding bluefish schools.
Bluefish are cannibalistic. Some hypothesize that because of cannibalistic behavior, bluefish tend to swim in schools of similarly sized specimens. Others hypothesize that bluefish school with like-sized individuals, because they swim at the same rate, thus expending the same energy when traveling, and thus having identical food intake requirements. Bluefish are preyed upon at all stages of their life cycle. As juveniles, they fall victim to a wide variety of oceanic predators, including striped bass, larger bluefish, fluke (summer flounder), weakfish, tuna, sharks, rays, and dolphin. As adults, bluefish are taken by tuna, sharks, billfish, seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoise, and many other species.
Gear and methods
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Bluefish are an important recreational and commercial fish.
Bluefish eagerly take a wide variety of fresh baits. Live or cut menhaden, mullet, mackerel, spearing, killifish, eels, squid, shrimp, ladyfish pieces, bunker or similar baitfish are all productive, especially when matched to whatever bluefish may be primarily feeding on at the time. Bluefish eagerly take artificial baits as well. Either trolled or cast with a fast retrieve, shiny spoons and the full range of bright-colored plugs, jigs, plus fluorescent-colored tube lures are all effective. Noisy surface lures at dawn or dusk near a sharp dropoff or in shallow water are also productive, which many fisherman find adds to the excitement as a bluefish attacks their lure on the surface. Bluefish will occasionally "skyrocket"—leap out of the water before landing on and attacking a top water lure or live bait fished at the surface—a spectacular sight for most fishermen.
Little skill is needed to hook a bluefish when a school is in a feeding frenzy. They will ravenously strike any natural bait or shiny lure—even a shiny coin tossed into their midst. When in a feeding frenzy bluefish will go after any thing that poses a threat.
Bluefish are known to strike just about any type of lure. Topwater plugs, such as bottleneck and pencil poppers offer anglers the most exciting lure strikes, as the bluefish will smack the lures with spectacular ferocity. Metal lures, such as Hopkins, Kastmaster, AOK, AVA and Krocodile will catch bluefish in almost all situations.
Medium-light to medium weight spinning or bait-casting rigs are standard. 8 to 12 pound test line is common when targeting bluefish in the 1 to 3 pound range, while 20 pound test and matched tackle may be the choice when targeting larger specimens, such as pictured above.
Fishermen typically present natural baits on a size 3/0 or 4/0 hook, sometimes followed by a smaller "stinger" hook. These are attached to wire tippets about 6 inches long, which are attached either by swivel or Albright Special to 3 to 5 feet (1.5 m) of 50 to 80 pound monofilament leader. Larger hooks are appropriate for larger baits and bluefish. Some fishermen instead choose only a heavy monofilament leader attached to a long-shank hook, which usually avoids the bluefish's sharp teeth. Artificial lures are presented on similar leader arrangements. Steel leaders are a benefit since the fish's razor sharp teeth will cleanly snip through any normal fishing line.
Some adventuresome anglers target bluefish with flyrods tipped with large, brightly colored and tinsel-lined streamers or surface poppers. Due to their schooling and ravenous feeding habits, bluefish are among the easier ocean-faring targets for those trying their hand at heavy fly tackle.
Commercial fishermen take bluefish in the one to 4 pound range. Steel leaders are a must since the fish's razor sharp teeth will cleanly snip through any normal fishing line.
Bluefish is a highly sought after sportfish that used to be overfished, but restrictions set forth by management organizations have helped the species population grow.
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A commercially important fish, the distinctive flavor makes bluefish a favorite with some diners and repugnant to others. Like all fish, bluefish should be gutted, iced promptly, and eaten fresh. If the fish is not quickly taken care of in this way, the meat will rapidly deteriorate, becoming soft and mushy and assuming a steadily grayer pigmentation. Younger bluefish are considered the best for eating. The fillets are often skinned and the dark red meat on the skin-side and along the lateral line, which is more strongly flavored, can be separately filleted, leaving diners the choice between the darker and the white, slightly gray-blue hued flesh. Bluefish lends itself to the full range of culinary preparation methods. They are often smoked, particularly larger specimens. Smoked and leftover bluefish can be made into pâté and eaten with bread or crackers.
Another proven method that improves the flavor of bluefish is to 'bleed' the fish as soon as it is caught. Simply cut the underside of the fish, starting at the lower front fins and finishing the deep incision at the lower side of the mouth. It is also suggested to make a deep slice where the tail meets the body.
As a migratory fish near the top of the food chain, bluefish can accumulate many toxins in their system ranging from PCBs to mercury. As with most fish of such nature, there are warnings regarding consumption by pregnant or nursing women, or children under six.
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2006). "Pomatomus saltatrix" in FishBase. March 2006 version.
- "Pomatomus saltatrix". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=168559. Retrieved 30 January 2006.