Best Bait and Lures For Bluefish Fishing – 2024

best bait for bluefish

Even though I almost never specifically target bluefish while heading out fishing in the Raritan Bay or Jersey Shore waters, pretty much every summer trip ends up with a few on board. They are just too much fun to catch. We usually see birds diving while coming around the tip of Sandy Hook, this is a tell tale sign of where the blues are feeding. It is hard to keep boating by them, but when you know exactly how to catch them it is almost too easy. Read this guide to learn how to get in on the action!

Bluefish, found in the coastal saltwater regions of New Jersey, New York and all over the east coast, are renowned among anglers for their aggressive strikes and formidable fighting spirit. Often referred to as “yellow-eyed gators,” these sleek predators dominate the middle to top of the water column during the spring and summer months, making them a prime target for fishermen seeking an adrenaline-filled challenge. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the ins and outs of bluefish fishing, including their behavior, preferred diet, best bait for bluefish and lures, tackle recommendations, and the optimal times to hook into these hard-fighting fish.

Understanding Bluefish

Bluefish, scientifically known as Pomatomus saltatrix, are a common sight along the Atlantic coast, particularly in the waters off New York to North Carolina. These sleek predators are characterized by their sharp teeth, powerful jaws, and distinctive yellow eyes, earning big blues the nickname “yellow-eyed gators” among anglers. Bluefish exhibit voracious hunting behavior, often patrolling nearshore waters in search of prey.

These fish are known to feed aggressively on a variety of marine creatures, including small to medium-sized baitfish, squid, and even other bluefish. Their preferred forage includes species like bunker (menhaden), mullet, and various other baitfish that inhabit the coastal waters. Blue fish are often times found in large schools, schools of big bluefish stay in close proximity to schools of baitfish and can often be seen erupting the surface of the water as they thrash around adult bunker in a feeding frenzy.

Best Bait for Bluefish

bunker or menhaden

When targeting bluefish, selecting the right bait can significantly increase your chances of success. Among the most effective baits for enticing bluefish are bunker (also known as menhaden) and mullet. Both live bait and chunks or cut bait can be effective, depending on the fishing conditions and the preferences of the fish on any given day. While shiny lures can also be very effective, there is nothing like using fresh or live bait, especially when the fish are in deeper water or warmer water temperature.

Using live bunker or mullet can be particularly effective, the natural look and smell of a distressed baitfish is second to none at attracting the attention of hungry bluefish. A cast net is the best way to catch a large amount of healthy bait in a short period of time. This is a particularly good one that I like for catching adult bunker – Old Betts 18-9 – it needs to have enough size and weight to quickly pin down the large and fast swimming bunker and finger mullet. A weighted treble hook can also be cast into a school of bunker to try to snag some bait, this will result in only one bait per cast and the bait will be injured.  Alternatively, chunk bait, cut into smaller pieces, can also prove successful, releasing scent and oils into the water to entice nearby predators. Whole squid and cut squid can also make a good bait. Smaller bluefish can also be caught on smaller bait fish like spearing and live killies.

Optimal Tackle for Bluefish

circle hooks for bluefish bait fishingWhile it isn’t too hard to tie a bluefish rig, these premade rigs are too easy. 

Due to their sharp teeth and aggressive feeding behavior, bluefish require robust tackle to handle their powerful strikes and spirited fights. When using bait, it’s essential to employ a wire leaders or metal leader to prevent the fish from biting through the line. A wire leader offers the necessary abrasion resistance to withstand the sharp teeth of bluefish, ensuring that your line remains intact throughout the battle.

Pairing your leader with appropriately sized circle hooks, such as an 8/0 circle hook, is ideal for catching bluefish in the mouth and reducing the likelihood of deep hooking, which can injure the fish and make it more difficult to release safely. Additionally, when handling bluefish, anglers should exercise caution due to their thrashing movements and sharp teeth, taking care to avoid injury during the catch-and-release process.

Rod and Reel Recommendations

For targeting bluefish, a 3000-class spinning reel (this penn battle is a favorite of mine) paired with a medium-heavy rod offers the versatility and strength needed to handle these hard-fighting fish. While still considered light tackle,  the spinning reel provides smooth casting and retrieval, while the medium-heavy rod offers the necessary backbone to control the fish during the fight. For live lining and chunking a convention setup may be preferred, this 20 size penn warfare would be perfect. Both should be spooled with about 30lb braid main line. I use powerpro year after year with no issues.

An ideal setup should be capable of casting medium to heavy lures or bait rigs while providing sufficient power to subdue the powerful runs and head shakes of bluefish. Additionally, opting for a rod with a fast action tip can help detect subtle bites and provide the responsiveness needed to set the hook quickly.

Preferred Artificial Lures for Bluefish

diamond jig bluefish fishingShiny metal lures like this diamond jig are highly effective for catching bluefish (click the image to see the best price on Amazon) 

In addition to bait fishing, targeting bluefish with lures can be an exciting and productive method. The best type of lures are shiny metal lures, such as spoons and jigs, are highly effective at attracting the attention of bluefish, mimicking the flash and movement of fleeing baitfish. When using lures, casting them out and retrieving them at a fast pace can trigger aggressive strikes from bluefish patrolling the water column. In addition to the ava jig above, I love these hopkins lures for their castability and fast retrieve. Soft Plastics, while effective at catching, are not ideal as the sharp teeth tear them apart quickly.

When selecting lures for bluefish fishing, opting for lures equipped with single hooks is preferable to those with treble hooks. Single hooks not only reduce the risk of the fish becoming deeply hooked but also simplify the hook removal process, making catch-and-release more efficient and less stressful for both the angler and the fish. The best lures are the ones that can make long casts, fast, and you don’t mind losing!

Best Time to Catch Blue fish

While bluefish can be found in coastal waters throughout the year, certain times and conditions are more favorable for targeting these hard-fighting predators. During the spring and summer months, bluefish are most abundant in nearshore waters, where they feed voraciously on migrating baitfish and other prey species.

Early morning and late afternoons are often prime times for bluefish activity, as they are more active during low light conditions. Additionally, targeting areas with structure, such as jetties, rocky outcrops, and shallow flats, can increase your chances of encountering feeding bluefish. Checking in the your local tackle shops will also give you a lot of insight as to when and where the fish are biting.

Considerations for Cooking and Consuming Bluefish

While bluefish are primarily targeted for sport, some anglers choose to consume their catch. It’s essential to note that bluefish can have a pronounced “fishy” flavor, particularly in larger specimens. To mitigate this, many anglers prefer to remove all the darker-colored meat, as it tends to have a stronger flavor.

Additionally, some anglers soak their bluefish fillets in milk or other brines before cooking to help remove some of the oily fish smell and taste associated with the fish. This process can help produce milder-tasting fillets that are more palatable to those who may be sensitive to the characteristic flavor of bluefish. The small fish do tend to have less fishy smell.

best bait for bluefish

In conclusion, bluefish fishing offers anglers an exhilarating challenge, with their aggressive strikes and powerful fights keeping fishermen coming back for more. By understanding the behavior of bluefish, selecting the right bait and lures, employing the proper tackle, and targeting optimal fishing times, anglers can maximize their success when pursuing these hard-fighting predators along the coastal waters of New Jersey and New York. Whether casting bait or lures, the thrill of hooking into a bluefish remains unmatched, making them a prized catch for anglers of all skill levels. Wishing you great success on your bluefish hunts!

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