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A bluefish is one tough customer — but fun to catch

December 14, 2018
By GEORGE TUNISON , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Winter brings one of my favorite off-shore species in close to hunt the shallow waters of Southwest Florida. Gag grouper do come in close in fall and early winter and sheepshead fishing becomes a winter staple in these parts but there is one more seasonal visitor I enjoy catching even more.

The chrome plug landed on the edge of a school of Matlacha mullet. Before the first turn of the reel handle, it was savagely attacked and eaten in a large topwater explosion then absolutely flew across the flat at bonefish speed, burning drag and bending the rod deeply.

"Only a big jack pulls that hard!" my partner yelled. "Can't be - no head shaking!" I replied. As I did, it jumped, landed, then reversed course and flew in the other direction once again making the drag scream loudly. Jacks fight hard and swim fast, but don't jump.

The first saltwater fish I ever caught was a strong fighting Delaware Bay seatrout or weakfish. It fought hard against my very light rod then suddenly it stopped fighting. Puzzled, I continued to reel it to the surface of the bay.

A big, bad, full of teeth and bad intentions bluefish had cut that trout in half. The surprised look on the trout's face matched mine. Years later that same fish's distant cousin, visiting Matlacha, now owned my Zara Spook and had no intentions of giving it back, taking to the air again 30 yards away shaking my plug loudly just for spite.

From Canada to Florida, the bluefish is one tough customer and great sport in deep or especially in shallow water where in winter they shadow mullet schools in skinny water especially around oyster bars in Southwest Florida.

Pound for pound they fight harder than a redfish or snook and are amazingly fast when hooked. They never give up, they love lures, they make amazing jumps and if you let one get close enough, it will gladly take a big bite of you with it's mouthful of razor sharp teeth.

With an eye for mullet, a small chrome top-water plug is a good choice cast when working on the edges of mullet schools. The design of the topwater makes it less likely to be lost to sharp teeth and is able to be worked over very shallow areas without hanging up.

Fly guys can get in on the shallow action using large poppers or sliders and noisy erratic retrieves or weedless streamers or keel fly designs (hook rides up), but a short wire bite leader is recommended.

Typically in offshore waters, bluefish travel in large wolf packs eating constantly and growing to over 35 pounds or more in some parts of the world. Our typical winter flats visitor weighs in at 3-6 pounds. A 6-pounder on a lite spinning rod or a 6-8 wt. fly rod is exciting; just don't let your fingers get close to that mouth.

Sheepshead action is heating up at a bridge or rock pile near you. These champion bait thieves are best caught on thin, sharp hooks baited with small bits of shrimp or fiddler crabs.

Sheepshead also love oyster bars and a 10-pounder in shallow water is quite a fight. For bait fishing on bottom, use a slip sinker rig with the lightest sinker you can get away with.

For lures? Hard choice, as sheepshead are known as bait eaters and every really large sheepie I've caught was caught unintentionally on gold spoons intended for redfish, although they will eat small fly patterns.

With very low water due to winter, be careful navigating and be even more careful about not destroying our seagrasses in shallow water.

Raise your motor and use the electric, or better, push pole the boat. A prop scar may take upwards of 10 years to heal over with new grass. Sometimes it never grows back losing even more important habitat.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at 239-282-9434 or



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