Welcome to our “How to Catch Florida Bluefish – A Complete Guide” where we tell you everything we know and could find about catching the wiley Bluefish. It’s one of Florida’s most SAVAGE Fish!
[Page Updated – 24 July 2021. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.]
HOW TO CATCH BLUEFISH—Guide
- Size: 3/10 stars
- Fight: 3/10 stars
- Difficulty to Catch: 4/10 stars
- Taste: 5/10 stars
INDEX to Sections in this Guide:
- Bluefish FACTS
- WHY catch them?
- WHERE are they found?
- What do they EAT?
- HOW to catch them??
- WHEN is best time to fish?
- GEAR? (our best recommendations)
- LAWS in Your State
- How to COOK blues for the ultimate meal?
PRO TIP – bluefish are also called Blues, Savages, Marine Piranha, Choppers, Chompers, Skipjack, Bitefish, and Zombiefish in the USA. Big fish are called Horses. Young, small fish are called Snappers. In Australia and New Zealand, they go by “Tailor.” In South Africa as “Elf” or “Shad.”
Species: Pomatomus saltatrix
Similar Species: Mullet? The blues don’t look strongly like any other fish I can compare them with. Slightly like a mullet or a Speckled Torut maybe.
IUCN Redlist Status: Though in Europe, the blue fish is considered NT (Near Threatened), in Florida and other states, it is designated as “LC” (Least Concern). There are healthy populations of blues up and down the east coast. In the late 1990’s they had been overfished for years and restrictions were put in place to recover the fish. In 2007, numbers of blues rebounded back to sustainable levels.
Appearance: Long-bodied fish, light in color with a blue or green tint on the dorsal (top) area and lighter toward the belly. They can reach 5 feet in length. There is a single row of very sharp teeth on the top and bottom jaws which the fish use to savagely attack and cut through any live bait put in front of them. Blues feed in a frenzy, and this makes them easy to spot from piers, though they are sometimes 100 meters off the pier and hard to reach. That certainly doesn’t stop anglers from trying!
Length: Blues are usually in the 7-20″ range in Florida, though they can grow to as much as 27 lbs. and 60″ long on the Atlantic side of the state. The Florida record is 22 lb. 2 oz. caught close to Jensen Beach in Port St. Lucie on Florida’s east coast.
Weight: Average weight is a pound to three pounds, but they can get over 20 lbs. in Florida on the east coast.
The world record for bluefish caught was on January 30, 1972 in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. This massive world record fish weighed 31 lb. 12 oz.
Florida Record: Liz Yates on March 19, 1973, caught a monster blue close to Jensen Beach (Port St. Lucie) Florida weighing 22 lbs. 2 oz.
Range/Distribution: Distribution of pelagic blues in the United States runs all the way from Maine down to southern Florida. They prefer coasts in energy-filled water like shore-breaking beaches or near rocky shores. They will enter small estuaries and somewhat brackish water. In Florida each Winter they make the trip from northern coasts. The last of the blues leave Florida by April of each year, during typical seasons.
In winter, some blue fish make it up into Tampa Bay, even as far north as the Gandy Bridge. Here’s a news article about it.
This species reproduce in the spring and summer each year and live on average for 9 years.
Habitat: Found near beaches with strong tides, wave action, or water smashing against rocks. Menhaden are their primary target for food, so wherever they can be found on Florida’s east coast is where you’ll find this bitesized predator.
Diet: Young blues eat crustaceans and small fish, while adults prefer a steady diet of menhaden, an oily baitfish.They’ll eat a variety of fish and other sea life. Their range of diet includes menhaden, sardine-like fish (Clupeidae), crevalle jack (Scombridae), weakfish (Sciaenidae), small pinfish (grunts – Haemulidae), striped anchovies (Engraulidae), shrimp, squid, and when young just about any crustaceans in the area. Sometimes they will even eat young of the same species.
When their feeding response turns on it wreaks havoc on schools of baitfish. The topwater resembles a school of crevalle jack feeding when they corral baitfish into a small area, but a blues blitz as it is sometimes called can stretch for 100 meters across or more.
Predators: As young, this species is preyed upon by a variety of species like striped bass, adult blues, fluke (flounder), weakfish, tuna, sharks, stingrays and manta rays, and dorado. Though voracious, bluefish are also targeted as adults by tuna, sharks, marlin, seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and other bigger predatory species.
Why Catch them?
They are FUN!
Bluefish are fun to catch because it’s a lot of fun to throw your Gotcha Lure 80-100 meters away (with the wind at your back) off a pier right into the roiling midst of a school of ravenous teethy blues which are eating anything in their path – including other blues who happen to get nipped by sharp teeth and start bleeding. It’s a bloodbath, and great fun to catch fish in this atmosphere. There are people who specialize in catching blues far off the piers like at Sebastian Inlet over in Melbourne, Florida on the East Coast.
I made the drive from Tampa a number of times to meet with people fishing the pier over there for Blues and other big gamefish. There’s a real sense of camaraderie and also competition at Sebastian Inlet. One I think all anglers should experience! One of the last times I fished with my Uncle John Keryeski was over at this pier. Great times!
Are Blues Good Eating?
Some people catch them to eat. It’s a little bit like eating a Spanish Mackerel. They’re a bit oily and they don’t keep well. Still, many people eat them, especially the smaller 12″ fish, and they love them. We’ve certainly consumed our share of blues over the years and they’re OK, but not exactly top-level cuisine you’re going to find at a good restaurant. Give ’em a try and see what you think.
Where To Find them?
East coast Florida in shallow water near the beaches where waves are breaking, or the water is breaking against rocks or a pier is usually a good place to start. Once the big schools of blues are sighted feeding near one of the piers the local newspapers publish articles telling you what time would be best to go and what to use as bait. There is a whole contingent of fanatics who target the species each year, sometimes every day for months. Many retirees from up north head to Florida to fish out their retirement years. You probably will too! We certainly will!
The best place to target blue fish in Florida is the Sebastian Inlet Fishing Pier.
What Do they Eat?
I think most people don’t spend the money on live or dead bait when fishing for blues. Especially when they’re in a feeding frenzy at the top of the water and eating anything that flashes. Just throw a Gotcha lure of any color in there and get a hook up fast. Sometimes you’ll hook two small fish on the same artificial lure, especially when you have two treble-hooks hanging off the bottom of it.
If you want a more sporting go of it, throw a 1/0 hook on and a piece of shrimp or other fish, and you’re also guaranteed to hook a fish if you can reach them.
Part of the game is reaching them because they don’t always come right up to the pier. They hang out where the baitfish are schooled and they rip them to pieces for an hour and move on.
How to Catch Bluefish – Techniques
From a Small Boat – Kayak, Canoe
It may be possible to catch them from a very small fishing vessel like a kayak, but blues are usually in bigger wave conditions and it might not be as fun as you thought when you came up with the idea.
From a Fishing Boat
Fishing for them from a fishing boat is a good idea, especially since they are often far from a pier where you can cast out to them. Do be aware if you are in a boat close to a pier, you may get hit with flying Gotcha lures and other artificials because people are half out of their minds when casting for them and will use 9 foot rods and even balloons attached to get their hook or lure way out to where the fish are.
Blues don’t fight all that hard once hooked and they probably won’t even notice they’ve left the feeding frenzy. When you pull your fish up out of the water, he’ll probably still be snapping. Do NOT put your fingers anywhere near the mouth or you’ll get a real nice bite, their teeth are very sharp and many anglers receive bad bites when not taking the fish seriously.
When Is the Best Time to Catch them?
They travel down the east coast of the USA as the northern waters become cooler with approaching winter months. The best fishing for them in Florida is winter through March when you can find large schools of them close to the east coast.
Gear – Big, Tough Tackle Necessary
Best Rod for Bluefish?
A 7-foot long medium-action rod like an Ugly Stik works great for most bluefish situations. If you’re on a pier and need to gain more distance on your casts, you’ll probably want to have an 8.5″ or even 9″ rod available for these situations.
Baitcasting / Trolling Reels
I love Penn baitcasting reels for bluefish, and just about any other fish, I catch in the state. This is a general use reel that can be used for almost anything, and even for big fish on the occasion that you didn’t expect to catch like a lunker blue, red drum, or black drum.
My advice is to buy the best all-around reel you can afford. The Penn brand is hard to beat. Daiwa is fantastic as well. Stick with these two and you’ll be as happy as you can get with your gear choice.
Best Spinning Reel for blues? Again, any all-around reel that you can use for catching 1-lb blues, all the way up to 20 lb. redfish with the potential to catch something even bigger.
My uncle James Rawlinson came to visit one time from Pennsylvania. He is a lifetime fisherman who, because of location, was a freshwater angler for the most part. However, he was retired and he and his wife and son came down to visit us in Florida in their huge Winnebago mobile home.
We’re sitting on the back dock on a small saltwater canal lined with oyster shells. We’re just sitting around talking. One of my favorite memories. Jim put a piece of shrimp, not even HALF a shrimp on a little trout hook. His hook was about half the size of a 1/0 trout hook. Since I’d been in Florida I hadn’t used anything smaller than a 1/0 hook, so I was thought he was fishing for bait.
We’re talking… he notices line going out. He sits and watches it. He watches it some more. After a minute, he’s STILL watching it. Finally, when I’m at my wit’s end, he starts reeling in slowly. Oh, I forgot, he has 2-lb. test on the rod and reel. The rod looks like it’s a super-light action sabiki rig pole. He’s reeling, reeling, reeling slowly. Eventually, I see a fish about a yard under the water. It’s a MASSIVE 45-inch snook. I could barely speak. Wait, no. No.
He did. He had that snook hooked with his Sabiki rig hook!
I had no net, we had nothing, we weren’t expecting to catch anything bigger than a pinfish with what he was using!
He gets it to the top of the water where I reach in to grab it and it spooks and immediately sprints off and breaks the line.
You just NEVER know when you’re going to get a lunker that is far beyond the capacity of your line, reel, or rod. This snook required something SO MUCH BIGGER and STRONGER, yet he caught it on that little rod and spinning reel with 2-lb. test. Unbelievable! My favorite fish story ever. Here is the complete story.
Twenty-pound test braided line is great for them and just about anything else under 20 lbs. you’ll find in Florida waters. Sure, there are exceptions, but you can’t really go wrong using it as your all-around line.
We recommend the following line for this species.
Line – 20/8 lb. braided is perfect for your main line.
The best hooks for them are 1/0 hooks that are really sharp. We just don’t use anything but the two sharpest brands of hook on the market – Owner and Gamakatsu. Great hooks with high-quality assurance standards. Don’t waste your time or money with inferior hooks.
Top Vanadium Steel Hooks Recommendation – simply the best.
Bluefish Rig – Our usual rig is to throw any artificial lure with at least one treble hook on it right on top of the school, pull it once or twice, and hook up. Really, it’s that easy. When they’re not in feeding mode, we don’t target them, so I can’t recommend a rig that might work to find them.
From shore on Florida’s east coast, throwing a Carolina rig with a menhaden as bait may work well, assuming they are there in the surf. This is a basic setup that works well for blues and many other fish.
- Strong Swivel – one strong 2 loop swivel.
- Line – 20/8 lb. braided is fine for your main line. The chance of finding a massive bluefish just isn’t high enough to require heavier line.
- Leader – a very thin wire leader is advised, because they will bite right through any monofilament and though more difficult, can get through braided line as well.
- Hook – 1/0 Owner or Gamakatsu hooks
Bait is live or dead menhaden, the bluefish’s favorite meal. These are easily caught in fine mesh cast nets close to shore in areas with some seagrass.
Best Artifical Lure?
Something shiny, and with treble hooks. The blues hit fast and furious, they probably cannot even see what they’re biting at half the time as the water is churning with hundreds of fish eating thousands of baitfish. Just throw something shiny in there and you’ll be sure to hook up.
These Lures work like magic
Laws in Florida
Florida limits are split by Florida State waters and Federal waters. It is your responsibility to check the latest laws on the Official Florida Game and Fish Commission here before you fish.
Legal Gear for Harvesting
Fishing with spears, gigs, hook and line, seine, and cast net is permissible.
East Coast Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: 12-inches to tail fork.
- Daily Bag Limit: 10 per angler per day.
- Season: Open all year.
Federal Waters Laws
- Minimum Size Limit: 12-inches to tail fork.
- Daily Bag Limit: Federal waters: 15 per angler per day.
- Season: Open all year.
NOTE – a full list of rules for fishing for bluefish can be found at the Florida Rules website here.
Get the Fishing App
Laws can change at any time so it’s a good idea to be ready for anything. Nothing quite like the law rolling up to you in their little speedboat asking to see your fishing license, driver’s license, catch, and rigs. Information on our site is up-to-date the day we publish it, but that can change tomorrow. If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast.
Bluefish are farmed for food across the globe and in the USA. you’re interested in learning more about how they are farmed, this link (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) will provide everything you want to know. The primary area in the world for farmed fish of this species is China.
How to Cook them? Or, Should You Cook them?
Bluefish is decent fish to eat, many people eat it and like it. You have to be prepared with a cooler of ice to throw it on as soon as you catch it. It doesn’t keep well. Don’t freeze it, just ice it and eat it the same day for the best experience. The meat is oily and fatty and goes bad quickly. There is a lot of Omega 3 vitamins, but also the fish is quite high in Mercury Content. There are restrictive limits on how much of the fish you can consume – and pregnant women are advised to skip it. Mercury levels are on par with tuna and mackerel.
Most people fry them with their favorite fish recipe. We don’t eat fried fish and prefer to broil it instead. With a strong-smelling fish like this one, it’s probably best to eat it with garlic bread, rice, or something else to counteract all the oil.
PRO TIP – Adult bluefish are known to have worms and parasites especially in the gonads. Please cook and eat only small fish around 12″.
Bluefish Guide Resources
- NOAA Photo Library
- OAR/National Undersea Research Program (NURP); University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and here.
- IUCN Redlist – The International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
- Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
- Fischer, W.; G. Bianchi (eds.). – 1984 FAO species identification pages for fisheries. Western Indian Ocean (Fishing Area 51). Of the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). Rome, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Vol. I-6: pag. var.
Image credits: Top of page.
More Fishing Guides with All You Need to Know
Fishing Tacklebox Essentials
Fish Scale (Digital and up to 110 lbs.)
Florida Fishing Identification Booklet – 5×7″ Laminated (Waterproof)