Bluefish in the Bay

By: Terry Tomalin

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As a kid growing up in the Northeast, we used to catch bluefish during the summer months from the Jersey Shore all the way up to the Coast of Maine. But I was pleasantly surprised recently to find one in the Florida’s largest estuary, better known as Tampa Bay.

The species Pomatomus saltatrix is a migrating pelagic, similar in some respect to king and Spanish mackerel. This prized sportfish is found throughout the world’s oceans, and along with striped bass, are the mainstays of the Atlantic charter boat fleet.

Fishermen on Florida’s East Coast catch bluefish during the cooler months, but by mid-spring the schools have usually already moved north. In the fall, they turn around and head south again. But here on Florida’s Gulf Coast, bluefish seem to be something of an oddity.

The bluefish found in the Gulf of Mexico are not nearly as big as those found in the Atlantic Ocean. The average size of the blues in the bay ranges from 12- to 14-inches, which is one reason why most anglers don’t give them a second look.

In the Mid-Atlantic and New England during the height of the bluefish run, anglers catch their share of 20-pound fish. In case you're wondering, the All-Tackle World Record was caught on Jan. 30, 1972 off Cape Hatteras and weighed 31 pounds and 12 ounces.

If you're out fishing for macks and come across a blue, don’t be afraid to keep it. The size limit is 12 inches and you can keep 10 a day. As a youngster, I ate my share of bluefish. My mom used to bake it in the oven, but today I prefer grilling or smoking this oily, strong-tasting fish.

The trick is to marinate in citrus juice for at least an hour before cooking. I like to mix orange, lemon and lime juices with a little olive oil, garlic and black pepper. After it’s cooked, flake off the dark meat before serving.

But be careful of these fish sometimes called the “marine piranha” because of the way they school up and chase baitfish up onto the beach. Bluefish have sharp teeth, or what we used to call “snappers.”

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