How To Fly Fish for Bluefish

Bluefish on the fly
Photo: James Manning (@theanglerslens)

If Northern Pike are the wolves of the water, and Barracuda are the wolves of the sea, that would leave Bluefish to fill the spot of, say a wolverine crossed with and angry bladesmith, of all the seas. The Bluefish (known as tailor in Australia and New Zealand and Shad in South Africa) is an aggressive, gluttonous feeder that will create blitzes up and down a coastline like no other fish. With a fight that rivals any Striped Bass, Bluefish are a great saltwater fish to target with a flyrod.

If you were a baitfish, this view would be less than ideal  Photo: James Manning (@theanglerslens)

Where to find them:

If you know Bluefish are in your area, the best way to find them is to look for birds. Seabirds, Terns specifically, will follow schools of Bluefish and Stripers waiting for them to chase large schools of baitfish to the surface. Once the Bluefish do this, all hell breaks loose. The birds plunge into the water, baitfish are flying in every direction, and the Bluefish are crashing the surface in the sort of furious chaos that ultimately leaves fly lines tangled around feet, and not in the water. Also, there’s an old New England Fishermans tip that if you smell watermelon, Bluefish are around. Now, this seems completely crazy BUT, hear me out. When Bluefish annihilate a school of silversides, sand eels, or bunker, the smell of all the diced up bait particles actually does smell like watermelon, so watch out for that.

Party sized


Bluefish can grow up to 20Lbs, and already are strong fighters, so I would recommend an 8-9wt rod paired with a large arbor reel with plenty of backing and drag. Since a lot of fly fishing for Bluefish is done in blitzes, you can get away with a floating line but I would still recommend an intermediate line so you could more effectively fish rips and get the fly down when needed. Your Bluefish setup should be the same as your Striper setup my Bluefish recommendations are also what I would recommend for Striped Bass. The two most important things you can have for flyfishing for Bluefish are cheap flies and wire leader. If you didn’t get it from the previous description, Bluefish have insanely sharp teeth paired with crazy strong jaws. They will rip through any mono or fluoro below 80Lb test. If you just keep a spool of tie-able wire leader in 20lb, you will be set for Blues. Another thing I cannot stress more is that you use cheap, simple flies. Bluefish are NOT picky eaters at all and they will tear any fly apart after about two hookups. I typically use all-white Clousers, Deceivers, or just clumps of bucktail tied to a hook. I’ve even heard of people gluing strips of their t-shirt to a hook and landing monster blues. There is nothing worse than losing a really nice Striper fly to a pack of Blues, so if there is suspicion of Bluefish in the area, spend the extra fifteen seconds and tie on a wire leader and a fly your ok with loosing, and have a blast. Also, a quick safety excliamer; treat these fish with respect, use pliers to unhook them and keep your hands away from their head while holding them, they will have no problem taking off a finger.

Underwater Bluefish
Photo: James Manning (@theanglerslens)


Blues will feed just about anywhere, in rips, inlets, harbors, and open water. Remember, birds are your friend. When you find a school, the best thing you can do is to keep your fly in the water. Even if they aren’t actively busting, keep blind casting because they’re still around and hungry. You want to do your best to present your fly like a baitfish that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Strip your fly fast, but not unnaturally fast, and always, always strip strike!

Bluefish head
Face of a killer Photo: James Manning (@theanglerslens)

Yes, Bluefish can totally be fly thieves and annoying at times, but if you open your attitude, Bluefish are one of the most fun species to chase on the fly on the East Coast!

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  1. Your advice about bluefish is absolutely spot on. I grew up in Maryland where my family and relatives chased bluefish almost weekly. After I became an adult I fished the Outer Banks for bluefish as well as rockfish. When bluefish attack fleeing prey, they rip through a school, turn under the school, and feast on the wounded prey. The sharp teeth and incredible bite force of bluefish are worth repeating. I recall reading every year there would be somebody who would lose a finger because of incautious handling. We used a long rod with a hook to release bluefish so there was no need to handle the fish. Now, bluefish immediately gutted and soaked later in buttermilk with a chili sauce made a tasty our family.

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