Using a slower retrieve with aggressive rod-tip movement gives the lure a noisy splashing action that excites fish and will draw them from a distance. If you need to cover large sections of water, a fast retrieve works better. In the spring, bluefish will sometimes act uncharacteristically - swimming around in circles or finning along the surface. When the fish engage in this activity, perhaps related to spawning, they often will not bite. A slow-moving pencil popper can motivate bluefish to strike.
Splashing the Surf
Surface-splashing poppers are the mainstay for shore anglers. They work in most water types, can be cast long distances, are ideal when fighting the wind and entice fish into striking. Because they make noise, move plenty of water and stand out in a turbulent chop - even a small popper can look large to bluefish. In rough water or in rolling surf, use a faster action to make as much commotion as possible. When fishing the plug through heavy white water, use a slower retrieve with loud splashes. As a wave rolls off the beach, cast and work the outer edge of that flow using hard pulls with the rod tip while letting the plug move with the flow. At times you will use only rod action, not retrieving, to make the plug pop. Fish the outer bar using a steady retrieve with a continuous splashing action. Watch the waves. After a wave breaks, cast into the bubbling water, fishing the top of the bar and the dropoff just inside the bar. A slow retrieve with aggressive rod-tip snaps makes the lure swim with a side-to-side action, dancing violently, yet moving very slowly through the water. This technique works with some splashing poppers and is ideal for pencil poppers. However, moving the rod tip with this much action while reeling slowly creates slack line, and you must keep tension on the line to prevent tangles. To eliminate slack line, hold the rod almost straight up and move the hand that grips the rod up to a position about 18 inches above the reel. Pinch the line between the thumb and forefinger as you reel - this will pack the line tightly onto the reel, eliminating casting bird's nests.
Running of the Blues
Bluefish winter in Florida before making runs up virtually the entire East Coast. Down South, look for runs to occur off the beach in December and continue along shore into March before the fish migrate north. They appear along North Carolina and Virginia in late March and April. Racer blues - skinny fish with big heads - migrate up the coast while other schools of fish leave the main group, staying through the summer in locations such as Chesapeake Bay and along the shorelines from Virginia to Massachusetts. In southern New England, fishing starts in late May and early June and can last all summer. The Northeast fall run starts in mid-September continuing into late October. The peak run occurs off the Outer Banks of Hatteras in North Carolina around Thanksgiving, and by mid- to late December bluefish begin to arrive back in Florida. The runs of big bluefish that occurred in the '70s to mid '80s at Race Point on Cape Cod and Great Point on Nantucket have diminished, likely due to the declining runs of menhaden. There is, however, still good fishing, and large numbers of smaller fish in recent years offer some hope for the future. From Montauk Point on Long Island south to North Carolina there are good numbers of fish, and the Outer Banks boasts probably the best bluefishing anywhere.