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September 21, 2007

Stellwagen Blues Festival

In a quest for Monster bluefish, the author finds himself in a surreal world of giant sand eels, whales . . . and striped bass.

Part 2


Sunrise is the best time to encounter surface action under swirling gulls. Photo by John Pirie

If you want to experience the best surface action, Pirie recommends getting to the bank before first light, since the blues feed most aggressively from dawn until about 9:00 a.m. As the sun rises, they tend to hold deeper in the water column, although they often pop up sporadically on the surface throughout the day.

Stellwagen is a pretty big place, and bluefish can be encountered almost anywhere along its edges. However, two areas that offer consistent action are the northwest and southwest corners. The northwest corner is where we did our fishing last year, and lies roughly 25 miles from Boston Harbor. On a calm day you can get there in about 30 or 40 minutes.

Soft-Plastics Score

During surface blitzes, the blues will hit a variety of poppers, swimming plugs, bucktail jigs and metal spoons. If there's no activity on top, try "yo-yoing" jigs or metal lures through the water column. Simply drift through areas where you have marked fish on the sounder or seen them busting on the surface, then have everyone on board work a different level of the water column. Once someone finds the hot zone, send all your lures to that depth.

a hungry blue
Flies don't last long in the jaws of a hungry blue. Photo by John Pirie

Three of the best baits for jigging are the jumbo (9") black-over-white Slug-Go, the big Fin-S-Fish and Kalin's Evil Eels. Not surprisingly, these soft-plastic baits imitate Stellwegan's mega sand eels, and should be rigged on a two- or three-ounce leadhead to get them deep. Black-over-white does the best job of imitating a sand eel, although fluorescent colors often work well on overcast days. No matter what kind of soft-plastic lure you use, don't expect them to last long in the jaws of a big blue, so bring an ample supply.

In the fly department, Pirie has had the best success with long (9"), bright Deceivers and big Clousers. Yellow and chartreuse seem to be the best colors at this time of year. Pirie usually fishes his flies on an Orvis Depthcharge or other fast-sinking line to get them deep, and uses a long, slow retrieve. If the blues are holding very deep, it's sometimes necessary to let the line sink for 30 seconds or more before beginning the retrieve.

Stellwagen Stripers?

Be aware that bluefish aren't the only predators you'll run into at Stellwagen. Trophy-sized striped bass also invade the bank in late May and early June, sometimes outnumbering the blues. The preponderance of large bass on Stellwagen has led some people to surmise that many of the big, adult fish are choosing to spend the season in offshore spots like Stellwagen rather than move inshore, where they are more heavily targeted by anglers and seals. If you fished Stellwagen last year, you'd have no trouble believing this theory.

Trophy striped bass are also abundant at Stellwagen during the spring.
Trophy striped bass are also abundant at Stellwagen during the spring. Photo by John Pirie

As you would suspect, the stripers also gorge themselves on the abundant supply of big sand eels, and will aggressively attack the same lures and flies used for blues. While targeting striped bass in federal waters is illegal, there's not much you can do about it if one decides to latch onto your fly or lure while you're fishing for blues. Try to land the fish quickly and remove the hook with a minimal amount of handling, then return it quickly to the water.

Another federal regulation you need to be aware of is the law that prohibits the harassment of marine mammals, in this case whales. It may be tempting to approach a whale to get a closer look, but boats are required to maintain a distance of at least 300 feet. Of course, a whale that approaches you is a different matter. In any case, be very careful when boating in an area where whales are feeding, as it is possible to collide with them or injure them with your boat props. Pirie recommends that you keep your engines running at all times to let the whales know where you are.

Aside from catching blues and avoiding whales, there are other ways to amuse yourself at Stellwagen. If you're into bottom fishing, take a break from the bluefish action and send down a jig or clam. Codfishing at Stellwagen has improved greatly over the last few seasons, and anglers now stand a reasonable chance of hooking some decent-sized fish. Just be sure to keep a rod rigged with a popping plug nearby in case the blues suddenly decide to pay a visit.

Capt. John Pirie, right, shows off a snaky blue taken on fly gear.
Capt. John Pirie, right, shows off a snaky blue taken on fly gear. Photo by Tom Richardson

Other than the fishing, one of the great things about Stellwagen is its close proximity to a number of Massachusetts ports. Anglers from Provincetown to Gloucester can easily make the run in a large or midsized boat. Given this, you might expect Stellwagen to get pretty crowded, but that wasn't the case last spring. Aside from the handful of center consoles fishing for blues and cod, and a few "stick boats" looking for the first tuna of the season, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. Later in the morning, the big whale-watch boats from Boston and Gloucester would arrive, packed with school children and tourists, all of them wondering what the heck we were catching among all those humpbacks and minkes. Whales and bluefish! Who would have figured?

New Video Targets Trolling Tactics

Captain Al Lorenzetti's video "Trolling for Bass and Blues" is packed with solid how-to information for those just getting into this exciting facet of the sport, as well as seasoned anglers who want to fine-tune their tactics. Both shallow- and deep-trolling techniques are explained in detail, with special emphasis on setting up the various rod-and-reel outfits and rigging terminal tackle. Wire-line, downriggers and mono-line trolling are covered, with clear step-by-step instructions filmed on shore as well as out on the water. There's even a section on how to use electronics to increase your fishing success. This is a well-thought-out video that combines instruction with some nicely shot action footage. 50 min., $29.95, available by mail order through Books Now, (800) 962-6651 or through www.clicksmart.com/swsmag. - Ed.

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Stellwagen Bluefish Charters

Capt. John Pirie
(978) 468-1314, www.olfc.com
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Capts. Nat Moody & Derek Spengler
(978) 526-4477
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Capt. Ralph Poness
(508) 370-4476
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Capt. Danny Warrington
(978) 758-1256
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