One of the most dependable early-season fisheries in southern New England is the run of “bighead” bluefish along the southern shore of Cape Cod. These early-season choppers—powder-blue and all head—run anywhere from 8 to 15 pounds and provide some of the year’s most exciting topwater action for both plug and fly fishermen.
The key to this fishery is the presence of squid, which normally move inshore beginning in mid-May. Indeed, once you see the commercial squid boats trawling just off the beaches from Centerville to Falmouth, you can bet that the blues aren’t far behind. Several days of warm, summerlike southwest winds help to push the bait and blues inshore along the southern-facing beachfronts where the best fishing takes place. Prime fishing usually lasts until the second week in June.
The sandy shores of South Cape Beach (from the Waquoit jetties to Succonessett Shoal), Popponessett and the flats off Osterville and Cotuit tend to produce the most dependable action. On sunny, calm days it’s possible to drift along in depths of 5’ to 15’ and watch the blues moving across the flats in “wolfpacks”. This sets up some exciting sightcasting opportunities, although the fish can be surprisingly selective at times.
I prefer an incoming tide for fishing the South Cape area, as it tends to trap the squid and other prey along the sandbars and against beaches as they attempt to flee the blues. The blues get excited by the prime feeding opportunities, and become very aggressive.
A good way to locate the blues, if you can’t actually see them (sometimes they’ll even fin lazily on the surface) is to set up a drift and fan-cast the area with big topwater poppers. I like to fish big Cordell pencil poppers, which have a squid-like appearance and an internal rattle that seems to make a big difference to the fish. However, most any plug that kicks up a commotion will do the job if the fish are hungry.
Once the blues are located, you can expect numerous strikes on every cast. I usually rig my poppers with single hooks to facilitate catch and release when the fishing is hot. (To see a video on how to rig a pencil popper with a single hook, click here: Rigging a Single Hook Plug) By the way, a fish-holding device such as a BogaGrip makes releasing the big, feisty blues a lot easier—and safer.
Fly fishermen can score well at this time by casting long, squid-like streamers or poppers on floating or intermediate line. Use a 9-weight rod, especially in windy conditions. If the fish are scattered, have a friend locate and tease them to the boat with a hookless popper fished on spinning gear.
Tackle for these fish should be relatively beefy, so you can land the fish quickly without exhausting them and get back in the game. I prefer a fast-action 7’ rod rated for 12- to 25-pound line and a medium-size spinning reel spooled with 15-pound-test monofilament (braid works too, of course). A 12” wire leader with a beefy snap swivel will reduce cutoffs and save you money on lost plugs.
Wind direction can be critical to this fishery. A passing front producing sustained northwest winds can shut things down, either by lowering the surface temperature or blowing the bait offshore, or both. In other words, it helps if you can pick your days.