Eat Bluefish!

Keeper stripers showed in good numbers this week, so why the F are we killing them all!

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Yes, we finally had some good striper fishing this week, which is a darn good thing, as at least for a few days I don’t feel like strangling everyone.

What’s left of the last strong year class we had, the 2003s, seems to have finally stumbled across all those immense schools of bunker that have been loitering along the south shore of western Long Island. (The 2011s were strong also, but they have yet to recruit). It was actually pretty epic at times, with adult menhaden spraying out of the water as 25- to 35-pound bass boiled underneath them. They were taking surface plugs, even flies if you fished them right. Most people of course were live lining. … Pretty much everyone was killing fish. I mean a lot of them. Unfortunate that this exploded on Sunday, so there were a lot of boats out and a lot of guys on the beach. All of them killing fish.

I get it, man. Bass haven’t really been around in good numbers in the last few years, so when they did show, everyone felt they had the right. And I suppose they did. Still, it doesn’t make it right.

But before getting to that, lemme just talk about the lack of fish. Some of the unenlightened still blame it on the weather, confirming their armchair theories with the sudden onslaught of 2003s in June. But that ain’t it. There are simply less stripers around. We all see it on the water, and it’s been pretty well documented by the pointy-head science guys, also. But these infrequent slugs of fish moving though, while awesome even as they become more short-lived and infrequent, probably aren’t helping convince managers that there’s a real problem.

It’s not unusual for fish to be locally abundant, even when a stock is depleted overall, and such pockets of good fish stand out even more when they appear in an otherwise empty sea. They have become the new norm in the striped bass fishery, and it’s kinda a bummer. I pretty much built my business around the schoolie fishery. I really hate to be one of those old guys waxing about “how it used to be,” but we used to consistently catch a dozen, maybe two dozen fish in the 18- to 24-inch range, with the occasional good fish (in the 30- to 40-inch range) mixed in. Even if we didn’t catch a good fish, there was always the expectation that we could, and that always brought people back.

Now what we have are scenarios like the one I described above, where we have brief but extraordinary showings of fish, all of which are generally large. A couple of years ago, right around July 4th , we actually stuck more 40 and 50s in the space of a just few days than I had ever seen in my life. On the third day, I ran out of Breezy Point after telling my clients how awesome it had been the prior two days to find the same sort of bait concentrations, identical conditions, but zero fish. The small but concentrated body of fish had simply moved on. There wasn’t much before them, and nothing came in their wake.

I’m all for extraordinary fishing, but it’s tough to handle the huge highs and then the low lows. I imagine it’s like coming down from a good crack buzz or something. Leaves you empty and just wanting more. For sure I’d rather just have the sort of consistency we used to have, which comes with a healthy fishery and a good distribution of age classes, so I don’t feel like I want to punch everyone during three-quarters of the fishing season.

But I’ve talked about all this stuff before, and I’m getting off track. The point is that when these fish do show up, why do we all feel compelled to kill them? I mean, come on man. Don’t we realize that these are the last of a great year class and it would benefit us all to just let them go so that maybe we can catch them again next year? For Christ’s sake, the big ones don’t even taste good! If you’ve ever eaten a fish over 40 inches I’m guessing you know what I mean. They have those thin purple veins throughout the fillet. I imagine it’s very similar to eating a ribeye from an 80-year-old steer. Yuck!

While we’re on the subject, striped bass in general doesn’t really taste like anything. Sure it’s “white” and “flakey,” which for some reason is what the magazines say we should want from our fish, but seriously, it’s relatively tasteless. Sure, it’s good when you fry it, but anything is good fried. I suppose all the chefs like it because it’s, well, bland and serves as a good medium for various sauces they’ve concocted, and I get that also. But I dunno man. When I eat fish, I kinda want it to taste like fish.

So … brass tacks. I’m sure there are some who may disagree with me here, but as a food fish, striped bass generally sucks. And as we all pretty much know at this point, the stock is in trouble. If all of you guys really give a shit about the stock as much as you say you do, then stop killing them! I know, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hunt. Hell, if you don’t get all fired up when it goes off, then you shouldn’t be fishing! But take a step back next time you get into them good. And think to yourself all the reasons you should just snap a quick photo and throw that big beautiful fish back in the water, so it can spawn again, so that another angler can encounter it one day, when it’s even bigger!

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Photo by Capt. John McMurray

Listen, there are plenty of bluefish around right now. In fact, I’ve been having some epic fishing in just a couple feet of water, fishing poppers for some monster bluefish. If you are turning your nose up right now, you are gonna have a really tough seven or eight years before the striped bass resource gets back to where it should be. And that’s assuming Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission does the right thing, and we all know it may not.

The point is that if you want to bring something home for the table, kill a bluefish.

Don’t give me that bullshit about how you simply “don’t like” bluefish. And yeah, I’ve heard the one about placing a bluefish on plank. Placing the plank and the fish on a grill. Cooking for 30 minutes, then throwing away the fish and eating the plank.

The truth is the stigma comes from all those jackasses eating bluefish that are either too large (and have been eating bunker their whole lives) or aren’t fresh. Dollars to doughnuts, if you don’t like bluefish, that’s because you haven’t prepared them right. So I’m gonna do you a huge favor and give you my double-secret bluefish recipe, even though I’ve been hoarding it for myself and my family for the last 20 years.

Trust me. If you like fish at all, you will like this!

First, cut the throat of the fish when you catch it and let it bleed out on the ice. Then,

  • Take a “small” bluefish (5 pounds and under), fillet and skin.
  • Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees or as hot as that MF will go
  • Put a generous slab of butter on a 12 inch by 12 inch piece of aluminum foil
  • Put the fillet on top of it
  • Generously salt then cover it with lemon pepper (if you don’t have, then just use lemon juice and cracked pepper)
  • Put two more generous tabs of butter on top
  • Slice up some onions and place across the fillet
  • Wrap up the fillet
  • Place it on a cookie sheet
  • Note: if you do more than one fillet, wrap each fillet individually
  • Cook for 8 to 10 minutes
  • Put on plate, open the foil and eat right from the foil (note: there is no reason to remove it from the foil. If you do that you will totally F it up).
  • Note: Asparagus goes really good with this, and so does a baked potato … and, um, so does an ice cold Budweiser out of a can. You fancy beer snobs can drink whatever trendy IPA you might have in the fridge. And, um, the wife says pinot grigio goes well with it also.

Yes, bluefish is a “fishy” tasting fish, and yes, the big ones can be “oily.” But the ones under five pounds, if fresh, are really F’n good if you just give them a chance – especially when they are prepared in the way described above, where you are basically steaming the fillet in butter. I mean really, what could be better? There are a lot of other ways to prepare them. Capt. Paul Eidman makes ceviche, which I haven’t yet tried, but I’m told is awesome. (Hook us up with a recipe, Paul!)

The point of all this drivel about killing/cooking/eating bluefish is so you knuckleheads might think twice about killing bass in the increasingly rare instances they do show these days. Seriously, just because they haven’t been around, should we knock the shit out of them when they do show? Is that bland striped bass fillet with the gnarly veins running though it worth the spawning potential you just destroyed? The answer is no! All the talk means nothing if you choose not to walk the walk. Take home a couple of bluefish instead. Try that recipe, then thank me in the morning.

Peace…

avatar

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Loyola College in Maryland, Captain John McMurray served in the US Coast Guard for four years as a small-boat coxswain and marine-fisheries law enforcement officer. He was then recruited to become the first Executive Director of the Coastal Conservation Association New York. He is currently the Director of Grants Programs at the Norcross Wildlife Foundation in New York. He is the owner and primary operator of “One More Cast” Charters. John is a well known and well published outdoor writer, specializing in fisheries conservation issues. In 2006 John was awarded the Coastal Conservation Association New York Friend of Fisheries Conservation Award.

Posted in Conservation
23 comments on “Eat Bluefish!
  1. avatar Bluefish Fan says:

    Bleeding and icing are critical. If you like salmon but shun bluefish, you are a confused soul.

    Marinate a filet in Soy and Veggie oil for a half hour or so. Grill it flesh side first on a hot grill. Flip once, finish on the skin side. When cooked through, slide spatula between flesh and skin, lifting the grilled fish off and leaving the skin behind. Little wasabi mayo as a topper and some Corn on the Cob, caprese salad, and a beer. Pretty much summer in a meal.

  2. Damn… that sounds awesome. Gonna try that. But bluefish fall apart kinda easily. How do you keep it from falling through the grill?

  3. avatar Steve Stepanian says:

    Amen!

  4. avatar Tammy says:

    Capt John it’s all wrapped in foil. Caught a few blues yesterday, recipe sounds great! Have one for Spanish Mac?

  5. avatar Larry says:

    Try throwing in some capers too.

  6. We are seeing the same ignorant keeper killing up north as well. We’re trying to educate but as long as the rule makers say everything is fine, then the killing will continue. Keep the good work John!

  7. avatar Tony Cone says:

    Bleeding and icing are an absolute for Blue Fish. I agree on the Bass. However I feel that it will take a total collapse of the stock before people wake up. Then it will be the typical Commercial vs Sport fisherman finger pointing. Nothing is more depressing than seeing a guy on a dock with the two “slobs” he landed. Who eats 2 keeper bass? And who would freeze them? These days when I do go out to fish I’ll spend more time targeting blues, porgies or fluke rather than bass.

  8. avatar Tony Cone says:

    Here’s a classic example. I’ve been going to this shop for years and enjoy doing business there but at some point those closest to the fish need to take a step back and appraise their actions and long term future.

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/LI-Outdoorsman/170307516348420

  9. Well said, as a guide in Maine we see it to the max. Hell! We are lucky to see Bluefish every year!

  10. avatar rob says:

    I’ve said this to a whole lot of friends. And as a Chef that recipe is great. But you should still try to take the blood line out, even on a bigger fish. That’s where all the bad taste come’s from. For recipe: add some garlic and FRESH HERBS. “EAT FISH LIVE LONG”

  11. avatar Chris Elkins says:

    Great article and recipe seems delightful.

    For a little variety, do the bluefish the same, but add some sliced mushrooms and swiss cheese on top. I know it sounds funky, but I found this out of an old bluefish cook book. You know the one that has the bluefish cooked in the dishwasher recipe.

  12. avatar Warren A. Jacobs says:

    I share you taste in fish, love blues, even the big ones (just handle them right) I think the striper problem might be reduced if slotfish rules would come back. Some of us are always going to keep fish to eat, it’s one of the reasons we fish. I’d feel far less compelled to keep a breeder if I had a good chance of putting a couple of slots in the cooler.

  13. Grilled Bluefish Parmesan

    2 pounds fresh bluefish fillets
    2 tablespoons lemon juice
    ¾ cup mayonnaise
    ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
    1 teaspoon fresh dill
    ¼ cup bread crumbs

    Place fillets, skin-sides down, in a single layer on a greased pan (suitable for the grill). Brush with lemon juice.

    In small bowl, combine mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese and dill. Evenly spread mixture on top of fillets.
    Sprinkle bread crumbs on top.
    Place on grill over medium heat, close cover and cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

    Serves 6-8 people

  14. avatar Thomas genoski says:

    My wife came home one day with smoked bluefish from the Chelsea market. As a lifelong non-bluefish eater, it floored me. The price label did so as well. $15 per lb. I’ve been smoking my own bluefish ever since. The only way I can describe it is sea bacon. You will not regret it. 140 degrees for 4 hours with a mild wood.

  15. avatar Bob Quick says:

    When I lived in NJ we use to go out a party boats exclusively for Blues! My wife (of 35 Years yesterday 6/16) got this recipe from her father’s cousin in Connecticut and it’s now my favorite:
    Shake salt shaker all over fish
    Cover with Real Lemon (OK you chefs can use real lemons but that’s work)
    Combine:
    1 5oz jar of horseradish (drained)
    1 cup sour cream
    1 cup mayonnaise
    Mix well and cover filets with mixture
    shake paprika on top
    Bake 1/2 hour at 400 degrees
    Believe me it’s to die for! Now all I have to do is find a head boat in Virginia Beach that goes out exclusively for blues??? So far they look funny at me when I ask, but they also call stripers rock fish, and weakfish, trout???

  16. avatar Ronald H Mattson Sr says:

    Sometime somehow somewhere on the East Coast of the USA Striped Bass Fisherpeople will get it. The states of North Carolina,Virginia,Maryland and the single most important agency controlling the Striped Bass Fishery,the ASMFC,will NEVER..NEVER..Never err on the side of the resource.Time to pack in all the B/S and replicate what happened on our Gulf Coast during the 1980’s in respect to redfish and speckled trout.The push to make Striped Bass a gamefish is the only salvation. If you say no..check with me in 10 years!

  17. avatar Louis says:

    You are a ‘knucklehead’ for calling people that. Use words wisely when writing to persuade and influence others.

  18. avatar Ronald Lomas says:

    Bluefish don’t taste as gamey when marinated in some type of acid marinade, lemon juice or tomato sauce which I tend to prefer even if they are on the large side (10#’s+).
    I also agree with many of the posters that now the bass need to be released because the “schools” are smaller and more concentrated than they were just a few years ago. I do not have a magic bullet but something has to change and what we did with the last collapse didn’t solve the problem so its time to try a new approach.

  19. avatar Tom Kovalicky says:

    It seems to me I remember Bluefish Fillets,W/O the skin,BROILED with butter and Lemon and Paprika….Nates Oyster Bar in Clifton NJ, used to serve it that way back in the 50’s….He used what looks like a small Pizza Pan, with melted butter, then the fillet, then more butter on top with the lemon and paprika or today perhaps OlD BAY.. He would also splash a little water onto the pan before.Sliding it under a Broiler, and cook until crusty on top….It was delicious….I love the captains advice about killing stripers with the low populations….Are sport fisherman allowed to sell their catch?? tom Kovalicky, Grangeville, Idaho

  20. avatar Bluefish Fan says:

    @Capt. John-Grilling the bluefish with skin on flesh down for the first half holds it together. After the flip, you essentially cook the other half and then slide the flesh from the skin when removing, leaving skin behind. Only one flip! Can’t let the idle hands do what they love to do.

  21. avatar Joe GaNun says:

    Last time I ate bluefish.
    Circa 1970, my friend GD McKernan and I kayaked out into the sound, had too much beer, almost got lost/killed or both in a fog and chased by a 75# dog when we got out on an island for a pee. We barely got home and bought the bluefish from a guy at the inlet. Oh, did I mention the fine and giant window sticker for illegal parking in Ct ! Again oh ! his bathrooms ceiling fell on me while I took a squirt…he was BBCuing the blue.
    Circa 1963 I caught about 8-10 blues of the 7# variety on a headboat out of Sheepshead bay, Amberjack ( original ) I think.
    Threw them in a sack and boarded the train with a transfer somewhere in the city during rush hour….never could figure out why I had a whole section of the car to myself. Took em home, cleaned em, ate em, and never have I understood why there is a stigma attached to eating blues. I’ll bet if we started calling them “tailors” they would make it onto some exclusive menus around town.

  22. avatar Jarlath Crowe says:

    Finally! There is someone else, who shares my opinion that Stripers have absolutely no taste to it. I love the Blue Fish, but wifey doesn’t! I finally hit on the bottle of Honey Mustard, which I pour on the Blue Fish fillet for a bit while before baking…Voila! Great tasting for wife and me to enjoy.

  23. avatar Jill Roberts says:

    I haven’t tried bluefish but your post made me curious. Your recipe of grilled bluefish parmesan seems delicious. Thanks for sharing!

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