becoming soft



The bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix ), called tailor in Australia, is a species of popular marine game-fish found in all climates. It is the sole species of the Pomatomidae family.

In South Africa, this fish is commonly known as shad on the east coast, and elf on the west coast. Shad can not be commercially sold in KwaZulu-Natal and has a closed season (currently October and November) to allow for breeding. On the west coast Elf is a commercially fished species.


The bluefish is a moderately proportioned fish, with a broad, forked tail. The spiny first dorsal fin is normally folded back in a groove, as are its pectoral fins. Coloration is a grayish blue-green dorsally, fading to white on the lower sides and belly. Its single row of teeth in each jaw are uniform in size, knife-edged and sharp. Bluefish commonly range in size from seven inch (18 cm) "snappers" to as much as forty pounds (18 kg), though fish heavier than twenty pounds (9 kg) are exceptional.

United States migration

Life history

Bluefish larvae are the size of zooplankton and are largely at the mercy of currents. Spent bluefish have been found off east central Florida, migrating north. As with most marine fish, their spawning habits are not well known. In the western side of the North Atlantic, there are at least two populations, separated by Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. The Gulf Stream can carry larvae spawned to the south of Cape Hatteras to the north, and eddies can spin off, carrying the larvae into populations found off the coast of the mid-Atlantic, and the New England states. The bluefish population is highly cyclical, with abundance varying widely over a span of ten years or more.

Feeding habits

Bluefish are voracious, predatory fish. Depending on area and season, they favor menhaden and other sardine-like fish (Clupeidae), jacks (Scombridae), weakfish (Sciaenidae), grunts (Haemulidae), striped anchovies (Engraulidae), shrimp and squid. They should be handled with care due to their ability to snap at an unwary hand. In July 2006, a 7 year-old girl was attacked on a beach, near the Spanish town of Alicante, allegedly by a bluefish.

Bluefish are cannibalistic. For this reason, bluefish tend to swim in schools of similarly-sized specimens.

Gear and methods

Bluefish are an important recreational and commercial fish.

Sport fishing

Sport fishermen prize bluefish for their fighting ability and cooperativeness. When hooked, bluefish display their dogged strength by making numerous fast runs and an average of 5 acrobatic leaps. Never give a bluefish any slack when you are reeling because it could get off. I have caught many bluefish and most of them had already spit the hook out themselves once I had them in the boat.


Bluefish eagerly take a wide variety of fresh baits. Live or cut menhaden, mullet, mackerel, spearing, killifish, eels, squid, shrimp, ladyfish pieces, bunker or similar baitfish are all productive, especially when matched to whatever bluefish may be primarily feeding on at the time. Bluefish eagerly take artificial baits as well. Either trolled or cast with a fast retrieve, shiny spoons and the full range of bright-colored plugs, jigs, plus fluorescent-colored tube lures are all effective. Noisy surface lures at dawn or dusk near a sharp dropoff or in shallow water are also productive, which many fisherman find adds to the excitement as a bluefish attacks their lure on the surface.

Bluefish will occasionally "skyrocket"--leap out of the water before landing on and attacking a top water lure or live bait fished at the surface--a spectacular sight for most fishermen.

Little skill is needed to hook a bluefish when a school is in a feeding frenzy. They will ravenously strike any natural bait or shiny lure--even a shiny coin tossed into their midst.


Bluefish are known to hit just about anything.

Medium-light to medium weight spinning or bait-casting rigs are standard. 8 to 12 pound test line is common when targeting bluefish in the 1 to 3 pound range, while 20 pound test and matched tackle may be the choice when targeting larger specimens, such as pictured above.

Fishermen typically present natural baits on a size 3/0 or 4/0 hook, sometimes followed by a smaller "stinger" hook. These are attached to wire tippets about 6 inches long, which are attached either by swivel or Albright Special to 3 to of 50 to 80 pound monofilament leader. Larger hooks are appropriate for larger baits and bluefish. Some fishermen instead choose only a heavy monofilimant leader attached to a long-shank hook, which usually avoids the bluefish's sharp teeth. Artificial lures are presented on similar leader arrangements. Steel leaders are a benefit since their razor sharp teeth will cleanly snip through any normal fishing line.

Some adventuresome anglers target bluefish with flyrods tipped with large, brightly-colored and tinsel-lined streamers or surface poppers. Due to their schooling and ravenous feeding habits, bluefish are among the easier ocean-faring targets for those trying their hand at heavy fly tackle. In South Africa, this fish is commonly caught on a bare hook as the shining action in the water attracts these sportfish.

Commercial fishing

Commercial fishermen take bluefish in the one to 4 pound range. Steel leaders are a must since their razor sharp teeth will cleanly snip through any normal fishing line .


Although a commercially important fish, bluefish are somewhat oily and strong flavored. To minimize this and any "fishy" taste, they should be gutted, iced promptly, and eaten fresh. If the fish is not quickly taken care of in this way, the meat will rapidly deteriorate, becoming soft and mushy and assuming a steadily greyer pigmentation. Younger bluefish are actually the best for eating. Whatever the size, fishermen will sometimes slit the throat of a just-caught bluefish to allow them to bleed out. Additionally, the fillets are often skinned and the dark red meat on the skin-side and along the lateral line, which is more strongly flavored, is often filleted out, leaving only the white, slightly gray-blue hued flesh behind. Bluefish lends itself to the full range of culinary preparation methods, plus they are often smoked, particularly larger specimens.

As a migratory fish near the top of the food chain, bluefish can accumulate many toxins in their system ranging from PCBs to mercury. As with most fish of such nature, they should not be consumed by pregnant or nursing women, or children under 6.

Other uses

Bluefish are often caught and used as live bait for tuna, shark, or billfish.

Similar Species

Bluefish are the only members now included in the Pomatomidae family. At one time, gnomefishes were once included but these are now in grouped in a separate family, Scombropidae.


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