Story by Tom Pagliaroli

A precursor to the autumn migration of bigger and much bigger bluefish as well as striped bass, the run of “cocktail” blues, those ¾ – 2 lb. tooth-studded golden-eyed gang bangers, is underway in the inlets and along the beaches from Long Branch to Cape May.

Chasing and tearing through the vast schools of peanut bunker, spearing, rainfish and finger mullet that are vacating the bays and tidal rivers and making their seasonal suicide runs down the sands, the flesh-crazed cocktails are providing near non-stop action from the first hint of daylight and into the first hour of darkness.

The cast ‘n catch fishing can be manic, for sure, and is a ton of light tackle fun. No need for flagpole-length surf rods, banana-sized pugs or metals, grenade weight sinkers and hooks big enough to rip out the jaw of the Loch Ness Monster.

This is light tackle fishing at its most fun. With the rowdy cocktails imbibing pretty much in the wash or just beyond it, or coursing close by the inlet jetty rocks, long casts are not necessary. Figure 99% of the time a 7 to 7-1/2 foot rod will do nicely coupled with a size 2 or 3 (2000 or 3000) spinning reel spooled with 10 or 15-lb. braid. This goes for the beach or inlet. This will give the miniature choppers a chance to showcase their dogged fighting ability. With the bait on the smaller side, go with the downsized 3/8 to 3/4-oz. plugs and ½ to 1-oz. Metals.

Generally, a wire leader is not necessary when the blues are in this size range, but why risk a lost fish? They are by no means leader shy, so go with a 6-inch thin wire leader. These will not impede lure action and will prevent the chance of a sliced line.

The bait game could necessitate the move to a beefier 8-foot rod if waves are active and/or the current has significant tug to it. Figure anywhere from 2 to 3- oz. of ballast, and opt for the pyramid style sinker. Remember: the cocktails will be in easy lob range most of the time. A standard hi-lo rig baited with chunks of fresh finger mullet or peanut bunker will get ‘em chomping. A super-effective way to present a whole finger mullet is with the specially designed Fireball rig.

The daily limit is 15 fish.

From this corner, eating blues this size is almost as enjoyable as catching them. Filleted and skinned, rolled in flour, dipped in an egg wash, coated with seasoned panko and then fried quickly in peanut oil, well, this will dispel any preconceived opinion that bluefish “Don’t make good eating”.  Another way to appreciate the cocktail’s delicate flavor is to place skin-intact fillets skin side on a sheet of aluminum foil that has been lightly brushed with olive oil. Drizzle generously with a combination of melted butter and lemon juice and top with chopped green pepper, onions and mushrooms, and coat lightly with a brush or two of olive oil. Form a tent from the aluminum foil, leaving a slight opening at the top. Grill over medium heat for 12-14 minutes.

Trout About: The first segment of the October trout stocking program concludes this week. The two weeks of stocking will see 20,590 rainbows weighing and average of 1-1/2 lbs. and measuring 14-16 inches liberated in 36 lakes and streams throughout 20 of the Garden State’s 21 counties.

In the mix will be approximately 1000 spent breeders between 18-22 inches weighing upwards of 5-lbs.

Southern tier county waters will be dosed heavily next week, with the northern swims such as the Big Flatbrook, and rivers Musconetcong, Pequest Black and North and South Branches of the Raritan, among others, receiving rainbows this week.

Three waters in the 105.7 The Hawk listening area were stocked this past Tuesday. These include the Toms River (260) and the Toms River Trout Conservation Area (TCA/100); the North Branch of the Metedeconk River (160) and the South Branch of the Metedeconk River (260).

The daily limit is four with a minimum length of 9-inches, except in the Toms River TCA where it is one fish at a 15-inch minimum.

More from The Hawk: