my fishing cape cod logo

Bluefish CAN Taste Delicious!

Dex Chadsey

A lifetime ago, I would spend two weeks each August on the Jersey Shore. It consisted of beautiful white sand beaches, tropical blue water, and bluefish. Lots of bluefish!

Striped bass pass along the Jersey coast in the spring, and again in the fall during their north and south migrations. We are very fortunate that they spend the summer here in the waters off Cape Cod.

With the abundance of blues during the summer months, I've learned that they can in fact make excellent table fare. How you care for bluefish after catching will make all the difference come dinner time!

More...


Mid-Summer Blues

New Jersey anglers spend their summers chasing bluefish, often from a New York and New Jersey phenomenon called the “party boat” or “head boat”.

This name comes from the fact that anglers are charged a fare by the head or as an individual. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a charter and having to organize a group, one person can step onboard for a ¾ day trip for $60.

Head boats do come with their challenges though, as over 100 anglers can be on each trip.

Fish are often put in dry bags then left out in the hot sun, which makes them not suitable for eating. If you take care of bluefish after catching, they will taste delicious when you bring them home.

After many trips and lots of trial and error, I developed a protocol for caring for my catch.


Preparation

Bring a very large oversized cooler about 2/3 filled with ice. A large fish placed in a small cooler will stay in a curved position after rigor mortis sets in. This will make them more difficult to fillet and should be avoided.

Also bring a smaller cooler ½ filled with ice, and about 10 zip lock plastic bags in the gallon size, as well as a very sharp fillet knife.

I opt to keep the smaller cooler inside the cabin, and keep the larger one next to me where I'll be fishing.

Critical Step: Catch a Bluefish!

When you start to catch bluefish, put them in the large cooler immediately after landing them

You can cut by the gills or the arteries by the tail to cause the fish to bleed out. However, I never had the heart nor took the time to do this.

Even if you don’t make a cut, bluefish will bleed somewhat into the cooler. If blood is allowed to pool in the fish as it dies, the meat will be darker and have that “gamey” taste that people don’t like.

The poorly prepared fillets will look like this:

You'll notice later in the post how much fresher they appear when they're cared for properly!


"Get the Blood off Them"

Use a pull bucket tied to a rope to get enough seawater to cover the ice and fish. You want to create a slurry of very cold icy water that covers the fish.

Just keeping them cold in ice is not enough. An old timer once told me, "you have to keep the blood off them."

You need to keep replenishing the water as it drains out. The draining is very important, as each time you add more fish to the cooler you add more blood.

Bluefish that have just been caught will puke up baitfish or bits of chum in the cooler. The bits of baitfish may eventually clog the drain. Be sure to check that water is running out of drain.

You may need to add more water, or clean out the drain with a small metal object. You don’t want them to sit in bloody water.

What not to do!


Filleting your Fresh Catch

The captain heads back to port after a long day of fishing. Most fishermen will take this time to relax, pop a few cold ones or take cover inside the cabin.

This is when I spring to action, especially if it will be a short ride back to the dock.

You want to take care of your fish outside of the inlet where you can toss the carcasses overboard and rinse the blood off the boat and your equipment. You can’t do this once the boat is inside the inlet or at the dock and it’s too messy and smelly to do at home.

Your position on the boat is important: you want to pick a spot on the leeward side so you won’t be drenched by spray as the boat motors through the waves, and towards the stern so you're not near the crew as they scrub down the boat on the ride in. 


Filleting Technique

I bring the small cooler out from the cabin and put it next to me, then remove my fish one at a time from the large cooler and lay them on the top using the lid as a cutting board. I also have a draw bucket next to me about 2/3 full of fresh seawater.

Holding the head, I make a cut down to the spine from just behind the pectoral fin, then curve the blade towards the tail and cut above the vertebra of the spine all the way to the tail.

Then flip the fillet over so that the skin is on the cutting board. While tightly holding onto the very end of the pointed part of the fillet, make a cut through the meat down to the skin without cutting the skin.

Then turn the blade away from your fingers that are holding the fillet. While keeping the knife slightly tilted towards the skin, pull the skin back and forth so that it is cut from the rest of the fillet. Keep the knife still and steady, and just move the skin. Once you're done, turn the fish over and repeat the process.

As each fillet is completed, I dip it in the water in the bucket to get any scales or blood off, then put it into a plastic bag, which goes into the small cooler.

I throw each empty carcass and the skin over the side as I finish with it. When I am finished I wash down the cooler and the area where I was working.

Some people prefer to have the mates on the boat fillet their fish. In Jersey, the going rate is about one dollar per fish. I choose to do it myself, as some trips I reach my 10 fish New Jersey limit.


Final Fillet Prep

This is a clear light colored fillet. This fish was bled out so the blood was not allowed to pool inside this fish.

However, the dark sections in the Bluefish fillet are not good to eat. You can see them below as dark red down the center or almost black in the area that was just underneath the skin.

These areas contain fat deposits and are where toxins such as PCBs and heavy metals accumulate. Larger, older fish will have more fat deposits and more contaminants. Once I get home, I further process the fillets to get rid of this part by holding my fillet knife flat against the fillet and slicing off the dark part.


Cooking Your Catch!

Though there are many ways to cook Bluefish, I believe the best way is to grill the fillets. I brush the fillets with some Italian dressing before, and again during cooking.

A fish screen or rack will prevent pieces from falling through the grates as the fish cooks and starts to flake. Additionally, the fillets should be turned at least once.

In this picture you can see the dark part that should have been removed. You can remove it before cooking or scrape it out with the corner of a spatula once the fillet has been cooked.

The end results should not only be tolerable, but quite delicious!

Tight Lines!​

What do you think?

Let me know by commenting below.

  1. For an inshore fishing enthusiast ,i couldn’t describe the excitement when you start reeling the fish out of the water. They are feisty and always will put a good fight even the cocktail blues. It is one of the great eating fish esp.when you grilled it.

    Reply
  2. catching up on my reading and found this article. I have simply thrown my bluefish on ice and hours later fillet and eat – and I enjoyed them. This summer I will do a better job! Can’t wait to see if they taste even better. Thanks Dex!

    Reply
    1. Try smoking the bluefish as well Rick. Smoked bluefish is incredible!

      Reply
  3. Dex – I knew that you have to actually bleed blue fish almost immediately but I have another question about gutting it. I’ve been told, and I’m wondering if you could confirm with your own experience, it’s necessary to gut it immediately too. Bluefish stomach acid level is really high. If you don’t gut the fish, then It will basically start self digesting its own flesh resulting in mushy texture.

    Reply
    1. That is a very interesting point Jane!

      I have never gutted bluefish (just bled them out) but perhaps I should be.

      If I can dig up any more information about bluefish and their stomach acids then I will post back here and let you know.

      Reply
  4. Try soaking the bluefish (or any fish) fillets in milk for 20 minutes prior to any kind of marinade to reduce that “gamey taste”. I agree that grilling our local catch is always the best way to enjoy. Bluefish can also make a great fish chouder or saute with tomato onion, and zucchini over rice.

    Reply
    1. Thanks for the tip Robert,
      A favorite at our house is this great recipe from Lauren Collins as an accompaniment to any fish.
      http://creativelydelish.com/sesame-soba-noodle-salad/
      Our 8 year old grand daughter keeps asking for it again! I add a bit of soy sauce.

      Reply
  5. Great information. Much appreciated by this novice.

    Reply
    1. Thanks Ken,
      As Ron Rudowsky suggested below. Any fish will taste better when it is carefully cared for after being caught. In a recent Pod Cast, Ryan Collins talked about bleeding Striped Bass and storing them in a cold water bath as soon as they were brought onto the boat.

      Reply
  6. Well done article ! MANY years ago, we prepped the fillets similarly, and then used the “shake & Bake” seasoning kits, and broiled them those bottom drawers of the old stoves.

    Reply
    1. Thanks Ron,
      I remember using Shake and Bake on Bluefish! That and mayonaise were the most popular way of baking and broiling fish. Do you remember storing the extra pots and pans in the drawer under the stove?

      Reply
  7. When I was a younger man and newly married (80’s) my wife and I rented a house in Green Harbor, a small village in beautiful Marshfield MA. I grew up in Norwell and fished the rivers and beaches of Marshfield and Scituate my whole life. The mouth of the North River, 3rd and 4th Cliff have produced innumerable monster stripers and blues over the years. So living in Green Harbor in the middle of all of that great fishing was awesome! My house was about 2 miles from the jetty at the mouth of Green Harbor a bigtime tuna hub and a real hot spot for bass and blues if your timing was right. I fished that jetty every chance I got, we were young and we both worked a lot but she loved grilled striper so I got the green light more often than not lol. On one of my early morning trips to the jetty I met an old salt drinking an Old Milwaukee 16 oz. beer at 05:00, bad ass fisherman lol. We struck up a conversation and soon I felt like I was getting my PHD in striper and blue fishing. He gave me my first pogie snare and helped me catch my first 12 lb. bluefish from that jetty. I pulled the hook from that blue and was about to through it back in the surf when he almost hit me with his custom surf rod. He asked me what I was doing and I told him that bluefish is gamey and that I was throwing it back into the surf. He replied, “Gamey!? That’s bullshit! I’ll tell you how to fillet and prepare a bluefish the proper way! Shut up and listen!” This old angler has forgotten more about fishin than I’ll ever know so I sat there and listened intently. His advice mirrored the advice that this article provides and I have to agree. Filleted and prepared properly bluefish is a fantastic fish to eat especially if you grill it. I apologize for the long winded story but this article reminded me of that old salt who was one hell of an angler. Cheers all Mac…

    Reply
    1. Hey Mac,
      Great Story! I have spent many happy times after dinner at local restaurants wandering around the Green Harbor Marina checking out all the fishing boats!
      I’ve fished the North River for holdovers before but will have to check out the spots you mentioned.

      Reply
  8. Well done Dex! The only thing I would add is bleeding and icing down any fish make for better eating.

    Reply
    1. Thanks Ron,
      I agree, ice or and an ice bath will keep any catch fresh for the table. It does takes a bit of planning and the right equipment.

      Reply
  9. Bluefish are delicious, and they make great tuna bait!

    Nicely done Dex, thank you.

    Reply
    1. Thank you Dex. Keep cooking, and fishing.

      Reply
      1. Thanks Jake,
        Did I ever tell you about the “Curse of Aunt Shirley”? Betsy’s Aunt Shirley has always been bewildered by the fact that I release all the Bass that I catch and keeps hounding me to catch one for her dinner. A few years ago near the end of the summer I caught a 20 pound fish at the Canal and decided to keep it for her. At the time I was doing really well at the Canal and other places. After keeping that fish I didn’t catch another fish at the Canal the rest of the summer, then I went fish less for 5 days on the Vineyard, and for 3 days at Cuttyhunk. A few weeks ago I was thinking about keeping a 30 pounder for her and then I remembered the “Curse of Aunt Shirley”! Sorry Shirley.

        Reply
    2. Thanks Ryan,
      Do you keep the blue fish alive to live line for tuna or do you use them a different way?

      Reply

Leave a Comment