This section is from the book "American Game Fishes", by W. A. Perry. Also available from Amazon: American Game Fishes: Their Habits, Habitat, and Peculiarities; How, When, and Where to Angle for Them.
While not discrediting the statement of Mr. Pease, it seems a little remarkable that so few persons on the eastern coast have noticed the spawning in summer of the Blue-fish; and, although there maybe exceptions to the fact, it is not impossible that the spawning ground is in very early spring, or even in winter, off New Jersey and Long Island, or farther south. It is not impossible that, at a suitable period after spawning, the young, in obedience to their migratory instinct, may move northward along the coast, growing rapidly as they proceed. This explains the almost sudden appearance of fish of five inches about Wood's Holl.
We have the statement of Dr. Yarrow that vast schools of small Blue-fish were met within Beaufort harbor during the last week in December, 1871. These were in company with small schools of young Menhaden and Yellow Tailed Shad, and were apparently working their way toward the sea by the route of the inlet. When observed, they were coming from the southward through the sound, moving very slowly, at times nearly leaving it, and then returning. The largest were about four inches in length, and others were much smaller; and as many as twenty schools were observed from the wharf at Fort Macon, each of them occupying an area of from sixty to eighty feet square, and apparently from four to six feet in depth. I would not be much surprised if these fish should prove to have been spawned late in the year, off the southern coast.
The size of the Blue-fish varies with the season and the locality, those spending the summer on the southern coast, according to good authority, rarely exceeding two or three pounds in weight, and being generally considerably less. The largest summer specimens are those found farther to the eastward, where they are not infrequently met with weighing from ten to fifteen pounds, although this latter weight is quite unusual. Mr. Snow, of Nantucket, mentions having seen one of twenty-two pounds, and others give as their maximum from fourteen to twenty. The average size of the schools in Vineyard Sound, during the early season, is from five to seven pounds. The schools, however, that make their appearance in October embrace many individuals of from ten to fifteen pounds. It is, therefore, not improbable that the difference between the first mentioned average and the last represents the increase by their summer feeding. As already remarked, Blue-fish in the last century sometimes attained a weight of forty or fifty pounds in Vineyard Sound; according to Zac-cheus Macy, thirty of them will fill a barrel.
Forest and Stream, June 25, 1874, stated that L. Hathaway, Esq., a veteran fisherman, while fishing from the bridge at Cohasset Narrows, Mass., with rod and reel, captured a Blue-fish weighing twenty-five pounds. The largest previously caught weighed seventeen pounds. On getting back to the Carolina coast in the early part of November, according to Dr. Yarrow's statement, they are from three to five feet in length and weigh from ten to twenty pounds. What becomes of these large fish, that so few of them are seen in the early spring, it is impossible to say. If it be really true that they are much scarcer than in the fall, we may infer that their increased size makes them a more ready prey to the larger fish and cetaceans, or that they have accomplished their ordinary period of life; possibly that they have broken up into smaller parties, less conspicuous to observation, or that they have materially changed their locality. The average length of the fish that appear in the spring off the coast of Virginia and the southern part of New Jersey, according to Dr. Coues, Dr. Yarrow and Prof. Baird, is about one foot, being probably about one year old. As a general rule, those of the smaller size keep close to the shore, and can always be met with, while the larger ones go in schools and remain farther outside.
Prof. Baird obtained no very young fish at Wood's Holl in 1871; the smallest found making their appearance quite suddenly along the coast, especially in the little bays, about the middle of August, and then measuring about five inches by one and one-fifth inches. By the end of September, however, these had reached a length of seven or eight inches, and at the age of about a year they probably constitute the twelve or fourteen inch fish referred to as occurring along the southern coast. The fish of the third year, or those two years old, are possibly the three-pound fish, while the five to seven pound fish may be considered a year older still. Accurate observations are wanting, however, to determine these facts; asalso whether they require two years or three or more to attain sufficient maturity for breeding. As far as I know, there is no appreciable difference between the sexes in their rate of growth or weight, excepting that the female is likely to be a little deeper in the body.
A Blue-fish weighing one pound measures about fourteen inches; two pounds, seventeen inches; three pounds, twenty-six inches; six pounds, twenty-six to twenty-seven inches, and eight pounds, twenty-nine inches.
The Blue-fish is one of our most important of sea-fishes, and surpassed in public estimation only by the Spanish Mackerel and the Pompano. It may be said to furnish a large part of the supply to the Middle and Northern States. It is a standard fish in New York, Boston and other seaports and is carried in great numbers into the interior. Its flesh is very sweet and savory, but it does not keep very well. In the Vineyard Sound the fishermen are in the habit of crimping their fish, or killing them, by cutting their throats in such a manner that they bleed freely. Every one who has opportunities for observing admits that fish thus treated are far superior to any others. Great quantities of Blue-fish are frozen in New York for winter consumption. They are still considered unfit for food on our southern coast, and even in the markets of Washington, D. C., I have frequently been stopped by fish-dealers who asked me to assure their customers that Blue-fish were eatable. They are growing in favor everywhere, however, just as they did in Boston. Capt. Atwood tells me that in 1865 but ver\ few were sold in Boston, and that the demand has been increasing ever since. When he first went to Boston with a load of Blue-fish he got two cents a pound for them; the second year they were scarcer and he got two and one-half cents, and the year afterward three cents.
Within a few years the reputation of the Blue-fish among anglers has decidedly improved. Norris wrote, in 1865, that the Blue-fish was seldom angled for, and that it was not esteemed as food; in 1879, Hallock declares that the Bluefish and the Striped Bass are the game fish par excellence of the brine, just as the Salmon and Black Bass are of fresh water.
The favorite mode of capture is by trolling or squidding-a process already described. This amusement is participated in every summer by thousands of unskilled, but none the less enthusiastic, amateur fishermen, who in their sail-boats, trail the tide-rips from Cape May to Cape Cod. Many professional fishermen also follow this pursuit, especially in the Vineyard Sound, about Nantucket and along the south shore of Cape Cod, a region famous for its swift cat-boats and fat Blue-fish.
Another mode which is growing in favor is that of heaving and hauling in the surf, which has been already described in writing of the Striped Bass. No rod is used, but the angler, standing on the beach or in the breakers, whirls his heavy jig about his head and casts it far into the sea, and having hooked his fish puts his shoulder to the line, and walks up the beach, dragging his prize after him to the shore. This is practiced everywhere on the exposed sandy beaches, such as are found at Montauk, Monomoy, Newport, and Barnegat.
Other anglers prefer to use a light rod and an artificial minnow from a stationary skiff near where Blue-fish are breaking, or to fish with shrimp bait from the wharves in quiet bays where the young "snappers" six to ten inches in length, abound. I have seen this kind of fishing at various points, from the mouth of the Florida St. John's to Nantucket.
The Blue-fish has also an important rank among the commercial species. The wholesale dealers of New York handle nearly 4,000,000 pounds annually. The yearly consumption of Blue-fish probably does not fall much below 8,000,000 pounds, valued at $500,000. The markets are supplied, for the most part, from three sources. Large quantities are taken in the weirs, forty or more in number, planted on the northern and southern shores of Cape Cod, in Buzzard's Bay, Martha's Vineyard, Narragansett Bay, Peconic Bay, and at Block Island. The yield of these is estimated at 1,300,000 pounds. Gill-nets on the southern New England coast are supposed to take about 3,000,000. Enormous quantities are also obtained by line fishermen about Hyannis, Edgartown, Nantucket, and Eastham, and on the shores of Long Island and New Jersey.
On the 19th of August, 1874, I saw 12,000 taken from the long pound on the west shore of Block Island.
The line-fishery is probably not less productive than the gill-netting. In 1875, we were cruising about Martha's Vineyard in the Fish Commission yacht "Mollie." Off Cape Pogue we noticed at least thirty cat-boats drailing for Blue-fish. These boats were about twenty feet in length, square-sterned and well housed over. Each carried three lines, one at the stern and two at the end of long rods projecting over each quarter. When we anchored at dusk in Edgartown harbor, these boats were coming in, dropping alongside of a New York market boat, which lay at the wharf. The bright lantern under the deck awning, the black forms of the fishermen, the busy changing of the little sails, the eager voices of bargaining, gave an impression of brisk trade. The same scene is repeated day after day, from July to October, in scores of New England seaport towns.
By G. Brown Goode.