Especially for grown-up kids such as yours truly!
When it comes to fun and easy fishing (95% of the time), and superlative dining afterward, it’s impossible to beat the northern puffer, aka “blowfish”.
To be sure, this striped, raspy skinned, buck-toothed summertime visitor is referred to as “Chicken of the Sea” for a reason, as its delicately flavored meat has few peers. Maybe triggerfish or tog, but that’s about it.
Abundant through the Fifties and Sixties (our best was May ‘69) the blowfish literally disappeared for decades. While a few were caught here and there, they were, for all intents and purposes, extinct. In 2006 they suddenly reappeared, and while they were historically a May species, they were caught through the summer and into September.
It’s been that way since, with periodic lulls such as the summer of 2019 when filling a bucket could be a day-long endeavor.
Last year the numbers picked up, and so far this summer, particularly the past two or three weeks, they’ve come on strong.
This is a bay game, although come mid-September, we’ve caught them in the surf while seeking kingfish.
These fish are schoolers and when found, it’s easy to load up. The challenge is finding where they’re hanging out. Submerged grass beds, channel edges, and holes will all hold blowfish, and they’ll feed on both the incoming and outgoing tides.
Chumming is vital, as a clam chum log in a metal chum pot over the side and dropped to the bottom will soon lead a trail to the boat. The puffers will follow. An added bonus is at this time in August, you’ll probably have other visitors in the slick such as weakfish, snapper, and tailor bluefish, croakers, maybe even a summer flounder or two.
No fancy tackle is needed. A simple light spinning or spin-casting outfit, a one-ounce sinker, and a two hook blowfish rig baited with clam, squid, or Fishbites and you’re good to go. With bay water temps in the upper seventies, it’s advised to pack along a second or even a third chum log in the cooler, as the log will usually dissolve in an hour or so. It’s imperative to keep that chum trail going.
There’s no length or possession limit. However, puffers less than seven inches don’t offer much in the way of chicken fingers. Our minimum keeper size is eight inches, and we’ve caught them up to 12-inches. The meat freezes well, especially when vacuum-sealed, so how many you want to catch, clean, and save for future dining enjoyment is up to you. Just remember that they can disappear as they did before.
Cleaning a blowfish used to be a task involving a nail in a plank or piling, a serrated knife, and togs to pull the back meat out. As youngsters, sandpapered hands were a badge of blowfish catching honor. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. There are several YouTube videos showing how one cut and one pull is all it takes.
Fried or baked, blowfish will prove an epicurean treat. Easy bay fishing and great eats. Late summer doesn’t get any better than that.
If you’d like to learn more about catching blowfish, tune in to this Saturday’s Rack & Fin Radio between 7-8 am. Capt. Alex Majewski from Lighthouse Sportfishing covers it top to bottom.