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Trouble in Cedar Key: The blues are running...

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By Gene Benedict

This Friday past, Peyote Pete confirmed that the blues are running. I've lived most of my life by saltwater. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that call, "...the blues are running." It's as exciting now as it has always been from the Northeast down through Florida and across the Miracle Strip. I have a wooden plaque endorsed by the Governor of Virginia for a citation blue, seventeen and a half pounds, hooked off the Eastern Shore.

"I caught a mess and thought you might want some." It was Pete again. "I'll keep a couple and you can have what you want, and the rest, they'll go to those inland who need the food." Each fish in the mess was in the pound or two range. I took a few.

We have what we call a wish box on the front porch just in case someone long on fish comes by. As I put them in the box, I caught the scent of that sweet yet mildly pungent odor that incites excitement. I looked at that unmistakably blue-green, streamlined body, the mouth packed with needle sharp teeth, upper and lower.

"Thanks, Pete, I'll smoke up a few." I iced them down to clean the next morning. That size, the medium size, makes for the best eating. They are known as Taylor blues. Bluefish grow as large as thirty pounds from North Carolina on up to Maine, smaller to the south. The big ones look just like the small ones, streamlined to feed on schools of smaller fish, anchovies, sardines, greenbacks, herring, others.

Blues are known as "choppers." They travel in groups, sometimes large, chopping their way through the water as they pass through a school of bait, then turning and chopping again until in a feeding frenzy. People have been bitten badly, when caught in that frenzy. It can be scary, particularly if you come up on them at night, hearing but not seeing that chop, chop, chopping. And again that sweet, pungent, smell. It brings out a primordial hunting instinct in real fishermen, fear in others.

Bluefish meat is blue grey dotted by spots, red spots in rows, specks of blood. Bluefish are oily like mackerel and tuna. That adds to the flavor. They're best if prepared and eaten soon after the catch. They won't keep long even when frozen.

Bluefish is more than a delicacy to fishermen living along the coast. In the colder months, the bigger fish come in close to shore. Devout fishermen wade out into the surf to the point of being unsafe and cast homemade rods with big reels. These reels are spooled with high-test line tied to shock leaders, weights of six or more ounces of lead a few feet up from the hook. A good fisherman can cast a hundred yards that way.

These surf fishers generally catch more bluefish than they need, so they throw some back onto the sand. It is quite a sight. Jeeps, International Harvesters, other four wheeled vehicles on the sand, their owners fishing in the surf, maybe a quarter of a football field apart.

The locals gather along the dune lines to get a share of the blues from the sand, then disappear to their shacks, their homes, carrying enough fish for several days. Spectators line the road in the comfort of their vehicles at places where they can see through the dunes. "The blues are running..."

Back in my own pleasant little world on the Cedar Keys, preparing a bluefish dinner, I whisper silently, "Thanks, Pete, for the blues..." and in my way, thank you, too, for stirring the memories.

So, till next time we talk, think about your fishing tales and let's share them on our search for Trouble in Cedar Key.

E-mail: tnckgebe@yahoo.com