Singin' the (Brazilian) Blues

by Andy Hahn

The word from Brazil is, Yes we have bananas - and bluefish, too!

Usually when you see "blue" and "Brazil" in the same sentence, another key word in the phrase is "marlin". Not this time. We’re talking bluefish here.

Whether you call it enchova, chopper or snapper, it’s the same fish, good old Pomatomus whatsisname. Yes, the same species that gets all the attention along the eastern seaboard of the USA.

I grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, chasing trout and smallmouths in the rivers. Even during graduate school in Philadelphia I ignored the proximity of the Jersey coast, heading for the mountain streams whenever possible. Saltwater just wasn’t my bag. Even so, I’d heard stories of bluefish tearing up the surf and near shore rips.

Then I moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Not a smalmouth in sight. I soon developed a persistent twitch in my casting hand. I knew the only cure was on-the-water physical therapy, so I started checking out the local fishing scene. Everybody talked about catching enchova. I had no clue as to what kind of a fish it was (No, it didn’t occur to me to look it up in my handy bilingual dictionary), but since everybody said it was a fantastic gamefish, I had to find out.

My first impression was nothing spectacular. Then again, my newfound angling professors insisted on using rather heavy bottom fishing tackle with cutbait, and we only caught fish in the one-pound range. Sometime during that period I got my hands on a reference book and found out we were catching bluefish. Admittedly, I was disappointed. Sure, they had sharp teeth and all, but these wimpy specimens were nothing compared to the bloodthirsty New England wolf packs I’d read about back in the States.

Then one day a friend invited me to do some trolling around the Cagarras islands, within sight of Ipanema beach in Rio. When he tied on a big Rapala Magnum, I knew things were getting serious. After fighting several six pound enchovas I developed a whole new respect for the beast.

A trip to Ilhabela, in the state of São Paulo, turned me into a diehard bluefish fan. The coastline there is dotted with rocky outcroppings and inshore islands that are battered by the waves. Fishing from a small boat, we used 12 lb baitcasting outfits to toss 8-inch minnow plugs right up against the rocks and crank them back as rapidly as possible. The morning’s festivities left my arms aching from fighting dozens of blues that weighed up to 14 pounds. After that experience, I was a believer.

BRAZILIAN BLUEFISH: WHEN, WHERE AND HOW?

The "when" part is easiest to answer. Since the water temperatures along Brazil’s southeastern coast remain fairly stable, the bluefish don’t migrate much in search of comfortable conditions. They can be caught year-round.

The Brazilian blues are primarily structure oriented, hanging around rocky shorelines and islands. The states of Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Paraná and Santa Catarina all have areas that fit this description.

In Vitória, Espírito Santo, the bluefish tend to stay fairly deep, so trolling or jigging are the prescribed methods. Favorite lures are the infallible metal-lipped Rapalas or metal jigs like the Crippled Herring. Fishing around the riprap of the Porto Tubarão piers produces blues averaging six pounds, plus an occasional jack Crevelle and kingfish.

Casting plugs is much more exciting because you can feel the bone jarring strikes when the bluefish torpedo your lures. Bomber Long A 16’s get the nod here. The trick is to place your casts in the white water where the waves smash up against the rocks, then crank like hell to imitate fleeing baitfish. Oftentimes you can enjoy topwater action with Pencil Poppers and homemade surface lures.

Places that offer good plug casting for bluefish in the state of Rio de Janeiro include the aforementioned Cagarras islands and Ilha Grande, an island about 75 miles to the south of the city of Rio. Those in the know swear that the absolute best bluefishing in the state is to be had in Cabo Frio, located 60 miles north of Rio. Dozens of rocky islands and constant cool water temperatures here add up to keep the fishing at its best. As a matter of fact, Brazilian biologists are planning to implement a bluefish tagging study in Cabo Frio within the next year (1997-98).

Ilhabela, in the state of São Paulo, has earned a reputation as Brazil’s bluefish capital. The predictable fishing in this small coastal town lies just several hours’ drive from the country’s largest city (São Paulo, pop.18 million). This is the only spot in Brazil that offers a bona fide, high quality inshore charter fleet. Fishing guides such as Tuba, Quico Guarnieri and Beto Veras are booked solid months in advance, especially during the summer. Our summer, that is, which runs from November through February. It’s not too difficult to catch 20 or more blues in a morning’s outing. The good news is that these guys, and others, have begun to urge their clients to practice CPR: Catch, Photograph & Release. Tuba and Quico are also topnotch flyfishermen and have done a lot to promote this sport in Brazil. Tuba told me that when he has clients who are not so proficient at shooting long casts, he’ll tease bluefish away from the rocks and into range with hookless plugs.

There are plenty of other spots along the Brazilian coast that offer good blue fishing. Last week I met an angler from Florianópolis, Santa Catarina. He said his area holds a respectable population of enchova that average up to ten pounds. But I was never one to put much faith in hearsay evidence. Guess I’ll have to find a way to get down there and check it out firsthand!