BUXTON, N.C. (AP) _ When the blues are blitzing ...

''They'll hit anything ... They'll bite at a piece of beer can - anything that moves, including themselves,'' said Raymond Couch, 79, owner of a shopping complex in Buxton. ''Their prize bait is 4-to-5 pound speckled trout. They run them out of the surf, right on to the beach.''

When the blues are blitzing ...

The ocean can be ''almost white with bluefish,'' said Jeff Ross, a state marine biologist at Manteo. ''The bluefish are hitting everything you throw at them.''

When the blues are blitzing ...

''I've seen the ocean go absolutely blood red,'' said Bob Eakes, who runs the Red Drum Tackle Shop in Buxton. ''I've seens hundreds of pounds of fish that beach themselves (trying to get away from the bluefish).''

But the blues weren't blitzing this cold and windy fall day at Cape Point, one of the prime - and most crowded - fishing spots on Hatteras Island. Instead, there seemed to be more fishermen per square inch on shore than there were fish per square inch in the ocean.

Fish are drawn to Cape Point because it's a spot where warm water from the south converges with the colder Labrador current from the north, Ross said. Those two currents, along with some other scientific reasons, not only draw fish to the area but also caused the formation of the dangerous Diamond Shoals, he said.

Most fishermen at the Point are from out of town and some from out of state. Locals like the business, but prefer a better-tasting fish, Eakes said.

The fishermen stand shoulder to shoulder - so close they sometimes hit each other when casting or tangle their lines while reeling in a big one. The four- wheel-drive vehicles needed to reach this spot near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse line up to the Point and back around, as many as three and four deep in the spots closest to the Point.

Coolers compete with rod holders for room on the front of the vehicles.

The fishermen are waiting for a blitz. That's fishing terminology for a feeding frenzy by a school of bluefish, one of the ocean's most voracious and messiest eaters.

''He's just a feeding machine,'' Eakes said.

The crowd scared off some anglers.

Charlotte Jones of Ashland, Va., wore chest waders, but sat in a low beach chair reading ''Scarlett.''

''I fish, but not with this crowd,'' said Mrs. Jones, who had momentarily lost her husband, Fred, in the throng. ''They're real serious fishermen.''

Jeff Moore of Kinston was one of the lucky ones. He caught not one, but two bluefish, leaving his friend Randy Amerson of New Bern, well, blue with envy.

''It might be hard to beat this,'' Moore says to Amerson of the first blue he catches. He estimates the weight at 15 pounds.

''All right, I've got to go back to the water,'' Amerson replies.

Others not so fortunate talked about the blitzes of days gone by.

Tommy Swink of China Grove says he's seen 3- to 5-pound trout beach themselves to avoid becoming the victim of the bluefish's voracious appetite. ''It looked like a battlefield,'' he said.

Harold Richardson of Roanoke, Va., has been coming to Cape Point to fish for 10 years. He says his uncle, who's come for 20 years, has never seen a blitz.

''The fishing god has to be right,'' he said.

Even when they aren't blitzing, bluefish are available year round off the North Carolina coast, Ross said. Spring and fall are the best times to catch the ones that most sportfishermen want - the big blues, he said.

What's the attraction of a fish that will bite at anything?

''They're excellent fighting fish, pound for pound,'' Ross said. ''They've got an aggressive nature and a good fighting ability. When you catch one, you sometimes catch many. A bluefish blitz is an exciting spectacle. It's as much fun to watch the people as the bluefish.''

Bluefish teeth - and their aggressive nature - are well chronicled among fishermen. They unhook their catch gingerly. Some tell of skin being scraped off by the fish.

Ross takes a different view.

''I'm more afraid of the teeth on fishermen,'' he said, only somewhat jokingly. ''The people are in more of a frenzy than the bluefish.''

Couch compared bluefish to a piranha. ''I don't know that he's any more vicious than a bluefish.''

The blue's small, fine teeth don't appear to be as dangerous as those of wahoo or sharks, but ''you make a big mistake if you let one bite you,'' Ross said.

The bluefish's fight makes him popular. ''I just like the competition between me and the fish.''

Another reason is the bluefish's wide availability. Fishermen hook bluefish from New England to the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Africa and along the South American coast, Ross said.

Bluefish seemed to reach their peak in numbers in the early and mid-1980s, Ross said. They've shown some signs of decline in recent years, but that's as likely due to natural cycles as to overfishing, he said.

In recent years, some fishermen have stressed conservation - take only what you're going to eat and release the others.

In the past, ''fishermen would get so excited they would forget they can take fish off the hook and throw them back in the water,'' Ross said. ''They would drive off and leave the stack of bluefish on the beach.''

Eakes said that doesn't happen as often now. ''There's been a push by everybody to conserve,'' he said.

One of those who conserved was Sylvia Temple of Bailey, who said she was the first person on the Point to hook a bluefish this day. The fish, which she said weighed about 10 pounds, was released into the Atlantic.

She and her husband, Doug, and friend David May were at the Point in their four-wheel-drive. Bacon had already been cooked over a small propane burner, and the eggs were being scrambled for a late breakfast.

May had spent the night on the beach, which is legal as long as you don't fall asleep. Otherwise, the National Park Service can ticket you for camping on the beach.

May had caught nothing in return for his lack of sleep. But he wasn't upset.

''It's not the first time, it won't be the last time,'' he said nonchalantly of his lack of luck.

His attitude seemed universal among the fishermen. Mrs. Jones, who sat in her beach chair watching the other fishermen duke it out for the few bluefish, said: ''I'm waiting for the big run.''

And with the optimism typical of people who depend on the whims of a fish, Eakes predicted the wait wouldn't be long.

''We probably are one day away from seeing a pretty big run of bluefish,'' he said.

END ADV for Weekend Release Jan. 11-12