Top 10 Tautog (Blackfish) Fishing Tips!
This article with list the top 10 tautog fishing tips. Tautog, also known as “blackfish” are a very popular bottom fish. They are found in the cooler water of the northeast part of the country. Tautog put up a spirited battle, but are mostly prized by anglers due to their quality fillets, tautog are fantastic to eat!
Tautog, (Tautoga onitis), average a couple of pounds. The world record is a 28 pound monster caught off of Ocean City, Md. Tautog are not particularly attractive, but have snow-white fillets. They also have a small mouth and are notoriously difficult to hook. Tautog are found around structure year-round from Maryland to Maine.
Top 10 tautog fishing tips
Special thanks to Johanna for the tech tips and great photos! Anglers can follow Johanna on Instagram from this link.
1) Tautog are structure oriented
Many bottom fish are structure oriented, and tautog are no exception. The reason for this is pretty obvious, structure provides both protection from other predators as well as the availability of forage. Tautog in particular take advantage of this as crabs and crustaceans are their primary diet sources.
Structure comes in many forms, it can be natural structure such as hard bottom areas, natural reefs, and ledges. Taotog certainly take advantage of man made structures as well. This includes artificial reefs, wrecks, bridge and dock piling, seawalls, jetties, and more. Generally speaking, the closer an angler presents the bait to the structure, the better the chances of catching a tautog are.
Read this detailed article by Capt Jim on bottom fishing
Most anglers anchor structure as opposed to drifting. In most cases, anchoring just up-tide of the structure works best. Modern GPS trolling motors have revolutionized tautog fishing, making precise boat positioning much easier than it used to be.
2) Crabs are the top tautog bait
Without a doubt, the number one bait for tautog fishing is the Asian green crab. Tautog feed primarily on crustaceans and mollusks. While the Asian green crab is an invasive species, toutog devour them. Most bait shops that cater to anglers fishing for tautog will carry them during the season. In reality, just about any small crab that is legal to use can be used for bait. These crabs are best when they have the red belly, as they are molting and produce more scent.
Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.
Larger crabs are cut in half, smaller ones are used whole. Johanna likes to use an S&S Bucktail tautog jig instead of a traditional bottom rig, using several feet of 40 lb flourocarbon line attached to her braid. She likes to run the hook in one leg hole and out another. The legs, once removed, are tossed overboard as chum. Hermit crabs and white crabs work well, but are more difficult to obtain.
Tautog are opportunistic feeders and can certainly be caught on other baits as well. Clams and oysters are high on their list, as are all other mollusks. More standard saltwater baits such as blood worms and squid will catch fish as well along with the benefit of catching more of a variety of species. However, serious anglers concentrating on tautog will do best using Asian green crabs.
3) Conventional tackle is best for tautog fishing from a boat
Anglers fishing for tautog do not need any fancy fishing tackle. For the most part, this is basic saltwater bottom fishing. Anglers fishing from a boat will do best with a light conventional rod and reel outfit. Conventional reels have a couple advantages over spinning reels and went bottom fishing from a boat there is generally no need to make a cast.
Conventional reels give anglers more power along with a fast retrieve ratio. This can be very important when bottom fishing for light nibblers such as tautog. They also have more power as the line is reeled straight onto the spool versus the 90° bend when using spinning tackle. A 20 series reel on a medium or medium light 7 foot conventional rod is a great all round outfit.
4) Best tautog fishing rigs
Once again, tautog fishing is for the most part basic bottom fishing. While there are a variety of bottom fishing rigs that anglers can use, two different rigs will cover just about every situation and angler fishing for tautog will find themselves in. Most often used is the high/low rig, also known as a spreader rig or chicken rig. This allows anglers to present multiple baits at or just above the bottom. It works especially well and a vertical presentation.
The other rigs that anglers will use is the sliding sinker rig, also known as a Carolina rig or fish finder rig. The advantages of this rig is that the fish can pick up the bait and move off with it without feeling any resistance from the sinker. This rig is a favorite of angler surf fishing and also went fishing for tautog from shore were long casts are required. With either rig, 40 lb flourocarbon leader and a #4/0 circle hook is an excellent all round choice.
5) Tautog seasonal migrations
Many anglers fishing for tautog are surprised to learn that they are available practically year-round. This is particularly true in the southern range down to Maryland, where they experience a trophy fishery in the winter. Understanding the seasonal migration of the area and angler is fishing will drastically increase the chances for success. Areas will differ by geography, reports from bait shops and forums are an excellent source, but nothing takes the place of on the water experience. As a general rule, the warmer the water the further offshore the fish will be in the cooler the water the closer to sure they will be.
6) Tautog are expert bait-stealers – don’t set the hook
Tautog are notorious for being able to steal the bait right off the hook. In this regard, they are similar to sheepshead. Anglers will often feel a series of “taps” and then the bait is gone. This can be frustrating, for sure. Even experienced anglers will lose baits to these crafty bait stealing fish!
The best approach when it comes to hooking tautog is to real fast taking up the slack while slowly raising the rod. This is particularly true with circle hooks, but even when using standard “j” hooks, this approach works better than setting the hook. After the first tap is felt, the angler should real up any slack and have the rod tip low. When a second Or light pressure or a light pull is felt, the angler should real as fast as possible while slowly raising the rod tip.
7) Spring and fall are best for tautog fishing
As a general rule, and as is the case with many species, the best times to go tautog fishing are spring and fall. This is when the fish are on the move and are closest to shore for anglers fishing from a boat. In the dog days of summer, tautog will move out deeper. Conversely, anglers fishing inshore often find the best success in the colder months.
Anglers who have the opportunity to spend a lot of time on the water can actually follow these local migrations and stay on top of the fish all season long. When searching for tautog it is best to keep moving until fish are found. Veteran tautog anglers rarely spend more than a half hour in one spot if it is not producing the numbers or quality of fish desired.
8) Tautog can be caught from shore
While a boat certainly gives anglers fishing for tautog the ability to move around and fish prime offshore spots, a boat is not a necessity in order to achieve success. Tautog do inhabit the inshore waters and can be found around a variety of structure. Docks and bridges are prime spots to target tautog.
As mentioned earlier, these inshore spots will often be best in the cooler months, depending on the region. Sunken rock piles that are able to be reached from shore will produce fish. Jetties are another prime spot were anglers have the chance to catch tautog in a variety of other species.
9) Spinning tackle is best for shore bound tautog anglers
While conventional tackle is the best choice for anglers tautog fishing from boats, spinning tackle is much more practical for anglers who have to fish from shore. The primary reason for this is casting; spinning outfits are simply much easier to cast baits out accurately and over a distance.
The same inshore spinning rod used for other species will work fine when fishing for tautog. A 7 foot medium action rod with a 4000-5000 series reel is an excellent all round combination. The angler does need enough muscle to pull the feisty fish away from underwater obstructions, while still being light enough to cast the bait out and feel the bite.
10) Braided line is best for tautog fishing
In most tautog fishing applications, braided line is the best choice over monofilament fishing line. The primary reason for this is the sensitivity. As has been stressed in this article, tautog take the bait very lightly and can be difficult to hook. The lack of stretch in braided line along with the sensitivity gives anglers an advantage. The trade off is that when fishing around sharp rocks, braided line will cut more easily. Anglers using spinning tackle will do well with 20 pound braided line while anglers fishing with conventional outfits can go up to 40 pound or 50 pound line.
In conclusion, this article listing the top 10 tautog fishing tips will help anglers catch more of these tasty and hard fighting fish!