Blackfishing 102: Intro. to Toggingby Capt. Terry Rand
Now that we have the basics learned in the first article let’s get down to business. What you will learn in this article represents one author’s methods and opinions. They are built on traditional methods with modern improvements and they are proven to produce fish into the double digits. As you pursue blackfish you will develop your own preferred methods and rigs for putting fish in the boat.
First, when fishing from a boat, most people prefer a conventional rod and reel outfit with a relatively stiff action. This allows you to present baits with up to 5-6 oz. of lead and have the stopping power you need to keep a large fish out of the rocks. A properly matched reel spooled with 30 lb. – 50 lb. test line completes the rig. The choice of line can be either monofilament or braided line. For this type of fishing you’re using a leader system so break offs shouldn’t be much of a problem for braid fisherman.
For your rig, the easiest way to get started is to use the three way rig. Get a large three way swivel rated for at least 50 lb. test. Attach to one eye a 24 inch section of 50 lb. fluorocarbon leader material. To the end of the fluoro, tie on a 2/0 octopus hook. Next, attach a snap or a dropper loop to the second eye on the swivel. This will be to connect your sinker to the rig. The third eye of the swivel, of course, gets attached to your main line.
The best bait for blackfish is crab. Blackfish feed heavily on them and they stand up to the porgies much better than soft baits such as clam and sandworms. You will go through many crabs though so plan to bring at least two dozen per person. You’ll also need a knife for the crabs. The best knives tend to be large serrated knives like you’d find in your butcher block at home.
Take a crab and lay it on its back and place the blade on the belly of the crab, laying the blade right between its eyes. Lay your palm on the backside of the blade and with one strong downward motion, cut the crab in half. Remove the last two legs from one side of the crab. Run a 2/0 octopus hook through the second leg socket and out the top of the shell. The cut crab will readily emit scent as it is dropped to the bottom amongst the rocks. If the crabs are particularly small, as in smaller than a silver dollar coin then you can fish the whole. Remove the two legs and hook the crab like before but now you want to get the juices flowing like with the cut crab so gently crack the shell with a spare lead sinker.
Choose a rock pile location in shallow water. Starting in less than twenty feet of water will make trying to anchor properly over a rock pile much easier. The use of a GPS is highly beneficial and the use of a depth finder is absolutely critical to success. Figure out which way the tide is moving and then move up current of the rock pile you intend to fish. Drop your anchor and let out enough rope until you start seeing the rock pile come up on your depth finder. Tie off your anchor line and begin fishing once you see rocks on the screen. This way you can start fishing one side of the rocks and then if the bite wears out or you’re not getting bit, you can simply let out more anchor line until you run out of rocks to fish.
NOTE – Be aware of how much water your boat drafts and how close to the surface your rock pile is at low tide.
Starting with three ounces of weight, drop your crab to the bottom and engage the reel. Keeping a taught line, pretend that you’re trying to balance the sinker on its end. This will help you maintain a tight line at all times and keep you from snagging up too many sinkers in the rocks. As the scent of the bait wafts down tide, fish will begin to move in searching for the food they smell. Some fish may not be far from where you anchored and the action can sometimes start quickly. Porgies, cunner and other pesky bait stealers will likely also be hanging around. You will notice a distinction between the strike of a blackfish and the bite of a bait stealer. Porgy and cunner tend to make fast repetitive strikes. It’s sort of a, Tap-Tap-Tap quality. A blackfish strike is usually much more of a Ka-Thunk. It’s not always real aggressive but you will usually feel it.
As soon as you feel the strike, set the hook. The fish will immediately try to head back into the rocks so your job is to keep him out of there. Lean back on the rod and give him as little drag as you have to. It’s a fight that puts your muscles to the test because you can’t let the fish hang you up or break you off in the rocks. Once the fish is away from the rocks you can let him fight boat side and tire him out before netting him. Check your local regulations and put a couple in your fish box. They are absolutely excellent table fare.
Well, now you have enough information to get you started and get you into some trouble. Blackfishing can be a very addictive form of fishing, not only because it is such a fun and productive fishery but also because they taste so darn good!