How to Catch Blackfish/Tautog-An Introductionby Capt. Terry Rand
Blackfish, also known as Tautog, are one of tastiest and hardest fighting fish found in the North East. They are relatively easy to catch but also provide the angler with a battle that will put their skills and tackle to the test. From boat, jetty or shoreline blackfish are readily available throughout the reefs and rock piles from Massachusetts to New Jersey.
To catch a Tog, you have to first understand the habits of the fish. They are built to eat crustaceans. They have molar-like teeth to break the hard shells of mussels, barnacles and crabs. They also tend to take up residence in the rocks of their feeding grounds. They feed throughout the daytime and then find a crevice or cave to wedge themselves into for the evening. So, as you can probably guess, fishing in and around rock piles and rock formations should be your first approach.
In the north, Blackfish inhabit shallow water lairs during the spring and then again in the fall. When water temperatures are between 50 – 60 degrees it is primetime to hit the rocks. Finding large Blackfish in waters as shallow as 6 feet is quite common when the water temp is just right. They tend to prefer cool waters so as surface temps warm in the summertime the Blackfish begin to move back into deeper waters. And, as the waters cool in the winter they again head back to deeper waters. There always seems to be a population of small Togs that will hang around the warm shallows in the summer but the larger fish will usually be absent.
Preferred baits for Blackfish include crabs, mussels, clams and sandworms. It seems that the softer baits work very well in the spring when there are few bait stealing species to contend with. But, in the fall there are usually a lot of porgy and cunner in the shallows which will tear your soft baits apart before they are even seen by a Blackfish. So the go to method 75% of the time is crabs: Green crabs, Asian crabs or hermit crabs.
You need to gear up properly to do battle with Blackfish. The fight is generally short lived but they do everything in their power to break you off in the rocks once they are hooked. So, you need tackle that has enough stopping power to keep the fish from dragging you into a hole in the rocks below. If fishing from a boat, a 7-8 ft. rod rated for 3-8 oz. is a good choice.
If fishing from shore, a fast action spinning rod that will allow you to cast large sinkers comfortably is usually preferred.
There are a variety of bait rigs to choose from when it comes to blackfishing. The easiest and most popular rig is the 3-way rig. It consists of a 3-way swivel tied to your mainline and a leader tied to one of the other open eyes on the swivel. On the last eye of the swivel is a dropper loop or a large snap for attaching the sinker. One of the best hooks for Blackfish is a 2/0 or 3/0 octopus hook. Attach your hook to the end of your leader, tie on a sinker, rig up a crab and you are ready to catch a Blackfish.