Shore Bound Tautogby Capt. Terry Rand
Most anyone you talk to about fishing for tautog, or blackfish as they are commonly referred to, will tell tales of dropping hooked crabs and sandworms over the side of the gunwale, and moments later playing tug of war with a rod bent under the boat as they try to winch a large blackfish from the rock piles below. Well, what if you don’t have a boat? What if you don’t have access to a boat? No worries. Though it’s tough to find any information on blackfishing from the shore it is an option that you should explore.
Blackfish tend to favor the cooler waters found on our shorelines in the spring and fall months. Temps in the 50 – 65 degree range are perfect for shallow water togging. As the waters warm in the spring, blackfish begin to roam closer to the coasts, feeding heavily in the shallow water rock piles and preparing for their spring spawning activities. After the spawn and the shallow waters warm they tend to move back out to deeper, cooler waters.
As the water begins to cool again in the fall months, the blacks come back into the shores to fatten themselves up for the long winter ahead. They again take up residence on shallow rock piles, often as shallow as 6 feet deep. They gorge themselves on mussels, barnacles and crabs. With fish inhabiting water this shallow there should certainly be opportunities for the shore bound angler.
The first thing you should do to identify good fish holding areas is to look at a quality chart that shows depth contours and rock piles. A decent chart will identify rock piles located next to beaches and jetties. Also, any rocky formation that you find on a beach or other shoreline location that extends from the shore directly into the water is a dead give away. In general, any structure that extends into the water will exist under those breaking waves as well. These are sure bet spots to locate blackfish.
Once you have an idea of where you’re going to fish from, the next thing is to make sure you are geared up properly for doing battle with these fish. Though they tend to not grow as large as some of their other relatives in the Northeast, they are tenacious fighters. They are built like bull dogs. A stout body propelled by a broom-like tail, they can quickly drag you into the rocks only to break off your line and leave you cussing up a storm. You need a rod with some backbone and a reel with a good drag system. Spinning or conventional tackle is a personal preference but no matter what, you need to be able to put the screws to these fish when the time comes. Most surf applications will require a minimum of an 8 foot rod. A 10-11 foot rod may come in very handy for the added leverage and upward pulling power.
Braided lines are fantastic for their sensitivity. You can feel the slightest peck and nibble with these anti stretch lines. They are also incredibly strong for their line diameter and because they have no stretch you move a fish substantially when you lean back on him. But, braided lines have terrible abrasion resistance. Run a taught line over a rock and….Pop! It doesn’t take much to break it when an abrasive factor is added to the mix. This is where you’ll need to decide which line is right for you and the location you are fishing. If fishing at isolated rock piles you may be able to get away with using braid with a mono or fluorocarbon leader. The leader may be enough abrasion resistance to get the fish out of the rocks and out into open water where you can fight him. Braid in the 30-50 lb. class will be the best options for this situation.
On the other hand, if you are fishing heavily rocky structure where the fish has many opportunities during the fight to try to dive into rocky holes or drag your line over boulders, then it will probably be best if you stick with using monofilament lines. 17 – 30 lb. mono will probably be your best choice in these sorts of situations.
One of my favorite bait rigs for shore angling is the very simple slider rig, or fish finder rig. It consists of a sliding sinker of 2-4 ounces threaded on the line terminated by a barrel rated for up to 50 pounds. Added to the other end of the swivel is a mono or fluoro leader of 18 – 24 inches terminated by a 2/0 octopus hook. The sinker stays fixed to the bottom as the fish takes the bait and moves away with it. The line passes through the sinker, not allowing the fish to feel any resistance.
Bait your hook up with a half a crab, a sandworm or a hunk of clam or mussel and lob it out there into those rocks. Hold on to the rod instead of using a sand spike. You want to feel the strike and react to it a second or two later. If you wait too long a blackfish may crunch up the offering and spit it back out before you can set the hook. Now get out there and get yourself one of the tastiest fish you can find in the Northeast!