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Guide to Tautog Fishing

By Vee Ounnarath

During the spring months we will have anglers targeting trout, bass, or migrating schoolies that are starting to show up in South County. I, however, will be targeting another species, tautog also known as blackfish. Tautogs are hard fighting and excellent tasting bottom feeding fish. The best months to fish for them are April and May. During these months they move from deeper water to inshore shallow water to feed before they are off to spawn. Rocky beaches, rock ledges, sod banks, mussel beds, inlet jetties, bridge and pier pilings, shallow wrecks, and rock piles are all productive places to fish for tautogs.

Tackle and Bait

When togging from a kayak I recommend using a 7’ – 7’6” medium heavy fast action spinning rod paired with a 4000 or 5000 size reel. The reel should be spooled with no less than 30lb braided line connected to about 3 feet of 50lb mono leader by a uni to uni knot or barrel swivel. Using a 50lb leader will provide abrasion resistance against sharp rocks or anything that can cut the line. It can also be broken off easily if you get snagged on the bottom. Attached to your leader you can use tog jigs or a dropper loop rig. There are 3 basic types of jigs to use when togging the bean jig (flat), football jig, or banana jig. If you decide to do a dropper loop rig, I recommend a #3 or #4 Gamakatsu circle hook or something of equal strength. Using a strong hook will prevent it from straightening out when putting pressure on a big fish. Number 2, 3, or 4oz sinkers or jigs are often used to help stick to the bottom. Set up the reel with little or no drag. When the fish is hooked you do not want it to pull line and let it dive back down into its hole or structure. Don’t give it any chance to break off or get hung up.

Tautogs are caught by using Asian crabs or green crabs. It is the bait of choice when targeting these fish. You can get crabs by buying them at your local bait shop or by flipping rocks at low tide. Asian crabs are hooked whole through the middle and out the other end.  Green crabs are a little bigger so they can be cut in half.  When hooking them cut the legs off and put the hook through one leg socket and out another leg socket.

The Bite and other tips

Tautog fishing is best during daylight hours and around 3 hours before or after high tide. When tautog bite they pick at the bait. Most beginners will set the hook on the first tap. Be patient and set the hook on the 3rdor 4thtap or when you feel a hard-firm tug. When the hook is set, lift the rod and don’t stop cranking until the fish is away from its hole. 

When togging from a kayak try not to drift. Stay on top of the structure you are fishing. On a pedal kayak this is easily done by short pedal stroke and on a paddle kayak it is done by anchoring up. If the fish are not there then move to another spot until you find them. When you do, put on a whole crab and drop it down to the bottom. Using a whole crab will attract the bigger fish to bite. As my friend Tom always say “big crab big fish.” Most of the time this proves to be true.

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