Rattlin’ in some tasty ‘Togs
By EJ Vongher
All along the Connecticut shoreline, the fall tautog run is a much-anticipated event. While not as storied as the striped bass nor as fierce or feisty as bluefish, tautog represent some of the best bottom fishing of the season. They will give you a nice fight, can be pretty sizable and the successful angler is rewarded with some of the tastiest fish available in these waters.
We here at the World Record Striper Company get especially excited about the fall tautog run. Given their strong attraction to crustaceans like green or asian crabs, tautog are the ideal target for our Rattle sound technology which perfectly emulates the sound of a crab walking along the bottom. Our Rattle Blackfish™ Jig rings the dinner bell for tautog.
Tautog, also known as blackfish, will migrate into shallow areas full of structure once the water temperature falls below the mid-60s. This usually begins in early to mid-October and runs through the fall, depending on the weather. Initially, you’ll find tautog in very shallow water but they will move to deeper areas as the temperature drops. The fall season in Connecticut runs from October 10th through December 6th and allows anglers to take four fish per day at 16 inches in length.
Finding a Tautog Spot
When targeting tautog, structure is your friend as it provides plenty of places for tautog to find prey as well as keep out of current. They can be found over any type of structure such as a ledge, piling, reef, rockpile or wreck. Half Acre Rock, depicted here and lying 2.8 miles off Guilford, CT, exhibits just this type of structure. It’s usually easy to find a hot spot by the number of boats anchored over it in the fall. You may be tempted to join the party but you’d be better off finding your own spots. Also, keep in mind that generally speaking, when the tide is running hard, the tautogs are seeking shelter closer to the structure. When the tide slacks up, you can catch them a little further out. And this is usually when you can catch the larger tautogs as they may be hiding in deeper holes that you could never get to when the tide is ripping. If you decide to find structure elsewhere, one valuable hint is to gauge water depth at which other anglers are catching fish. If they’re having success in 10 to 15 feet of water, you’ll know to look for other structure spots in that same depth range.
If you’re serious about tautog fishing, you’ll need a good depth sounder to pinpoint structure as well as the high spots on a reef, wreck or rockpile as that’s where the biggest fish will usually hold. Anchoring precision is critical, too, as sometimes being just a few feet off the mark can be the difference between scoring big and coming up empty.
You may need to reposition the boat several times before you find a hot spot. This can be frustrating, especially when the wind is opposing the current, but it will pay off in terms of more and bigger fish. In windy conditions, it may require two anchors to keep the boat just where you want it. When fishing off a breakwater, such as the East Breakwater in New Haven Harbor depicted in this chart, people will often use a disposable anchoring device as one of their fixing points.
How do you know if you’ve anchored in the right spot? The fish will tell you. If you don’t get a bite within 10 minutes, either re-anchor or try a new spot. Sometimes you can fish different parts of the structure by simply letting out or taking up anchor line, or by attaching the line to a cleat amidships, allowing the boat to swing to one side.
Tautog tackle can be pretty basic. All you need is a six or six and a half foot rod with a sensitive tip, stiff mid-section and butt combined with either a baitcaster or midsize spinning reel. Many people use 30 pound mono but we prefer 30- to 40-pound braided line, which is thinner and more sensitive making it easier to feel your sinker or jig tapping bottom and, importantly, the tugs of a tautog eating your bait.
The conventional wisdom among most tautog anglers is to use a double-hook rig. Here at the World Record Striper Company, we use the Greg Myerson™ Rattle Blackfish™ Jig which has the advantage of serving as a sinker as well as a Tautog call. This is because the patent-pending Rattle is built into every jig which calls the fish to your bait. It also serves to agitate the tautog, enticing them to bite. And if you run out of crabs, the rattle will attract them to any other bait such as squid, worm or minnow.
Over the years, we’ve learned that while tautog will eat a variety of baits, green crabs are an overwhelming favorite of the species. Widely available in bait shops across the northeast, they are our go-to favorite. If you can’t get them, Fiddler crabs and Asian crabs also work very well.
One thing we do is to remove all of the crab’s claws and legs with bait pliers or scissors - this makes it easier for the tautog to take the hook when it hits your bait on the jig. Then, cut or slice the crab in half (or quarters if it’s big) and insert the hook through one leg hole and out through the body or an adjoining leg hole, making sure the point is exposed.
Feeling the Bite
When you’re ready, lower the Rattle Blackfish Jig baited with crab into the water and free-spool line until you feel the sinker tap bottom. At this point you can put the reel in gear or keep it in free-spool, keeping your thumb on the spool to prevent an overrun. We jiggle it a few times to active the Rattle and then make sure it taps bottom. Gently raise and lower the rod tip every few seconds to stay in contact with the bottom, keep the bait out of the weeds and continue activating the Rattle.
Be forewarned that you will probably lose a few jigs to snags, but it’s all part of the game and it’s why we sell them in three-packs. You’ll usually know if you’ve anchored on the right spot within a few minutes, however, knowing when to set the hook also requires a bit of experience. Tautog can be a finicky fish - one day the tautog will slam the baits and are easy to catch. The next day, they will barely mouth the bait. Then you have to be as crafty and patient as the tautog!
Our trick is waiting to feel the second hard rap or tug on your line before lifting the rod (the first rap is the tautog breaking the crab into bite-sized bits with its front teeth, while the second rap is the fish actually eating the crab.) Once you know you have the tautog on, lift your rod and crank like there is no tomorrow; you don’t want to give it a chance to dive into that structure.
Good luck out there! If you are interested in learning more about our World Record Striper Company Rattle Blackfish Jigs, visit this link. These jigs will bring the fish to your bait - the rest is up to you. Visit http://www.worldrecordstripercompany.com/rattleblackfish-jigs/