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Captain Sheriff’s tips for fishing RI Tautogs
Tautogs, also known as Blackfish or Togs, are both a great fighting fish and extremely tasty. This species, for most anglers, unless you are a seasoned cod fisherman, opens the fishing season and closes it too since the season begins in April and ends in December. Since my days began growing up and fishing the Florida Keys, I have called this fish the "Grouper of the North Atlantic." I reference them this way because Tautogs are bottom dwelling fish that stay close to structure and head right back into the rocks once an angler is hooked up with them just like a Grouper. The big difference however, is the initial bite. Tautogs have a very light bite and so proper gear and technique is required in catching these sneaky fish.
Tautog habitat ranges from about the Coast of Nova Scotia to South Carolina. The best fishing seems to be from Cape Cod to Delaware. Rhode Island’s Reefs from just south of the Sakonnet River, to West of the Newport Area Reefs, Narragansett Bay and the rocky shoreline from Narragansett to Westerly can be very fruitful. Productive fishing for Tautogs also takes place and is also quite good in Western Connecticut as well in the Fisher’s Island Area Reefs. The overall structure that Tautogs are found in include: rocky shorelines, jetties, oyster beds, mussel beds, wrecks, piers and areas with boulders. While Tautogs have been known to grow to about 20 pounds, the average size we catch in Rhode Island is typically 2 to 5 pounds. The 2009 Tautog Season was a great one in Rhode Island with a better than average size being caught. A Tautogs growth rate is very slow and they are practically motionless at night.
Tautogs are best fished during the day when there is current. Current is critical! Inshore Tautogs will also follow the tides in to feed and move back into deeper water at ebb tides.
WHEN FISHING TAUTOGS, A MAJOR KEY TO A PRODUCTIVE DAY OF FISHING IS LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION.
Tautogs are very structure oriented and do not travel far to feed. Be prepared to anchor several times and/or make many adjustments to the amount of anchor line you let out. You will need a quality depth finder/graph to locate the proper structure necessary to target this species of fish. Sometimes fishing from one side of the boat to the other can mean the difference of a productive or non-productive day. It is also common that once you catch Tautogs in a particular location, you will probably catch several more on the same spot. On another note, you may see another angler catching several fish within 25 yards away or closer while you are not catching any. When this happens, you may want to move or go see the Fish Psychologist since this can be very frustrating.
Anchoring is a major component in the pursuit and capture of Tautogs. A Danforth style anchor can easily get wedged in a rock when fishing for Tautog. You may want to build an anchor utilizing concrete reinforcement bars and make a grappling hook. The softer rods of this anchor will typically bend and make it easier to get it out of the rocks upon departure. If using a Danforth style anchor, in addition to the main rope and chain, you can rig a rope to the backside of the anchor flukes and put a ball on it with enough rope to reach the surface. When you depart, pull the anchor from the opposite direction of hook set. The anchor flukes will then be pulled out of the rocks more freely. Another option is to utilize an anchor ball that has a clip, which attaches to the existing anchor line. When you depart, attach the anchor ball to the anchor line and pull the ball from the stern and try to go 180 degrees from the initial hook set of the anchor. The ball will go down to the anchor underwater and pull it out of the bottom. The ball will then surface with the anchor and you can pull in the anchor rope with little resistance and retrieve your anchor. In any case, bring a spare anchor if possible.
The choice of tackle for Tautog is a rod with a fast tip and strong backbone rated for 25–40 pound test line. Captain Sheriff’s Fishing Charters utilizes
6"6" St.Croix Rods rated for 15-30lb. test line with Okuma Solterra level wind reels and braided line. The braided line is preferred due to the light taps or bites associated with this fish. The most common fishing rigs include a double hook set up tied to heavy monofilament via dropper loops with a loop in the line for a bank or egg sinker. Egg sinkers do not get stuck in the rocks as often. Another option is to have one or two hooks with about 6 inches of line tied to a 40 pound mono leader with a dropper loop knot. The tag end of the leader has a loop so that a lighter line, such as 17lb. test, can be tied to the leader for the sinker. This way, the only component of the rig you can loose is the sinker since it has a lighter line than the actual rig when snagged in a rock.
Green crabs are the preferred choice of bait. Cut the crab in half and place the hook in the leg sockets after pulling the legs off and utilizing them to chum the waters. I think that chumming up the water is very important. It seems, most times, that the bite takes a little while to get established. This is due to getting the chum and crab scent into the water. Asian crabs work better in the spring if you can acquire them. They are prevalent in the Sakonnet River area near Bristol, Rhode Island.
Rhode Island Charter Fishing Captain, Captain Sheriff fishes Narragansett Bay, Watch Hill Rhode Island, Block Island and Newport, Rhode Island reefs for Striped Bass, Bluefish, Fluke, Tautog, Sea Bass, Tautog, Bonito and False Albacore. Captain Sheriff’s saltwater fishing charters depart from Galilee, Rhode Island, East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Point Judith, Rhode Island and Stonington, Connecticut.