Rob English is a Northeast kayak fishing guide who fishes year-round for striped bass, flounder and bluefish. His favorite fishing foe is a stout little wrasse called a tautog. Tog, or blackfish, inhabit the rockiest, snaggiest structure and catching them requires a light touch and sturdy resolve. We asked English for his tog secrets. He said, get your Spidey senses tingling, because tautog can make a fool out of you.
Tautog Fishing Mixes Finesse and Fight
Tog fishing is all about finesse fishing around structure and then trying to pull a powerful fish off the bottom. You will break your line on rocks and lose fish and tackle. You will also be rewarded with great battles. And, over time, you’ll learn every hole and drop in the area.
Weighing In On Tog Bait
Let’s start with the most important part: the bait. Local bait shops carry green crabs. When I use green crabs, I cut the crab in half and remove its shell and cut off the legs.
Green crabs work fine, but I prefer to search rock jetties at night for small Asian crabs. A smaller crab, fished whole, improves my hook-up ratio.
Recommended Tackle for Tog
My go-to rod and reel setup is a fast-action 7’6” casting rod with a 200-series baitcasting reel. Using a baitcasting combo is easier for jigging the rocks with one hand. The reel is spooled with 40-pound braid attached to a 20-pound leader. The combination of braided line and fluorocarbon leader provides ultimate sensitivity to feel every bump and bite.
At dinner time, tog find a spot in the rocks and wait for a meal to pass in the current. To take advantage of the current, I set out an hour before the top or bottom of the tide.
To explore every hole and hiding place, I use a Bottom Sweeper Jig. The one- to-three-ounce lead head sits on a short-shank, 2X strong hook. The compact jig allows me to work my bait into the tightest spaces without getting snagged. I use the lightest jig that will get my bait to the bottom.
Tautog Fishing Techniques
I bounce the jig off rocks and structure waiting for a hit. After a few minutes, if I don’t feel a bite, I’ll move the jig around the structure feeling for holes and points. This way, I can map the bottom with my jig. Fair warning, you will lose jigs in the rocks and barnacles. Don’t get frustrated, hooking a tog is worth the cost.
Tog have a light bite, but their short, powerful bodies provide a heavy fight. Once hooked, the fish will run for cover, this is when it is important to work the drag and add pressure to the line to finesse a tog out of his hole. Then turn on the power to bully the fish to the kayak. At any moment, a tog can pull the line into the rocks and win its freedom. The anxiety causes me to hold my breath as my heart races.
Trick the Tog for a Worthy Reward
The challenges are great, but the reward of fishing for tautog is landing one of the finest fish in the sea. The tog’s sneaky tactics and stubborn fight make it a worthy adversary. And the fish’s delicate, white meat provides a welcome dinner guest.
This article was first published in Kayak Angler Issue 45. Subscribe to Kayak Angler and get the magazine delivered to your front door. Download the Kayak Angler Magazine+ app to seamlessly glide between the digital archives, the latest articles and videos.
Trick the trickster with new tautog fishing tactics. | Feature photo: Rob English