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Article Published October 15, 2020

Catching Tautog Takes Location, Presentation, and Touch

For the past several weeks, there has been a noticeable scarcity of crabs along the shoreline. As if blustery weather conditions, the effects of this pandemic, or a shortage of sandworms wasn’t enough, how about adding an inadequate supply of live crabs just in time for the fall opening of blackfish (tautog) season to the list? That took many by surprise, especially those unsuspecting ’tog fishers and the hosts of popular fall tournaments.

Regretfully, we at Captain Morgan’s opted to shelve the 32nd annual ’Tog Tourney until next year due to banquet hall considerations as a result of the pandemic, although we remained fully stocked for the opening of the ’tog season. Others who carried on were met with this untimely shortage—among other things—and had to make the best of an already-difficult situation.

In order to meet the demands of catching this bulldog of a fish, one must understand the complexities involved. ’Togs are inherently shy, accustomed to being preyed upon, and are often at the mercy of inclement weather. Even when the most appetizing parcel is put before them, they approach it with the utmost caution, often patiently eyeing what is before them before ingesting it.

’Togs will eat crabs; seaworms, clams, mussels, and other shellfish; and even barnacles. They use their lips to latch on to food, front teeth to bite and secure it, and their molars to crush shells, which are then expelled through their mouths. Their lip action results in taps and their molars project a grinding feel. Setting too soon (taps) or too late (grinding) generally results in a lost fish. The trick is to set the hook after a few taps, but before anything is expelled. If you don’t, the fish swims for another tide.

Whether using baited hooks, rigs, or jigs, the placement of them in, on, or near a rock pile is crucial. If there are no takers, don’t be afraid to move a bit, even for only a few feet. The mid-60s are a good temperature range for ‘togs. Be there! Be creative! Change and mix baits and your method of presentation. Even consider concocting a chum cocktail.

On the Water

Winds gusted over 50 knots, waves topped five feet, and the barometer took a dive as the recent October storm set fishers up for a few nasty days on Long Island Sound. Inshore water temperatures dropped to 65 degrees before conditions moderated, and they are holding ground for the opening week of tautog season, which started on Oct. 10.

The upside to these weather events was that visibility was crystal clear and fish really started to move around as the fall migration continued. From many indications, ‘togs moved in closer and fishers were able to duck out of wind-driven seas and lock on to a productive hole found fish by inshore structures. Whole or partial crabs, seaworms, and some clams saw positive results. Although there were a few white chins caught pushing 24 inches, the average length came in well under that and averaged three to four pounds. All this despite a crab shortage!

As striped bass began staging in the Sound and taking advantage of the schools of available baitfish, fishers fired up their lightweight gear for fall schoolie action—mostly under the slot, but some within or over it. Depending on the tide and time of day, live bait such as eels, artificials (including soft-scented, jigs, and plugs), and slow-sinking flies are working. Bays and rivers have been productive, as well as troughs along beaches and happenstance blitzes that occur this time of year.

Bluefish are holding on as fish reaching 10- to 12 pounds and heavier are being caught by jigging, chunking, and trolling. The majority of fish hooked, at least in mid-Sound, have been smaller. However, taking advantage of periodic blitzes pays off when casting plugs and spoons. Increasingly more fishers are connecting with weakfish, whether intentionally or otherwise. Try drifting a bucktail and squid strip. So far, the best action for albies and bones has been east, where hot blitzes have been occurring when these speedsters have been on clusters of rainbaits. Don’t rule out deep-water jigs when upon deep-water drop-offs. Epoxy flies and jigs have been unbelievably productive. Some of these knuckle-busters have been 10 pounds or more. A few intermittent small schools have made inroads into the Sound, but not many. Be prepared!

Porgy (scup) pounders continue to hook into large fish out on reefs like Southwest and other popular ones using mostly squid, even though seaworms are their candy. Shore fishing for scup is holding on, but as the temperatures continue to drop, they will move farther out. Black sea bass will not quit. They are found pretty much found throughout the Sound from small fish in close to humpbacks in much deeper water. They are aggressive feeders, so run the gamut from baited hooks to jigs.

Although trout and salmon stocking is underway, anglers will find that lakes, ponds, and trout parks primarily received fish. Due to drought conditions and low water levels, numbers of rivers and streams remain questionable and are scheduled as pending until conditions improve. Tiger trout are back to the tune of 3,000, so be on the lookout. Good bass fishing continues, as do other fall favorites, so hit up one of your pet lakes or ponds.

Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and international fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.

For all things fishy including the latest gear, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better...

Tight Lines,

Captain Morgan

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