As water temperatures drop, a certain type of fisherman comes out on the water. They sharpen their Virginia blue and Gamakatsu hooks; they unpack their Newells, Accurates, and, if really hardcore, sidewinders — a piece of gear that looks like an old school movie reel turned on its side with a wooden knob. While many anglers look forward to blackfish season, there are those who only fish for them because tautog are the most challenging fish to catch. Skill is required to be a good fisherman: technique, tackle, and boat handling — black fishing challenges all of these areas.
One obstacle is that blackfish do not feed in a uniform fashion. Most days, they nibble, other days they chew, and some days they will not bite at all. And blackfish have an interesting array of eating apparatus. They have their front teeth, which beg for a visit from the orthodontist, and their crushers, which are hard knobby plates used to crunch up their favorite foods: lobsters, crabs, shellfish. If bait is being used on a high low rig, the bait should be presented neatly and fluorocarbon line can make a huge difference.
Do not bounce the bait around rapidly — tog like to often inspect before they consume. People will often describe a very slight first bite, if the hook is set here, chances are the fish will be lost. The initial bite is just the blackfish probing with the first set of teeth. The bait will then be sent to the crushing teeth, which will result in a rhythmic tugging. Wait too long, however, and shells and hooks will be spit out.
I have had days where there will be no bite at all and yet, knowing a fish is there, due to the scales vibrating against the line. Of course, if you use a jig and are attempting to catch them with a live crab, gently walk your bait along the water to entice a bite — but anglers jigging for blacks are pretty well schooled.
The bite has been picking up every day for the past few weeks and the fish are being caught in 10-20 feet of water but have now moved deeper and are being plucked in water up to 100 feet. Any little boat can get a nice pick of blacks on a decent bit of structure. Look for rocks that are piled up high and do not have uniform structure — these represent crannies and nooks for the tog to hide. Sometimes the smallest wrecks can hold the most fish. It is not the size of a wreck that matters but how many areas there are for the white chins to pack in. If you have structure but no bite adjust the bait, wiggle the boat — there could be 50 giant togs just a flip away.
All you need is a chart plotter, some crabs, a wreck anchor, a little patience, and you will bring home some blackfish for dinner.
Photo courtesy of the Captain Bob Fishing Fleet.
Capt. Jon Bowen runs the Captain Bob Fishing Fleet, located at 5675 W. Mill Road in Mattituck. For information on the fishing fleet, charter boats and dinner and sunset cruises, call (631) 298-5522 or go to the fleet’s Facebook page.