Even with a long list of tautog fishing tips in your hip pocket, tautog are among the most frustrating to try and catch. If you measure your success by the numbers this may not be the best target for you. Very experienced fishermen regularly strike out on them. Novice anglers often lose bait after bait. Snags are common. And winter weather conditions on the lower Bay and in the ocean can be difficult, to say the least. More than one angler has made an initial tautog attempt and decided it would be the one and only time.
With that disclaimer out of the way, tog fishing is also awesome because when you catch one of these fish you know you’ve made a major accomplishment. They taste great, fight hard, and can get quite chunky. Again, we ask: just how bold are you feeling?
The Best Way to Catch Tautog
Tautog live tight to structure with cracks and crevices they can hide in, and getting them on the line requires specific rigging and bait. So, what’s the best way to catch one? Jump on one of the party boats or charters that runs all winter long to target them, before giving it a shot on your own. Added bonus: most of those boats are rigged for the mission and have niceties like heat in the cabin, which can make a cold day of tog fishing far more bearable.
The Best Bait for Tautog
Tog like crabs, period: white crab, green crab, blue crab, fiddler crab, or mole crab. In coastal inlets and the lower Bay mole, blue, and fiddlers are often the top choice. Many people swear by fiddlers but these aren’t usually available in bait shops so if you want to try them you have to catch them on your own.
Once you leave the inlet in your wake and get a few miles from shore those types of crabs aren’t naturally occurring, and tog don’t pay them as much mind. For oceanic tog, white crab and green crab are the ticket. White crab (called rock, Jonah or “white leggers”), are naturally present out in the Atlantic and are one of the tautog’s favorite meals. Green crab are an invasive species from Europe but have been firmly established here for decades.
The Best Rigs for Tautog
A simple top-and-bottom rig with beefy leader (40- to 60-pound test) and stout J-hooks (3/0 to 4/0) will get the job done, but many anglers opt for a “Snafu” rig, which allows you to put two hooks through the same crab or fish two different baits at once. See Fishing the Snafu Rig for Tautog for the deep-dive. There are also a number of more specialized rigs for different situations; see Rigging for Tautog: Precision Matters.
The Best Gear for Tautog
Stout heavy action rods rigged with conventional reels and 50-plus-pound braid, which can handle plenty of weight and yank a feisty tog out of heavy cover, are the norm. Long rods are favored by boat anglers because they allow you to raise and drop the rod tip over a long distance as the boat rocks up and down in the waves. Unlike most species tog like a bait that’s sitting dead still, and if the swells are large enough to pull your weight up off the bottom as the boat rocks, you aren’t likely to have much success.
How to Hook a Tautog
The really tough part — and this is where tog fishing can become so dang frustrating — is figuring out when to slam the hook home. Sometimes in some places they more or less pop the bait and you’ll need to swing for the stars the instant you feel it getting grabbed. Other times you’ll feel a tiny tap or two followed by a tug; set on the taps and you’ll miss, but set on the tug and your rod will double over. Then, there will be times when waiting for a tug to follow the tap results only in lost bait.
There’s plenty of controversy on this topic, and no hard rules. Losing bait after bait is a common tautog fishing experience, and like we said, these fish are FRUSTRATING. But when you finally put one in the box… well, it won’t be much longer before you can retire the title “beginner.”