Tautog: Can You Eat & How to Catch

Tautog: Can You Eat & How to Catch

Tautog, also often referred to as blackfish, may not be the most popular type of fish, and they look less-than-appetizing, they are incredibly tasty. To many, they look like sea bass, but there is no relation. Tautog is an aggressive, unique fish that have unique environmental requirements that make them limited to a fairly small range of territories.

How to Catch Tautog

Not only are tautog aggressive to other fish and marine wildlife, but they can also be an elusive fish that is not particularly easy to catch. Like other large fish, even once you hook a tautog, it is still a bit of a battle. They are incredibly strong and intelligent fish and present a great challenge to experienced anglers looking for something a little different.

These fish are notoriously difficult to catch and it takes time and patience to learn how to best hook one of these large, smart fish. This isn’t a fish that novice and beginner anglers should expect to have success with, but for the more experienced angler that wants a challenge and perhaps a tasty meal, the blackfish is a really fun fish once you get the hang of how to fish for them.

Can You Eat Tautog?

Not only is the act of catching them rewarding, but they are also large, meaty fish that make incredibly good eating and can make for a nice evening meal after a long day on the water. They might not be the most appealing fish to look at, but they have a creamy, soft, flaky flesh that is very tasty when simply prepared. It does not taste overly fishy and has a good mouthfeel.

This fish holds up well to a variety of preparations, so be creative. It can be pan-fried, baked, seared, and much more. Be creative with your preparations of the fish as its mild taste means it can pair with a huge variety of flavors for creative and tasty dishes.

Most people are only able to catch smaller tautog as the larger ones are smarter and more discerning about where they live. They have a unique defense mechanism whereby they will bury themselves under a sticky structure as protection.

Best Time to Catch Tautog

The best time to fish for tautog is between April and May, and then again in the fall between October and November. In the spring, they spawn meaning they can be found in far more shallow water than normal.

Where to Find Tautog

Tautog moves as the weather gets colder, and as the season turns, you have to move to deeper and deeper water to find it.

This fish lives in areas of the ocean where there is a lot of ground cover or things they can hide under to hunt or if they feel threatened. Their favorite food sources are small crabs, mussels, and the like.

They can often be found in inlet areas during low tide. As the tide comes in, they become far more difficult to see and catch. Telltale swirls on the surface of the water is an indication of activity below those anglers looking for this type of fish watch out for.

Holes on the sides of rocks or other depressions on the floor of the water are also popular places for tautog to hang out.

Like most fish populations, blackfish are becoming harder to find in some areas, so it is not recommended that you overfish any one spot. They can be found where the environment is suitable and their favorite food sources are plentiful but you also want to give the populations time to recover so they don’t become barren from overfishing. There are always new potential spots to check out, so try not to spend too much of your time fishing in the area. 

Best Bait and Equipment for Catching Tautog

Since crab is among the favorite foods of the tautog, this is a great choice for bait when fishing. Small crabs can be used whole, or if you are using large crab, break them up a little bit to be more appropriate mouthfuls for the fish. Some people source their crab from the local surroundings, but you can also buy it from angling stores. Sea fleas and mussels are also preferred eating, but these can prove more difficult to use as bait, so most people use some type of crab.

Experts recommend using a togzilla jig with crab as the ideal means of catching this rather elusive fish. But not all fishers use a jig. You can test out different types of hooks and jigs to see what works best for the fish in your area. Some have the best luck with jigs whereas others swear by basic fish hooks that are suitable for catching large fish.

Experts recommend using a 50-pound braided line tied to a 50-pound leader. This gives you the power you need to deal with such rocky environments and a really strong fish. Whatever you choose for your pole, line, and hook, you want something that will be able to handle the weight and strength of the fish and that can hold the bait they need properly.

Tautog tends to spend most, if not all, their time at the bottom of the water, so this is where you want to present your bait. Cast out and let your jig go straight to the floor of the water. They are often found fairly close to shore, but as the weather gets colder, they may move farther or deeper into the water.

Making the Catch

It is important to resist the urge to immediately start trying to pull the fish in when you feel that first bite. Tautog is smart and can easily be scared off the bait if you move too fast. You want to give it a minute but then set the hook once you have determined that the fish has swallowed the bait. Like with most fish, timing is everything if you want to make the catch, but this is especially true with tautog since they are so smart and strong.

You need a fishing rod that can handle a bit of fighting. Once you know you have hooked the fish, you will want to tightly drag the rod. If you aren’t fast enough, the fish could get away or you could end up snared on rocks and other floor debris.

You don’t want to spend too much time in one area. If you haven’t had much luck, move on. Even if you have had good luck, it might be best to move on so you don’t overgraze any one area.

Tautog Food Sources and Bait Issues

Another great way to find good tautog fishing grounds is to become versed in where their favorite food sources live and where the breeding populations of these sources are healthy and robust. It shouldn’t be surprising that we find these fish near the most abundant food sources.

Successful tautog fishers point out that many people who struggle to catch blackfish are often not changing their bait often enough. If you are using crab, the meat can wash out of the shell during casting, so you could be offering the fish essentially nothing but the shell. You will want to pull your line up occasionally and ensure that your bait is still intact.

One of the great things about tautog is that since they are often fairly close to the shore, you don’t need a huge fancy boat to catch them. Simple vessels will suffice and with some luck, you will come home with a really tasty dinner.

For the angler looking for something different that presents a unique challenge, the tautog, or blackfish, is a great choice. These fish are floor dwellers that prefer to make their home near underwater structures like rocks, tree roots, and other debris. They can often be found not far off the shore and are most often fished in the spring and later fall.

Final Thoughts

These are large, smart, and strong fish, which makes them a unique challenge to anglers. They have a small range of foods they like to eat and they catch on pretty quickly. Smaller tautog is easier to catch than the larger ones as they don’t tend to be as smart or as strong as their bigger counterparts.

You may need to try out different types of hooks and bobs to determine what works best for you. Catching tautog requires skill and patience as well as some luck. Knowing where to look is only part of the battle as they live amongst a lot of other material that can make catching them more difficult. Every tautog fisher has a story of thinking they had a catch when they were just hooked to a rock.

With time and experience, you can learn how to best find and catch these elusive and challenging fish. Not only does finding and catching them make for a great challenge for the experienced angler if you are lucky enough to catch one, but you also have a really tasty dinner. These are very tasty fish that is versatile and can be prepared in any number of ways.

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