Tautog fishing is fun. I like to relax with friends and family, shoot the breeze and enjoy a great Rhode Island fishery all at the same time. Tautog (or Blackfish) is a great eating fish with a dense, whitish meat.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) regulates tautog fishing. Tautog has a split season: the spring season ends May 31, so now is the time to fish for them as they are illegal to fish June 1 to July 31 during spawning season. Fish have to be sixteen inches, and the catch limit for private recreational anglers on and before April 15 to May 31 and August 1 to October 18 is three fish/person/day, which jumps to six fish/person/day October 19 to December 15. However, there is a ten fish per boat limit. The boat limit does not apply to charter and party boats.
Over the past couple of years, I have asked noted Rhode Island anglers, fishing guides, charter captains and bait & tackle shop owners in Rhode Island for tautog fishing tips. Here is what some of them had to say:
Boat placement is important. Find structure with electronics, estimate wind/drift direction and anchor up-current from where you want to fish, and drift back to the spot as the anchor is setting. Once in position, fish all sides of the boat, casting a bit, to cover as much area as you can. If still no bites, let some anchor line out a couple of times to change your position. If still no bites, then it is time to move the vessel.
Feel the bite—tap, tap—then get ready for a tug of war. Captain George Cioe said, “I believe with the first tap the tautog is positioning the bait for consumption.” So at the second tap I raise the rod up firmly feeling for the weight of the fish. Once the fish is hooked, keep the rod up and pressure on so the fish is not able to run for cover. Captain Rich Hittinger, RISAA vice president and a longtime angler out of Point Judith said, “If you get two bites with no hook-up your bait is gone. Reel in and re-bait.”
Where to fish for tautog? From shore, look for rocky coastline like Beavertail Point on Jamestown, locations off Newport, and off jetties at South County beaches. From a boat, I have had good luck at Plum Point light house next to the Jamestown Bridge, the rock wall north of Coddington Cove in Portsmouth, off Hope Island, around Brenton Reef in Newport, Whale Rock, Ohio Ledge in the East Passage, General Rock in North Kingstown and any other places there is structure, debris, rock clusters, or wrecks.
Chumming for tautog will enhance your catch dramatically. Kevin Bettencourt from the East Bay Anglers and his dad Albert have been fishing for tautog in Narragansett Bay and southern coastal waters off Newport, Jamestown and Narragansett for many years. Kevin said, “Chumming is a critical part of tautog fishing. If you want to land numerous tautog you must establish an effective chum line. This can be accomplished with grass shrimp or crushed Asian/green crabs. Don’t be afraid to feed them! If you don’t, they won’t stick around long!” Captain Robb Roach of Kettlebottom Outfitters from Jamestown said chumming is very important: “I chum with crushed mussels or crushed periwinkles.”
Fishing in the early spring or fall can be cold. Dress appropriately. If you dress in layers, you can take them off as the sun warms you. Do not forget the gloves, I usually have at least four pair with me, waterproof neoprene gloves, light cotton gloves, or heavy winter gloves. Whatever the conditions, be ready, and of course the gloves get wet.
Where’s the bite
Fishing exploded this week on the Bay and along coastal shores as the water warmed to the mid- to upper-50’s. In freshwater, “Fishing for trout continues to be good with DEM restocking some ponds and rivers.” said John Wunner of John’s Bait & Tackle, North Kingstown. “The Hunt River in North Kingstown has been particularly good.” Keeper tautog over 16” are being caught all over the Bay. Frank Mello of Lucky Bait & Tackle, Warren said, “Customers are catching keeper tautog along Barrington, Warren and Bristol off the bridges.” Fish are being caught using worms and crabs.
Striped bass fishing for exploded last week and this week with fish being caught all over the East and West passages of the Bay, off Newport and along southern coastal shores. The East Bay action has been good at Rocky Point Beach and at Conimicut Light and north up the Providence River. Ken Landry of Ray’s Bait & Tackle, Warwick said, “We fished three days last week and caught 20 to 25 school bass one day with keeper bass to 10 ½ pounds. Customers are catching fish too with some 28” and 29” keepers being caught in Greenwich Bay.” Angler Mike Swain said, “I found some pogies north of Conimicut Light Saturday and up the Providence River. The first one snagged was hit by a large bass before getting it to the boat and the second one I put out landed a 19 pound striped bass. We caught school bass too, trolling tube and worm.” Angler Mike Sheppard reports catching bass from shore off Newport for the past two weeks. John Wunner of John’s Bait & Tackle said, “Anglers fishing from shore off the Conimicut Point sandbar were catching school bass and those that could cast beyond the sandbar were hooking up with keeper size bass.”
Summer flounder (fluke) fishing has not received much attention since it opened May 1. However, some encouraging news was reported by John Wunner with a fisherman at the Wickford boat ramp coming in with two keeper fluke, one of them 25”.
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shell fishing on Narragansett Bay for over 40 years. He holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association and a member of the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Visit Captain Dave’s No Fluke website at www.noflukefishing.com; his blog at www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org .