Get ready for a tug of war
Tautog (or Blackfish) is a great eating fish with a white delicate meat. That’s why anglers love to catch them. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) regulates recreational tautog fishing. The minimum size is 16” and the catch limit in RI until October 14 is three fish/person/day, then it jumps to six fish/person/day from October 15 to December 15. In addition there is a ten fish boat maximum per day limit (which does not apply to party and charter boats).
Tautog fishing is much like a tug of war. Once you hook one the battle is on to keep it from going into structure. Many times anglers hook up on the bottom when fishing for tautog. My experience is half the time the bottom hook up is caused by a fish that takes the angler’s bait into the rocks before they even know it.
So, get ready, here are five tips to help you have a great fall tautog fishing season.
1. Find structure to find tautog. Tautog can be fished from shore or boat and in both cases they like structure (rocks, wrecks, bridge piers, dock pilings, mussel beds, holes and humps along the coast and in the bay). So no structure, no tautog.
2. Fish where the fish are. This is particularly true with tautog because they are a territorial species, you have to find the tautog, they are not going to find you. So if you get no bites move to another spot. When you find them, you find them and the bite is on.
3. Boat placement is important. Find structure, 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 it is time to move the vessel.
4. Feel the bite… tap, tap and then get ready for a tug of war. I believe with the first tap the tautog is positioning the bait for consumption. So get ready to set the hook anticipating the second tap before the fish takes your bait into structure. Once the fish is hooked, keep the rod up and pressure on so the fish is not able to run for cover.
5. Where to fish for Tautog. From shore look for rocky coastline like Beavertail Point on Jamestown, locations off Newport and off breakwater rock walls along the southern coastal shore. From a boat I have had good luck at Plum Point light house next to the Jamestown Bridge, the rock jetty at Coddington Cove in Portsmouth, off Hope Island, General Rock in North Kingstown, around Brenton Reef and Seal Ledge off Newport, off Narragansett at rock clusters or the boulder field off Scarborough, Whale Rock, Ohio Ledge in the East Passage and any other place there is structure, debris, rock clusters, wrecks, etc. It’s good to find your own spots as popular ones often get overfished.
Learn from tautog experts
Now is the time to tautog fish. And, if you do not know how to fish this species here are two options to learn. Attend a ‘Tautog Experts’ seminar at the West Warwick Elks held by RI Saltwater Anglers Association Monday, Sept. 25 at 7 p.m., or visit the RI Party & Charter Boat Association website for a list of charter and party boats that can take you on a how to learn tautog fishing trip.
On September 25 join Travis Barao, a RISAA board member who has fished for tautog in the Fall River, Newport and Sakonnet River areas; Capt. Joseph Bleczinski who caught a 16 pound tautog at Whale Rock two years ago; and Richard Reich who fishes for tautog from both shore and boat. Learn tautog tips, tactics, gear, rigs, baits and where to fish for them. Non-members admission is a $10 donation to the RISAA Scholarship Fund, members attend free. Dinner served at 5:30 p.m. provided by the Elks for a separate fee. The presentation starts at 7 p.m.
The RIPCBA website has a list of 65 boats, captains, and species they target along with their rates. Ask the captain if they run learn how to fish for tautog charters and most will say yes as captains are generally more than happy to teach you what they know. Visit the RIPCBA website at rifishing.com.
Where’s the bite
Freshwater fishing. “The bass bite at Brickyard Pond in Barrington has been pretty good. I had two dads come back for more shiners as they fished with their two sons and ran out. Night crawlers are selling fairly well too,” said Manny Macedo of Lucky Bait & Tackle, Warren.
Tautog fishing is just starting to get active. Anglers fishing last week were catching keepers but they were small. Mike Wade of Watch Hill Outfitters, Westerly said, “Tautog are in shallow water areas but most keepers caught are on the small side. We have not had a lot of anglers targeting tautog yet.” Ken Ferrara of Ray’s Bait & Tackle, Warwick said, “Customers were catching fish off Brenton Reef Newport and around Hope Island in the bay but they were all just keep size (16” minimum).” Macedo said, “Customers are catching tautog at Colt State Park and in Tiverton but they are barely keepers. A lot of small fish too.”
Striped bass and bluefish. I fished southeast of Beavertail Light Sunday and there was about half to a square mile of bluefish feeding on sand eels. The fish finder would light up with school of bait from surface to bottom. The black sea bass and scup bite was excellent there as well. Did not have a chance to see if there were striped bass under the bluefish. Ferrara said, “The bay is loaded with bluefish with schools popping up everywhere.” Macedo said, “One of our customers landed a 32” striped bass at Poppasquash Point, Bristol last week. So the bass are starting to pop up again, some fish are being caught off Newport too.” Wade said, “The bass bite at Block Island has been good with fish still feeding on the mackerel that arrived a couple of weeks ago. The better spots are closer to the Island like the Black Rock area.”
Summer flounder (fluke), black sea bass and scup. Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “Due to big seas we were only able to get out Monday and Saturday last week. Monday did produce some nice fish both fluke and black sea bass with a behemoth 13 pound fluke caught by a customer from Connecticut. That fish is one of the biggest of the year. Top fish caught Saturday was around ten pounds. Some scup, an occasional cod fish and or ocean perch were mixed in.” The black sea bass bite was consistent Sunday off Beavertail. Anglers on my boat caught about 20 fish each in two hours; about 25 percent of them were keepers with the largest fish topping out at about 22 inches. Large scup to 16” were caught on the drift there as well. Macedo said, “Large scup are being caught from the Warren River to Poppasquash Point, Bristol. Customer said the largest ones were a black color which is a bit unusual.”
From the shore. Wade said, “The striped bass bite with blue fish mixed in has been very good from the shore for the past two weeks. Quonnie, Weekapaug and East Beach have all been very good with fish averaging about 36” and blue fish in the two to ten pound range. We also have a good scup and tautog bite from Watch Hill Light and in areas from shore with structure and moving water.”
Captain Dave Monti has been fishing and shellfishing 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. Contact or forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at email@example.com or visit his website at noflukefishing.com.