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PINPOINTING BLACKFISH

More than most other inshore species, when targeting blackfish it is the little things that can make a big difference in your success rate.
By Toby Lapinski

Whether you refer to them as blackfish, tautog, tog or white-chinners, they are one of the more difficult of our local species to master. It seems like it should be an easy endeavor; find a pile of rocks and drop a crab down on a hook and you are in business. But there is so much more to it than that! Let’s look at some of the things that set the top guns apart from the average angler.

LIGHT, BUT NOT TOO LIGHT
Ok, yeah, that is really helpful I know, but give me a chance here. What I mean is that you want just enough weight to get the bait down to the bottom yet not so heavy that it does little more than anchor your line in the rocks. There is definite feel to blackfishing and it’s one of the many factors that separate a so-so angler from the high-hook of the day. For as nasty as the dental work of a blackfish is they can be deceivingly subtle on the take and have your hook cleaned before you realize it. A lighter sinker allows for a better feel for the bites which results in more fish in the cooler.

I like to dance my rig around a bit once I make contact with the rocks and this is much easier to accomplish with a sinker that is teetering on the edge of being too light than it is with a massive hunk of lead. Now there are times when a lot of weight must be used like the peak of the tide, but as soon as I can get away with it I begin to lighten up my sinker. Further I find that a little movement from the water helps things out as my crab is tossed around. Between the sinker thumping the rocks and the crab moving seductively along the bottom, that big ol’ blackfish just can’t resist!

FEEL AROUND FOR FISH
When I drop my rig down I feel the bottom to see what kind of structure I have hit. Is it craggy rock, random boulders, sand or a mixture? I have spent a lot of time observing blackfish while free diving and have come to find that the fish we are seeking (see also “not the small guys!”) prefer a certain spot on each piece of structure. Several fish may set up on a boulder the size of a small car, and the little guys are likely to mill about, but that lone white-chinner in charge of that piece of real estate has his preferred home and will guard it with reckless abandon. I have swam up on a rock that looks like a perfect blackfish home only to see little to no life on it at first. It is not until I dive down and make my way around the base of the structure that it comes to life as I often find myself nose to nose with 8 pounds of angry eyes and a set of chompers to make you stand back and take notice. To this end walking your bait around until you find an empty seat at the dinner table can pay off big time.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT RIG
Again, at its face value this isn’t too helpful but let me expand. Refer to the premiere episode of The Fisherman TV in which I spent a morning of the coast of Clinton, CT near the breakwater. This location is known for giving up some very large blackfish at times, but there is a specific method which reigns supreme: jigs. Sure fish can and have been landed here on a basic two-hook rig or a one-hook rig, but when anglers employ a blackfish jig the scores go up dramatically. The key here, much like my previous point about feeling around, is that you can take your bait and place it into every single nook and cranny until you find the one with a fish calling it home for the day. Again, this can be accomplished with a standard rig but that is like saying brain surgeon can get by just fine with a reciprocating saw and a hammer—sure you might get the job done but it will be far less messy with a scalpel! That jig is 100 times easier to move from spot to spot but it can not be accomplished as easily when the tide is screaming on an ocean rock pile. The jig is best in shallow, slow moving water.


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