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EARLY-SEASON BLACKFISH PRIMER

October especially in the northeast signifies a very special time of year for wreck fishermen in search of titanic tautog.
By Capt. Joe Wenegenofsky
Tags: inshore
EARLY-SEASON BLACKFISH PRIMER

For hardcore sinker-bouncers in the northeast, October signifies a very special, near holy rite: blackfish season. One cannot deny the addictive and borderline cultish appeal of the tautog. Between their nuanced wobbling hit and tenacious bulldogging fight, few inshore species can match the challenge they present nor the adrenaline rush they elicit.

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time targeting tog inevitably develops their own unique approaches and strategies for harvesting them and blackfish sharpies are arguably some of the most tight-lipped fishermen around. Before we embark on the fall bite, however, I’ll divulge a few early-season tips which once made me a successful pinhooker and should put you right on the meat as well.

Identifying Prime Bottom
After moving into the shallows to spawn in the spring, blackfish summer over near shore and will often remain there well into October. This is where you should direct your first forays of the fall. Look for boulder fields and reefs tight to the beach, rubble and rock piles on shallow flats, mussel beds in bays and harbors, etc. Some of these areas might lay in water as shallow as eight feet but rarely will you need to probe any deeper than forty. Fishing out of Montauk, my money range usually falls between ten and thirty feet for the first few weeks of the season when water temperatures are in the mid to low sixties. Although blackfish will be spread out across such aforementioned varieties of hard bottom, there are certain specific features proven to draw tog like a magnet; the most prominent being high pieces. Scan the area you intend to fish and identify any well-defined pinnacles jutting toward the surface. There might be lots of fishy-looking high pieces holding tog, but for the greatest chance of success, you’ll want to set up on a “high piece within a high piece”, one which stands out among all others. If none such pinnacle exists, your fallback plan would be locating a deep, craggy crevice. Such dips will collect tog when the surrounding bottom is relatively uniform.

Baits
Early-season blackfish can have a reputation for being picky. Living in a state of prolonged post-spawn lethargy during the summer, it usually takes a significant drop in water temperature to spur their aggression and prompt them to pack on weight. For this reason, I stock up on a wide variety of baits at the onset of my season to cater to their discriminating feeding habits. My prime October bait is by far and away hermit crabs. These blackfish candies are high in protein and fat, and most importantly, they are soft and easy to ingest. The only problem with them is that they are expensive and can be hard to come by depending upon where you live. Inquire with your local tackle shop about their availability and don’t be afraid to bite the bullet and pony up some cash if you can get them as I cannot overstate their effectiveness. In a pinch, Asian crabs are a reasonable substitute and can be collected from virtually any rocky shoreline.

Start off fishing these soft baits as they will be your first indicator of life. Based on my personal experiences and observations, if they don’t get the nod it typically means blackfish simply aren’t around. Another thing I must mention is not to get discouraged if sea bass and porgies start attacking your baits. This is actually a good thing! The frenzied feeding of scup and biscuits often awakens tentative tog and puts them in “competition mode”. Be willing to spend some time weeding through the non-target species and odds are you’ll strike black gold.

When tog do start jumping on the softies switch over to hard crabs after a bite has been established. I always carry an ample supply of green crabs for such an occasion. Since these baits require more effort to chew, they’ll give you that extra second or two to set up on a voracious blackfish. Likewise, their resilience will thwart pesky sea bass and scup from robbing you blind. Perhaps the best part, however, is their cost effectiveness. A bushel of green crabs is anywhere from half to as little as a quarter of the cost of hermits; so why sacrifice pricey baits if you don’t have to? If action starts to wane on the hard crabs, temporarily switch back to soft baits and that should get it going again.


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