Exploring the best, most readily available crabs to use for tautog fishing.
Tautog – often referred to as “blackfish” – are one of the most popular fall targets among recreational anglers for their delicious taste and challenging fight. I’ve almost witnessed a cult-like following for them in recent years and guess what? I’m part of the cult!
To increase your chances of landing a tautog – a trophy one at that – selecting the right type of crab bait is essential. Tautog are opportunistic feeders, and their diet primarily consists of crustaceans such as crabs, mollusks, and small fish. Crabs of course are undoubtedly one of their favorite meals, making them an excellent choice for bait.
That said, there are many different species of crab, with various consideration for size and preparation techniques.
Green crabs are a tried-and-true bait for tautog fishing. They are larger than probably the second most popular tog bait, Asian shore crabs, with shells often reaching 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Tautog, especially the larger specimens, can’t resist those orange guts of a green crab. To use the larger ones with success, you will need to break them into smaller pieces depending on the actual size of the crab. The biggest green crabs should be quartered while the smaller ones are to be cut in half. Some angler prefer to keep the legs on their greens while others will cut them off so that the hook point goes in one leg hole and comes out the other without interference and sets up for a perfect hookset. Green crabs are available at most bait and tackle shops throughout the tog season but they could also be trapped if targeted in the right spot.
Asian Shore Crabs
The Asian shore crab is another popular choice among tautog anglers and their use has grown exponentially over the past several years. This invasive species is widely available throughout the Northeast and you can find they under most rocks along the high tide line. These crabs are relatively small, usually measuring between 1 to 2 inches across the shell. Their greenish-brown coloration makes them an effective choice, as they closely resemble the tautog’s natural prey. I like to use these baits whole and have taken some quality tog in doing so, but once in a while I’ll cut a large Asian crab in half if I’m going after fish right around the keeper mark. These crabs work well on rigs but I enjoy using them whole on tog jigs in matching patterns to their greenish-brown shell. Only some shops carry Asian crabs so you might have to flip some rocks if you wish to use them for tautog this fall season. Look to tidal areas during the low tide period for the most successful hunt.
Blue Claw Crabs
Blue claw crabs are readily available in many areas along the Atlantic coast making them a convenient and accessible bait option for tautog fishing. Tautog naturally prey on crabs, and blue claw crabs are a common part of their diet as they actually native to our waters (unlike green and Asian crabs). Using a natural bait like blue claw crabs can increase your chances of success when targeting tautog and could be regarded as one of those secret crab baits by tog hunters. A couple of things to keep in mind are as the tog season goes later into the fall, blue crabs will be harder to find. Also, when getting blue crabs remember there is a minimum size limit in most areas so all your baits will be on the bigger side and will have to be at least quartered. This bait will see the most play during the beginning stages of the season.
Fiddler crabs are another small preferred choice for tautog fishing. They are native to back bay and coastal habitats in the Northeast, and the smaller size makes the fiddler an ideal bait option for tautog when wanting to use a whole crab. Look for crabs measuring around 1 inch across the shell for a primo choice for a hi-lo rig, or on a jig. Their distinctive large claw and brownish coloration can make them irresistible to hungry tautog when placed next to any sort of structure they might be hiding in. I’ve seen fiddlers in local bait and tackle shops but they might also be acquired during low tide in back bay areas for those who are more adventurous.
Jonah crabs, more commonly known as white crabs, are prevalent along the Northeast coast and are known for their tasty meat by both anglers and blackfish. Although they are not as commonly used as green crabs or Asian shore crabs, they can be extremely effective for tautog fishing later in the season when the water takes a dip. I’ve been on trips where it was obvious that all they wanted were the white crabs and wouldn’t sniff a green crabs during the coldest months of the tog season. White crabs might come in smaller sizes but typically they are larger and should be quartered or halved. Once in a while there will be a small white in the bunch and I’ll fish that whole with a cracked shell to slowly let the scent flow out. I’ve seen tackle shops carry these crabs at select times of the year but not as often at green crabs. They can also be caught in traps.
While I’ve personally never used spider crabs for tautog, I’ve watched my friend use small ones whole mixed in with a batch of white crabs during tog fishing and have success. These might be the most underused crab for blackfish but could absolutely be used in a pinch if you find some. Simply cut accordingly and fish on a rig or jig just like you would with any other crabs mentioned.
Another one of those tog baits used by the most hardcore toggers would be hermits. They’re typically available on most serious tog trips, targeting the monsters but I’ll warn you, once you start dropping the hermits down, that’s all they’ll want sometimes and will scoff at a green or a white afterwards. You will need a hammer to get them out of their shell but be careful because they have soft bodies. My best luck fishing these has been on a snafu rig since you will have the most hook coverage and usually with the hermits it’s one hit and done due to their fragileness. Finding hermits is typically tough from the shore. They will either need to be trapped, or if your local shop does carry them, you can go that route but be prepared to pay a premium for them.
Additional Tips & Reminders
Selecting the right crabs for tautog fishing can significantly improve your chances of success. Whether you opt for Asian shore crabs, fiddler crabs, green crabs, whites, or other, understanding the preferences of these fish and preparing your bait effectively will be the key to a rewarding tautog fishing experience.
Cutting and Crushing: For larger greens, blues claws and white crabs, cut them into smaller, more reasonable pieces for a tog to eat. Crush the shell slightly on small, whole crabs to release the scent and juices like a small chum bomb that will in turn, attract tog.
Hook Placement: When using any crabs, make sure to thread your hook through the crab’s body or legs to secure it effectively. This ensures that the tautog can’t easily steal the bait without getting hooked.
Freshness Matters: Use fresh, live crabs whenever possible. Live crabs are more enticing to tautog due to their natural movements and scent. I’ve fished a dead crab next to a friend fishing a fresh, live one and the results were blatantly obvious.
Always check local regulations and limits for crab usage. For example, in my home waters of Long Island, I can only collect 50 Asian crabs to stay within my limit. Remember to also ensure a sustainable and responsible angling experience when targeting tog. They’re slow growers and throwing back that double digit fish after a quick photo isn’t always a bad idea.