By Boat Or Bank: The Inshore Blackfish Game - The Fisherman

By Boat Or Bank: The Inshore Blackfish Game

New Jersey angler Jose Lopez with a shorebound tautog taken on a pier near Atlantic City (that regrettably isn’t there any longer!)

As late summer turns to fall, inshore blackfish turn on the feed bag, providing inshore anglers with some of the best fishing of the season.

Every species of fish orients themselves differently when they are set up on different types of structure, and tog are notorious homebodies that love a nice piece of hard bottom to call home.  Whether it is a jetty, rubble under a bridge, a sedge bank, or a rocky sea wall, blackfish will stay very close to this structure for both feeding opportunities and protection from being a meal themselves.

Fishing a pile of rock that sits 10 feet off of the bottom in 40 feet of water inside of a bay, sound or  estuary, is an entirely different situation than if that pile of rock were one or ten miles off the beach. The biggest changes are the depth of the water and the amount of current. Inshore is complicated by strong currents resulting from the tidal push of water moving through ever increasingly shallow depths and funneling through marshlands.  This increased current makes the inshore tog game completely different than what we do out on ocean wrecks.

The idea of dropping a crab tipped 1-ounce jig sounds like an easy approach when fishing inshore, right? I hope you are trying at slack tide, or when the moon phase has lighter than average tides so that you have a very good chance of actually hitting bottom! Head 10 miles off of the beach and that 1-ounce jig goes right to the bottom due to the lack of current sweep along most sections of our coast.

Don’t get me wrong, those jigs will bang those tautog really good inshore, but you must be aware of this current and select your spots accordingly, or at least rig accordingly to have a chance at catching.

Rigging Made Simple

You can’t always control or plan around the current flow, but you can adapt! Revolving spool gear might make it more comfortable for you to fish the 6-ounce sinkers that you may need on this fictional trip that we are on. If you want to make it easier to hold bottom, try using lighter braid, say in the 20-pound test class. Tie on a piece of 30-pound mono leader material and tie a surgeon’s loop at the bottom to attach your bank sinker.

About 4 inches above the sinker, add a dropper loop. Pass the loop through the eye of a 1/0 Octopus hook and bait with a small piece of green crab. The small hook and small piece of bait make for a streamlined offering and is perfect for this fishing, either from a boat, or when flipped out from a rock pile. Too large of a piece of bait will cause your rig to be dragged by the current, or the current can make your bait spin – neither is good.

Charlie Conroy with a double-header of inshore blackfish taken not far from bridge structure.

Jigs can be fished very effectively in inshore waters, and using a heavier jig is not the answer. Slack tide and moon phase is the easy answer, but also try to find some spots that will be next to a current seam. Perhaps on the outside corner of a jetty tip during outgoing tide. Try to find current flow coming toward you or directly away from you. That will allow you to flip up or down current and let your jig touch bottom, along with maintaining direct contact with the jig. You can easily take up slack or set the hook when called for.

If that same current is moving from your right to left, your jig is now sweeping from right to left, with the current putting a bow in your line and dragging your jig into yet another snag. Being able to fish a spot and work the bottom is crucial to finding and catching fish rather than spending your entire day re-rigging.

Fishing for blackfish inshore is so entirely different than ocean wreck fishing that they must be considered completely different games, which they are. The beauty of this game is the simplicity of it. Fishing from shore or in protected inshore waters can be a blast, but don’t be disappointed by fish that generally smaller than those found on ocean wrecks. I’ve had some inshore trips with remarkable numbers of fish caught, and some nice ones too. My best inshore tog is 8 pounds, but I’ve seen several in the 9-pound class caught by others. Rarely will you hear of double-digit tog caught in most of the inshore areas along the Northeast Coast, but never say never.

Bank On Blackfish

The Fisherman’s John DeBona shows off a tautog with a mouth only a mother could love (the tautog of course).

Jetties and rocky canal walls offer some of the very best shore bound tog fishing that there is. Depending on the direction and strength of the tidal flow, virtually any spot along the sides or the tip of the jetty can produce.  Starting at the very base of the jetty, you might find very deep, sheltered water that is not in the main current. This could be an awesome spot. Try to find a spot where the current is flowing, but not so much that it moves your jig.

Bring a small bucket of crabs, scissors, a rag, a spool of leader material and a few jigs in the  3/4 to 2-ounce range. Be sure to wear Korkers out onto the rocks, this is very important for safety reasons.  Just remember that the beauty of this fishery is in the simplicity. I release all of the tog that I catch on the jetties so there is no need to carry a small piece of thin rope to use as a stringer.

Bridges and fishing piers are even easier to fish than the jetties, and safer. No need for Korkers, but the normally deeper depths mean more current, so be prepared with a heavier rod if you need to go to heavier weights during periods of peak tidal flow. The small hooks will keep you busy with the small sea bass and blackfish that may be thick inshore during this transitional time of season.

Some of the best fishing often takes place around the turn of the tide when the current peters out, which will give you a shot at having fun with the jig. A light spinning rod with 10- to 20-pound braided line is perfect here. It’s loads of fun and there is no need to buy any special gear here, just have fun with what you have.

Deep Drop Sod

From a boat, the inshore game changes up a bit. Boat positioning is everything when it comes to getting bites. While fishing the drop off along a sod bank in 20-foot depths, I lower my Danforth anchor up current and let out line without dragging it. I want it to get to the bottom, straighten and come tight as quickly as possible. When tight, my boat is sitting bow into the current. We let out line until we are in front of the section of bank that we want to fish over.  This fictional sod bank is now 30 feet to our port, with the main anchor about 80 feet up current. While on a tight anchor line, we will power toward the sod bank at idle speed with the motor hard to port. When we get within 10 feet or so of the bank, we will toss a small grapple up into the grass just enough to adjust our distance away from the bank.

When tied off at the bow cleat, the Danforth will adjust up and down the bank, while the grapple adjusts depth and distance from the bank. This is often used in combination with a swing line. A snap clipped onto your main anchor line, and made fast to your port side spring line cleat will make the anchor line pull slightly down the port side of the hull, causing the boat to swing to starboard in the current. Turning your rudder hard to starboard will help her stay over. This is used to correct wind and tide issues that will enable you to stay on your spot as conditions change. This might sound like a lot of work, but trust me, it’s not hard. Just make sure you have help the first few times you are doing it. Go slow and adjust a little bit at a time. I sometimes hold the boat in position with the motor to stay on the spot, but it can mean losing that short time window when the bigger fish will eat. Yes, even inshore the big fish will eat at a certain time.

Notice the toggle line off the stern cleat (left) that help line up the author’s boat for his wife Kim Mihalic (right) to score on a sunny day blackfish.

We have a couple of spots which are only fishable during certain tide and wind conditions. We have a piling that I can slip a rope around and swing right in front of the bridge rubble on the incoming tide. We have a wreck that is broken up into three distinct pieces that sit in a 40-foot-deep hole, but only 50 feet off of a rocky point, with shallower water on all sides. The tide pushes so hard off of this point that it makes anchoring difficult. The current here is insane, but as it approaches slack water, it is in excellent spot for decent sized fish.

If you are fishing inshore, with the techniques and baits that we use during winter while targeting blackfish on ocean wrecks, you are probably in the wrong church and in the wrong pew. Enjoy inshore togging for what it is and you can look forward to some fine days on the water this fall.


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