Light Touch Tog: The Art of Jigging Blackfish - The Fisherman

Light Touch Tog: The Art of Jigging Blackfish

2017 11 Art Jigging Blackfish TIM WITTIG
Many regular toggers like Tim Wittig will often release the bigger specimens to help better sustain the breeding population of blackfish.

A light tackle focus can help you make the super picky blackfish eat.

When a dyed in the wool, long time togger spots at a guy with a freshwater spinning rod, he smirks. The guy looks as though he knows the game. But what’s with the trout rod?

The horn blows and everyone drops their crabs down to the bottom. A swing and a miss on the port, “fish on” in the starboard corner. Action continues for maybe an hour, and then the bite dies off, with nothing around the boat for a while. That’s when our new friend picks up his little spinning rod and flips out. Not much fanfare, but his little trout rood looks as though it will explode as it doubles over, and the drag sings with a nice sized blackfish at the other end of the line giving the angler the fight of his life. A few minutes later the mate slips the net under the pool winner.

What just happened? And he’s not done yet; in fact, the guy is just getting warmed up as he throws down the blackfish beatdown full force as the rest of us humbly watch and learn.

Joe Zagorski and professional mate Nick Tennaro are both expert blackfishermen who have been pioneering these techniques for some time. After spending a few days watching and learning this obscure technique, the goal is to share the knowledge so that you can catch these cagey critters on jigging gear, often much lighter than you would possibly expect.

2017 11 Art Jigging Blackfish THE AUTHOR
Frank Mihalic holds up a nice jigged tautog taken earlier this season along the near shore grounds.

Unnatural Presentation

We have been jigging for years, right? Fluke, bluefish, striped bass, yellowfin tuna—you’ve caught them all so you know how to jig, right? Well, yea, forget it; all of it. The verb “jigging” should be taken very lightly here. This game is really more of a pseudo jigging, if you will. It is a form of jigging where the jighead itself acts as your rig and sinker to bring your piece of bait to the bottom. The light jig makes for a very delicate presentation that does not normally apply to togging. When the fish sees the crab drifting or laying on the bottom, it is a very natural presentation. A little wave action will drift the bait slightly across the bottom a bit just as a piece of crab on the ocean floor would do if it was not attached to a hook.

Rest assured this fishing technique will break your heart! Not if it happens, but when it happens, be ready; it’s just part of the game. But the number of bites that you get while going light is as high as 10 to 1 on some days. The fish may become sinker shy at times, and this stealthy presentation is an absolute game changer. And while you may break off some fish in the process, you’ll land a few dandies too!

The presentation usually goes something like this – while casting across current, the jig falls and stops on the bottom. Your line becomes tight enough for you to feel, but not tight enough so that it moves your bait. This is referred to as “fishing a slack line” or “line watching,” and it is without a doubt the single most important skill needed to become a successful tog fisherman. A picky tog is a mighty wary fish. He approaches a crab at the wreck or reef where the crab is not apt to swimming around; crabs do not jump up off of the bottom in nature, nor do they dance about the bottom. So when you lift your bait up, it often sounds the danger bell.

2017 11 Art Jigging Blackfish JIG HOOKED
S&S Bucktails’ Stan Gola, creator of the Meez jig, shows off a 10.8-pound blackfish caught in early October off the Jersey Coast. Photo by Mike Placko.

Also, when casting off of the side of your boat, your rig is being moved when you lift it off of the bottom. When it is on the bottom, the current or wave action is not normally pulling your hook into a snag. If it does, leave it! A blackfish or a bergall will pick it out of there and probably free your jig.

While facing off of the stern of the anchored boat, cast off of the stern quarter, to about the 10 o’clock position. Let the jig fall until it stops on the bottom. Shake an extra couple feet of line out of the reel and lift your tip until you feel the bow in your line. Do not lift the jig off of the bottom! Let the baited jig wash across the bottom naturally.

You may feel sand, then some rubble. This is good as this transition zone holds many big blackfish. The hit may be a tap, tap, slam just like they would hit a rig. More often than not, you will simply lose contact with the jig as the fish picks up the bait and swims off with it. Come tight and work the fish away from the structure.

Testing Your Tackle

Extreme blackfishing? You bet! Learn to use the power in the rod to lift the weight of the fish. When you are hooked up, keep your rod between the five o’clock position down, and lift up to the two o’clock position. Keep the rod bent between the center of the rod to the handle; this is the strongest part of the rod and it provides the most lifting power. The beauty of a properly balanced outfit revolves completely around the line being used.

For starters, you can pick one of your spinning rods that you would use for fishing bucktails for fluke in the back water. That’s right, that little guy right there with the 10- or 20-pound braided line on it, that’s the one. In terms of a reel, you’ll find you may want to find a higher end spinning reel with more durable gearing for improved power and reliability. Over time, bulldogging an assortment of double-digit blackfish will take toll on your gear!

Use an FG knot to tie a 4-foot length of 20- to 30-pound test fluorocarbon leader material. Use your favorite knot to tie on a crab jig between 3/4- or 1-ounce to start depending on depth and current. If your jig is swinging too much try 1-1/2 to 2 ounces. If I need heavier than 2 ounces, I find conditions are simply not right for jig fishing, and it’s back to the standard tautog rig for me.

A good quality jig with excellent hook is very important here. The right shaped head drifts nicely on the bottom and does not lie on its side. Jigs that lie flat are fine, as long as the hook point rides up. A jig that glides across some bottom and keeps the hook point in the proper fish hooking position is the S&S Bucktails Magic Meez jig, which is a well thought out, high performance product. Add a half of a small white crab, or a smaller two leg piece of a soup crab. Leave the legs on and you’re looking good!

The jig-caught fish fight so differently after the hook up because it seems for the first few seconds of the fight, they don’t really know they are hooked. They don’t normally panic dive into the structure as a blackfish normally does but will often pick the bait up and just swim away with the bait in their mouth as they start chewing. When you set the hook they will double over your rod as only a record fluke could. Be ready and let the rod do its job. Set your drag to an almost unhealthy level, as tight as you can that your line and rod will bear. You do not want to break your rod, but it should be alarmingly tight for this outfit.

2017 11 Art Jigging Blackfish STAN GOLA

Strategic Positioning

Conditions play a huge roll in your choice to pick up your light tackle gear. Ideal conditions are water less than 70 feet deep or so. Not overly rough makes it nice and easy without excessive surface wave action creating a lot of drag on your line. Pick a day when you can avoid the screaming north or south current that sometimes make holding bottom a challenge. These conditions make getting started in this fishing much harder than it needs to be, so give yourself a chance.

I find where you stand on the boat to be a huge concern. The stern corner is top choice as you can have the entire bottom in the rear to cast, drift over and fight your fish. The bow is also good so you can cast forward and out to the side. When you hook a nice sized tog, you will need some space to fight the fish. You will also need the cooperation and support of your neighbors on the rail. Don’t be the guy who pulls out the jig when there is a full contact tog session on the port rail. People get banned from certain boats for such shenanigans!

2017 11 Art Jigging Blackfish RIGGING 01
Hook crabs to the jighead in much the same way as you would with a standard j-hook, remembering that it’s not the visible action of the crab jig but in the static way the rig is presented.

Getting the fish to chew again when they become “sinker shy” can be a huge benefit to the rest of the boat. If the tog get interested in eating again it will sometimes wake the fish up and turn the bite back on. The hot fisherman onboard – even a mate will catch fish so that his paying customers go home with a nice bag of fillets – can sometimes spur the bite. Be sure to ask the mate how to rig, how to tie the rigs, how to bait properly, and be sure to show appreciation of him by a well-deserved tip.

Most of these fish you see were not caught by rookies. Many of these fish were released to preserve the health of the stock. The slow trip to the surface helps the fish stay very healthy. It is an awesome feeling to put a big ole white chinner back into the net to be revived to see him swim back down. See you again, old friend.


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