When the tautog sharpies around you start catching, commence with the jigging!
I was up at 3 a.m. to beat friends Dennis and Rich to my favorite spot on the starboard rail next to the house. Rods had been built, rigs tied, new top shots rigged and ready to deploy; suffice to say we had looked forward to this trip for months! And sometimes it just happens.
We have it in our head, an idea. An idea of how we want to catch fish; but sometimes the fish just don’t dig what you’re throwing down. So, we adapt to the conditions and feed them what they want to eat and how.
The very best fishermen observe and emulate those around them who are getting the bites. That guy with the fluke rods having a ball just picking away as the blackfish eat his tiny offering while your halved green crabs get minimal love. It’s just a matter of time, right? Right?
It could be a long day! Just when you think you know blackfish, one of those days comes that just leaves you humbled. Three bites all day, and you missed them all. The average togger goes hard, but also knows that this is the beauty of blackfishing.
Rods, Reels & Connections
There are a variety of presentations you can try when conditions are right. The thing about presenting a crab bait on a jig is that it is very basic. But to stand up to big fish, you must apply some tricks and tackle that will handle tough tautog. Keep your bait small and get ready for big fun! But keep in mind that you’re going to get your heart broken; as we lighten up to effectively jig tautog, that big brute that shows interest from time to time may have you wishing you were using your big rod. Hey, you’re not going to stop them all, but when you do, they are extra sweet.
Contrary to normal tautog gear, plan on using 20-pound braid. I prefer Suffix 832 or Daiwa JBraid in bright chartreuse color. The thin diameter of the 20-pound class braid will let your light offering stay on the bottom with minimal drag from the current or surface waves. The color allows you to easily focus on your line as it touches the water. “Line watching” will help you to detect the slightest tic or loss of bottom. By the time you feel the hit, your eyes can also see the hit, if you pay attention.
Tie a 2-foot length of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader to your light braid. A Slim Beauty knot is a great choice. A Yucatán Knot still works well here, but with 13 twists of the double braid around the leader before passing through for the knot to seat correctly. A non-slip mono loop knot is perfect for tying on your jig. Easy to adjust the size and super easy to tie this loop knot is a great choice here.
Rods need not be special. A light spinning outfit is my preference with rods in the 7-foot or so range. It’s okay to have a bit of a soft tip, but some power near the center of the rod is important. The Black Hole 701L has the qualities in spades; other rods to check out are the Tsunami Slim Wave, and Slow Pitch rods, which both have various actions that will suit your tastes. When looking for a new rod, it’s best to bring your reel and a 1- and 2-ounce weight. This will be about what your heavy jig and bait will weigh; it’s important to see how the rod feels when underhand flipping these weights. With the weight on the bottom, does the tip bend just a bit? That’s your new blackfish jigger right there.
Reels need a smooth drag and quality gears if you are looking for a tool to last more than a few trips. Daiwa’s BG and Ballistic series reels, or Shimano Stradic are all great choices for tog jiggers. The 2500 to 3500 sizes seem perfect, even for giant sausage fingers. These braid-friendly reels have it all; super light and strong with powerful brass gears and a smooth drag and they will hold up to many large fish. Avoid the saltwater spray as much as possible, and instead of water, give it a light spray of WD40 and a wipe down following use. Less problems and more years of service will be your thanks.
|FOLLOW THE ACTION|
|If there is one thing we know about blackfish, it’s that they change from day to day, hour to hour, even minute by minute. As the tide slacks, you may have a half hour where they only want the jig. Be ready. A delicate presentation is normally not a tautog’s style, except when that’s what they want! Pay attention to the anglers around you; when the jiggers start catching, it’s time for you to jig a pig!|
Oh, Them Jigs!
You really need a quality jig designed to present a bait more naturally to a tautog. No need to use the super stout hook that has become synonymous with togging. That light rod and light line let you work with a lighter touch than you are used to. A slightly smaller hook may hide easier and will not bend out due to your light rod and soft touch. Popular “crab” style jigs designed to “stand-up” to tautog include Andrus Lures Crab Jigs, Bottom Sweeper Jigs, Joebaggs Tog Jigs, the MagicTail Game Changer, Mustad’s Tog Tamer, Tidaltails jigs and several S&S Bucktails models (including John Skinner and Magic Meez).
Between 3/4- and 2-ounce weights work well at the right stages of the tide. Natural colors are available to match green crab, white crab, calicos and others. But what’s the deal with the orange and the bright yellow? Well when you cut a whitelegger in half, their insides are usually a bright yellow color, maybe with a little orange. Green crabs have bright orange inside. Ever notice how a tog will eat the guts out of a crab and leave you with just the legs and a sucked-out shell? Again, there’s a reason for these colors so pack an assortment.
Fishing a wreck well off the inlet gives you much less current than along a backwater bridge, so pick your places and tidal stages for using a jig. Constantly adjust weights as needed. Fishing a jig is perfect from a jetty, but we also fish them in water up to 90 feet deep or so, depending on current. Give your jig a flip up current and let it settle to the bottom until the line stops. Come tight on the reel so you feel the jig, but don’t lift it up! If you lift it, the current will wash the jig and maybe get you stuck. If you hang up, leave it! Be patient for a blackfish to find your baited hook and lift it right out of the snag for you.
Be ready for a hit at any time when fishing a jig. Hit the fish anytime you feel a tick, or if it feels that you lost the bottom, hit ‘em! Some fish casually pick up the small bait and swim around, so pay attention to what’s going on with your business end. If anything feels funny, set the hook. You will get snagged a lot, so you will need to re-rig often on some snags; it’s all just part of the game.
Nothing beats the thrill of a light tackle battle with a bruiser blackfish. These fish fight so differently on light tackle. When you get them up a few feet, they sometimes swim around a bit. With your light spinner you might feel a bit helpless. Just enjoy it! The fight takes a bit longer and is more of a challenge. And if you think big fish won’t eat a small bait, or if you think this gear is not capable of handling true trophy fish, look at the pin hookers who land some monsters every week during the prime tautog time.
More importantly, it’s the bite that you would never get if you were not fishing the jig. Super stealthy, super sensitive, get the jig bite and trust me, you’ll be hooked too.
|STAND UP JIG|
|Tog jigs have been tweaked into an almost perfect bottom sitting jig. Simply used as a vehicle to bring your baited hook to the bottom, it needs to be flipped, and fall on your line and land upright on the bottom. Line eye and proper hook placement are as critical to design as is the weight distribution of the head shape. Hooks need not be incredibly heavy, but excellent quality will help keep them buttoned in the mouth of ole rubber lips. A well-designed tog jig in the fish’s favorite flavor is worth the extra dollar.|