Middle Ground: Last Quarter Tog - The Fisherman

Middle Ground: Last Quarter Tog

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Tog fanatics will brave the cold for a final shot at these fish during the month of November.

Middle Ground is a steady producer of late-season tog.

The Long Island Sound blackfish season is vastly different than what you will find in the waters outside of this sheltered sea that separates the Connecticut shoreline from Long Island. While toggers fishing the south shore of Long Island, Montauk and Block Island are only just getting started with regard to hunting big blackfish, in the Sound water temps drop more quickly and the bite often comes to rapid close as water temperature plummet.

This is not to say the Sound doesn’t feature good blackfishing in November, it certainly does, but as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday and the end of the Connecticut season (November 28) the bite along many of the famous hotspots dwindles down to nothing. But all is not lost, Stratford Shoals, or as many call it, ‘Middle Ground’ is a late-producer that Long Island anglers count on to produce fish well into December. (Obviously that’s not an option for those leaving ports in Connecticut waters, but it illustrates the point.)

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Situated right in the middle of the Long Island Sound, the Middle Grounds (Stratford Shoal) will produce into late-November.

A Structure-Reliant Species

Blackfish have always been and will always remain a structure-oriented species. Rocks, sunken ships, natural or artificial reefs, pilings and rocky ledges are the places where tog live. The Middle Ground consists mostly of rocks in depths of 15 to 60 feet, east and north of the lighthouse with the best action from mid-October to late November and the later you fish into the season, the deeper you should look. The many rocky ledges along the shoal seem tailor-made for tog fishing, particularly during an ebb along the eastern ledge. Blackfish usually come out of their cubbyholes during an outgoing tide and ply the rocks for a meal, consisting mainly of crustaceans, crabs and mollusks. The outgoing tide provides the best fishing late in the season at the Middle Grounds due to the warmer water coming from the extreme western Sound which is a few degrees warmer than the water coming in from the east during the flood. In the winter, blackfish become dormant and will move off to the rocky lairs between 140 and 150 feet of water hibernating until the warm days of spring water temperatures reach 50 degrees.

Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Regardless of the type of structure you seek to fish, having the proper gear onboard is an absolute must. The first place to start is a quality and accurate map. Captain Segull Sportfishing Chart for the Western and Eastern Sound is ideal as not only is it good for charting but it is also marked with many hot spots. Second is a bottom recorder since it will paint the picture of the structure that lies below.

Once a favorable piece has been found, having a GPS is a big help as you can MOB strong potential pieces then determine how you will set up for anchoring judging by the speed of the wind and current. A GPS can tell how much rope will be needed to set up properly. Be sure to have at least a 10-foot chain linked to the anchor and at least 300 feet of scope .An additional anchor on board will lock in some peace of mind should the unforgiving bottom terrain claim the first one.

My gear includes two Danforth anchors with 500 feet of half-inch scope on each. A 10-foot chain of 5/16 will grab the bottom quickly and prevent the anchor from dragging into rocky grounds. Remember to never set the anchor on the rocks or you may never see it again. If you are not sure how to anchor on a sandy piece of bottom and work the rope into the rocks, then a bendable grappling hook may be better for you as you can retrieve it back under the power of the engine. If you do go to the grapple, be sure to add the 10-foot chain to it, otherwise the grappling hook may catch and slip several times, drifting you off your target piece of bottom. Lastly, an anchor ball will make lifting the chain and anchor a lot easier. These tools are paramount if you want a stress-free day at the Middle Grounds and the key to honing in on the best action.

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The author prefers simplicity with his tog rigs; a single sinker on the bottom with a dropper and 3/0 Gamakatsu hook 6 to 12 inches up gets the job done.

Well-Suited Tackle

When fishing on the rocks or any area of structure for that matter, your best results will come from rods with fast taper tips for sensitivity, and powerful butt tapers for the lift needed to haul any outsized tog from the wonderland of the Middle Ground. My favorite combo which suits the situation perfectly is the 7-foot Lamiglas TFX7020CT Tri Flex Series. The exclusive graphite/fiberglass construction of this stick gives me all the sensitivity and power I need to challenge the toughest of bottom dwellers. I match these rods with the Daiwa SL-X30SHA Sealine conventional reel with the power and speed at a 6 to 1 ratio to get the fish off the structure before they have a chance to realize they’ve been had. PowerPro 30-pound braid completes the combo as this form of braided synthetic is highly sensitive, even to the slightest touch.

Fit For The Occasion

Blackfish are in a league of their own and quite simply a tog rig consisting of a Gamakatsu 3/0 Octopus hook connected to a dropper loop of a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader approximately 6 to 12 inches above the sinker is all that is needed to slam toggies. As the tide slacks or during incoming water bring the hook 6 inches above the sinker whereas during outgoing tide, raise the hook to 12 inches, because this is when the blackfish are out of their crevices and searching for food. These hooks are super sharp, strong and the short shanks are easy to bury in your crab without the concerns of the tog dropping the bait as with many other style hooks. Keep the rigs to a single hook, it’s much easier to deal with one hook rather than two, especially when the big females are around. Besides, you will also experience far fewer hang ups.

Sinkers complete the terminal end. Bring a good assortment of bank sinkers between 4 and 12 ounces as well as plenty of extra hooks and fluorocarbon leader since surrendering some terminal tackle is inevitable to the sticky bottom. This will cover you for many of the conditions you may encounter at the reefs.

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The final days of the tog season could yield the biggest of ‘white chins’. Photo courtesy of The Celtic Quest.

Breakfast, Lunch & Supper

Tog enjoy a diverse menu these days and can sometimes be quite selective. While green crabs are still a necessary staple, white crabs have been responsible for some giant late-season tog. Asians crabs have their days, however, for the most part; Asian crabs work best when the water is warmer during October. Green crabs, though reliable, have seen days when they weren’t touched while white crabs were crushed drop after drop. My first choice is whites followed by greens. Hermit crabs also have their times, but for the price and the time of year, you may be tossing a lot of expensive crab overboard since it is the late in the season. However if you have some saved in a trap alongside your boat, by all means bring them along as they should work just fine. Clams and fiddler crabs round out the choices; however, they tend to attract small tog and cunners.  For this reason, I rarely, if ever, have them onboard. If you want to focus on big fish, go with the white crabs. Try using the smaller ones whole and cracking the shell to get all that juice and scent flowing into the water.

SMACK IN THE MIDDLE
This spot sits midway between Long Island and Connecticut. The Middle Ground is an area approximately three miles in radius, surrounding a high spot that is exposed at low tide, and officially known as Stratford Shoal. There is a lighthouse sitting on the shoal that makes it easy to locate from a distance. The shoal is located 6 miles north of Pt. Jefferson Harbor. The Stratford (Middle Ground) Shoal (41 03 06N / 73 06 01W) consists of a variety of bottom contours creating all sorts of rip lines and drop-offs anywhere from 15 to 65 feet of water, making it an oasis for blackfish as plenty of big toothy critters are taken by sinker bouncers, with some double-digit fish in the mix.

Middle Ground can be quite productive well into the late season but also keep in mind, especially during these colder months, the surrounding waters can become turbulent rather quickly which can be trouble by itself, but add frigid water to the mix and you really must use caution when fishing this place. Pay attention to the weather and marine forecast so you can choose your days wisely and, during the cold and unpredictable month of November, don’t take any chances. Also, be sure to have the proper safety gear in place at all times in case of emergency. Stay safe and happy fishing.

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