The majority of my fishing for these fish the last few seasons has consisted of making casts averaging around 30 feet.
I consider myself an avid surf fisherman and got my start in the surf with bass and bluefish like most surfcasters. After years of them being my primary objective, I began expanding my list of target species from the surf. Porgies and fluke came first and success came quickly. It wasn’t until the last few years that I really began to target tog. It all started when the majority of bass in our waters were in the 18 to 25-inch range. These are fun fish on light tackle but after a while it became too predictable and repetitive. I wanted to venture off and try something outside the box and the idea of catching blackfish from the beach intrigued me. I had watched people catching them from inlet jetties, especially in the fall, and decided to give it a try.
When togging from shore I like to arm myself with two rods. One is a stiffish 8- foot spinning rod capable of throwing three quarters to three ounces and the other a lighter action 7-foot spinning rod that throws ½ to 1-1/2 ounces. I stick to using bottom rigs on the heavier rod and jigs on the lighter rod. I’ve definitely come to enjoy the jig fishing more, but in some cases the rigs do come in handy. Typically, I like to get the rigs get down quick but prefer to let the jigs flutter down for a more natural presentation. Fishing the jigs is also more fun being that they are fished on light tackle which allows tog to really strut their stuff. Rigs come in handy when I want to place the baits stationary right next to some structure. Also, the double hook rig allows me to have two shots at a fish. Blackfish will usually clean a hook if you miss them on the first good hit after the small nibbles. With the jigs, you have one good shot at a fish most of the time before they clean your bait off.
When pairing reels just keep balance in mind. Of course a larger reel on the 8-foot rod and a smaller reel on the 7 footer. Just make sure it is a quality reel with a higher gear ratio and good drag. I’ve used some lower end reels for blackfish and they just didn’t hold up to repeated use. I’ve even snapped handles off of some when trying to yank a tog out of the rocks. That just demonstrates the amazing power that these fish have.
I find line and leader to be very important for togging off the shore. In a boat, tog are known for making hard runs straight down into rocks and wrecks, from shore is a totally different game. Now these fish can go straight down and side to side, making landing them even more challenging. My main line always consists of some sort of braid. Thin diameter and heavy pound test are extremely important. The braid allows me to feel the slightest hits so that’s always going to be my choice over monofilament which is less sensitive and stretches. Also, the zero stretch in braid helps yank them out of structure easier – very important with blackfish. If you let them gain any significant ground on you they usually win. On my heavier rod I’m using 40- pound test and on the lighter rod I go with 30-pound test. Sometimes I’ll even beef up the line on my heavier rod to fifty if I’m fishing extreme structure. I’ve underestimated these fish before and I’ve paid the price for it. After that I was sure to go back with heavier line.
I usually like to tie my own rigs as well. Typically this is a high low rig tied using 50-pound monofilament. For the hooks, I use a 3/0 baitholder, but might adjust it depending on the size of the baits I’m using. My high low rig is straightforward. A sinker loop on the bottom followed by a dropper loop six inches up and another dropper loop eight inches or so above that. I then leave a long length of leader above the last dropper loop. Two to three feet works and I tie it direct to my braid. For jigs, I use a four or five foot length of 50-pound tied direct to the braid. The jig is then tied direct to the end of the leader with a clinch knot. Very simple with no additional terminal tackle used. Using a long leader for this type of fishing is extremely important as the extra length protects against sharp rocks and structure and is far more abrasion resistant than the braid. If your leader or rig starts to become frayed, don’t be afraid to switch it out. It could very well cost you that trophy tog.
There are an array of baits to choose from when targeting blackfish, with crabs the primary bait, but I’ve also caught them on sandworms, clams and conch. Most baits can be purchased in local shops but some, such as Asian crabs, can be caught along the shoreline at low tide. During the fall, I favor crabs for all of my blackfishing. Green crabs are the easiest to acquire but don’t overlook catching your own Asian crabs. They are like candy to blackfish. Some of my biggest fish have come on the Asians. Good places to look for them are any rockpile where you can flip rocks around low tide. They are quick so bringing a buddy helps. One person flips and the other person grabs them. One night me and a buddy were having a slow night of fishing so we decided to lay down our rods and hunt for crabs. We bruised our shins and got covered in mud catching them but the next day we had a banner outing on blackfish with those crabs. It was well worth the effort. Sometimes later in the season white legger crabs work well if you can find them. With the greens, I like to either cut them in half or quarter them, break off the legs, and pass the hook in one leg hole and out the other. Having a good pair of serrated scissors is a necessity for this. Asian crabs can be used whole. With them, I break off the legs on one side only and pass the hook through the first hole and out the last leg hole. I find it’s important to bring a spread of baits though. One of my proven methods is to start fishing with the cut green crabs. Once you cut the crabs up and cast them out they dispense a chum into the water. It seems this makes blackfish feed more aggressively as they move into the area. Once I have them in the area chewing, I’ll switch to the whole Asians and continue to catch. The Asians have caught some bigger fish for me when using this approach.
Location And Tide
Blackfish are very structure driven. Any sort of rock, wreck, piling, dock or bridge has potential to hold them. They will live in just about any location that features these types of structure. If you see something that fits the criteria that I described don’t be afraid to give it a shot. You might surprise yourself with where you find them. I’ve made some interesting finds of tog deep inside bays clinging to structure. There is no need to cast far either. The majority of my fishing for these fish the last few seasons has consisted of making casts averaging around 30 feet. If you see a rock above the surface remember it is usually bigger below. Cast next to it and if they are around you will know pretty quickly. Also try to get your shore tog fishing in before the waters become too cold. Once the water starts to chill down too much they will move further off the shore into deeper water bringing an end to fall fishing for shorebound tog.
It is good sometimes to scout locations at low tide to see what rocks become exposed before the tide covers them again. These hidden blackfish hideouts can produce good action and most of the time if you didn’t see them at low tide you’d walk right past the area without a clue to its existence. It helps to mark these spots with a stick or even drop a pin on your smartphone map.
Blackfish can be caught at any stage of the tide, but most of my fishing for them focuses around the slower parts of high tide – the end of the incoming and the beginning of the outgoing. During slack water, I’ll pick at them but I’ve always had better results when the water is moving a little more. I believe the fish are also prone to feed more during these times because the current will rip too fast at the other parts of the tide. The fish will locate in the structure and around rocks to avoid the stronger current. It’s also a good idea to cast to the opposite side of the structure that is facing the current. Let’s say for example the tide is moving left to right and a visible rock is sitting in front of you in the water. Cast to the right side of the rock and let the jig or rig sink in the slower moving water behind it. This is where they will ambush the bait, and it will also be easier to steer them away from the structure. When a fish is hooked uptide of a rock, it can use the current to wrap you around it.
Go prepared and always keep an eye out for prime blackfish habitat. And remember that even when you do everything right, these fish can still beat you, which is what makes catching blackfish from shore such a challenge.