Last year’s Rhode Island Tog Classic winner talks about the importance of having a Plan B.
The Rhode Island Tog Classic is a one day tog tournament put on by Crafty One Customs in Portsmouth, RI. The problem with a one day tourney is ‘you get what you get’ regarding the weather, the good thing is, so does everyone else. One day, one chance, and the biggest fish wins. As far as the weather and conditions are concerned, the 2021 event came in with sloppy seas and sloppier weather. It’s conditions like these that can make or break your day on the water. To overcome adverse conditions, you have to have a backup plan.
Relatively speaking I am pretty new to fishing. It wasn’t until 3 years ago when I started to take it seriously. Sure, I have fished off and on for a long time, but my whole life has been consumed with a passion for surfing and especially competitive sailing. I’m obsessed with the ocean and need to be near it all the time. As I started to fish more and more, I found myself fishing for tog quite often.
At first it didn’t seem overly interesting. It was just a backup plan to have a bucket of crabs onboard in case other species of fish weren’t biting. The more I searched for the ideal structure, the more I soaked crabs on the bottom with friends on a Sunday afternoon and the more fun it became. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the tautog is an amazing gamefish and fishing for them is an awesome social experience.
The 2021 Classic
The tournament was approaching and I needed to assemble a team, it would consist of my kayaking buddies Noe Phommarath, Jesse Huynh, and my wife, Lindsey. Noe and Jesse are two friends (among the many) that I have made on the water and both have a great passion for targeting many species from the kayak. Tautog can be more challenging from the kayak, in my opinion, but they are both really good at it. Lindsey has gone fishing with me many times, she has become quite the angler and she’s developed a knack for hooking tog. I’m pretty certain it’s her favorite type of fishing. I like to fish for tog in shallower water. You can use lighter tackle which makes for a more exciting fight and setting anchor with less line is easier. Togtober is a great time of year for this.
We had checked out some of my usual spots leading up to the event and figured we would try them again on tournament day. Then the forecast changed; it was calling for heavy seas and strong easterly winds. Now we had to come up with an alternate plan as all of the spots we considered would be out of the question. Ralph Craft, owner of Crafty One Customs and the brains behind the tourney, was even stressing over social media that everyone should be careful. We commiserated over the Navionics App and website to find some places to duck out of the wind and seas and then focused deeper to find the best sheltered structure on the map. We kept it simple and narrowed our search down to three spots with similar depths and structure, all were in close proximity to each other and all seemed right for keeping us out of the wind. If one spot didn’t work out we could easily pull the anchor and move to the next.
We approached our first spot to see that our plan was coming together. The water was flat (thank goodness), the depth was right, and the structure looked good enough on the fish finder to drop anchor. Twenty minutes passed and we already had some 5- to 7-pound fish in the boat. Within the first hour and half, we had landed multiple 9-pounders, and this was turning out to be one of the best days of togging I had ever experienced! But the double-digit giant was eluding us. Then, the bite started to die, so we made a move and that second spot proved to be a total bust. Looking back, it may have been because it was slack tide, but we stuck it out for about 45 minutes, ate some sandwiches and made the call to head to our final spot.
We arrived at the last spot and scanned the bottom for structure, we were totally blown away by what we found. It was one of those, “How the heck is no one else fishing here” scenarios. I remember hovering over the fishfinder screen while idling along… flat… flat… flat… and then BOOM the bottom came up 20 feet almost immediately! We couldn’t wait to get the anchor down and start fishing. Within minutes the bite proved to be red hot; it didn’t take long before we had a 10-pounder on the deck and we were feeling pretty good. This was around noontime and we kind of let our guard down, started talking and falling into a bit of a food coma.
But Jesse was quiet, tucked into the back corner of the boat when he announced that his 2-ounce jig was starting to get some good taps. Then Jesse set the hook, and his rod instantly doubled over. At first he tried to bulldog this fish off the bottom but it wasn’t giving in. Then the fish took off running and ripping drag! Noe and I looked at each other like, “What is he hooked into, there’s no way that’s a tog!” We thought it had to be a big striper. Finally, Jesse had the fish under the boat and he was gaining ground, getting it off the bottom, but then it made a blistering run! Jesse was practically hyperventilating at this point and loudly whispering, “Please stop, please STOP!” as the line continued to melt off his spool. The fish finally did stop and Jesse began to win the battle, we were all peering over the side when the fish came into view, and to our astonishment, it was a tog!
As the fish rose into the gray light, it made one more dash for freedom, but she was exhausted and Jesse turned her quickly. I was holding the net, Jesse to my left, Noe to my right and Lindsey taking video on her phone. Finally the fish hit the surface and Jesse calmly swung the fish into the net. At that same moment Noe, who is usually a calm and quiet guy, burst out, “Oh my God that’s the FISH!” (Some colorful language may have been removed from this statement for publication.) Next thing I know I’m holding the fish in the air and unleashing a primal scream of victory at the top of my lungs! High-fives were exchanged all around while I hung the fish on the Boga, it read 12.5 pounds. We didn’t think that fish would win it, but we thought we’d make the podium for sure. We fished for another hour but we were too pumped about the catch and finally made the call to head for the dock.
Naturally, we were ecstatic about how the day went. We were calling and texting friends about the catch and, by the messages we were getting back, we seemed to have the biggest fish so far. On the drive to the weigh in, I felt like I was on cloud nine, borderline freaking out, to be honest.
As I dragged the cooler up to the scale, Ralph was waiting there and he told me to put the fish on the scale. When I pulled it out of the ice Ralph started to chuckle, I think in disbelief, then he called it out, “THIRTEEN-POINT-FOUR-FOUR!” Inside I felt like I could barely contain myself, but I kept it together. We weighed in about two hours early and those 120 minutes felt like an eternity. But as the cutoff passed, our fish remained the biggest of the day. Among the prizes we won was an awesome custom rod made by Crafty One Customs, a beautiful ceramic tautog trophy, and best of all, an amazing trolling motor from Minn Kota.
Ralph and his crew put on a truly amazing event and did an awesome job getting hundreds of prize donations for their huge raffle where everyone has a chance to win. The party was spectacular! It’s a great feeling to see all of the proceeds going to such a worthy cause and I can’t wait for this year’s Rhode Island Tog Classic! I’m not going into this year with any grand expectations, I’m just going to plan to have a good time and have plan B in my back pocket, just in case.