Blackfishing is a game you just can’t bluff. You’re either horrible at it, fair or possibly even “good,” with room left for one-half of 1 percent of tog anglers to be considered excellent. Battling one of the most cerebral fish in the ocean isn’t easy, and consistent trophy-catching toggers tend to be silent assassins who speak lightly, keeping their secrets close to the vest. There’s a noticeable difference in technique and tactics between hard-cores who continually swing 10-plus-pound trophy tog over the rails and bottom bouncers who dabble with the 3- to 6-pounders. Every pro has an edge he brings to the blackfish grounds to tempt the tog of a lifetime. Here’s an inside look at some of the best-kept blackfish secrets.
Find Your Quarry
From New York to Virginia, follow water temperatures in the high 40s to the low 50s to find blackfish, with a focus on wrecks in the mid-20-mile range. “Winter to spring in the mid-Atlantic is prime time to target the largest of tautog,” says Capt. Ken Neill of the Healthy Grin in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “Blackfish are homers — they tend to come back to the same wreck time and time again.” Neill proved it with an IGFA-tagged 12-pound tautog he recaptured on the wreck it was tagged on seven years prior. “Crazy” Alberto Knie, a tog aficionado with a 17-pounder to his credit, adds, “Of course tog hang around sticky wreck structure, but look for wooden wrecks, off-the-grid spots, where the largest of all tog gravitate, and stay in 80 to 100 feet of water.” Knie adds: “Fish the wrecks that nobody hits. That’s where you’ll find trophy white-chinners hanging together.”
Knie’s 17-pound best tautog taken off an Atlantic City wreck actually lost the pool on the boat to a 20-pound fish. Neill’s 24.3-pound Virginia state record blackfish was caught after he waded through a few 10- to 15-pounders. “Big tog don’t want competition from the smaller tog,” says Knie. “Don’t concentrate on smaller fish in low-lying rocky structure like rockpiles and barges. Go to the high-profile wrecks.” Neill concurs: “Find the scattered debris fields and drop down within the holes, or where the wreck meets the seafloor, right on the edge. The divers I have spoken with report that the largest of tautog hide in the big holes on the wreck, inside the nooks and crannies.”