Tog are curious creatures by nature, and if there is commotion, they will come to investigate. Tempting one of the pickiest fish in the ocean requires some savvy. “Feeding bergalls and small tog will hype up the larger fish and get them to come investigate what’s going on, but many times, they wait and watch. You don’t want to keep losing baits to smaller tog, so go big,” says Knie. Going big for Crazy Alberto means using large white-legger crabs or even whole blue-claw crabs. And timing is everything. “You want to fish when the tide is slack, without much current,” says Neill. “I like fishing from early light up until about 10 a.m.” Knie adds: “When the water slacks up a bit, it’s an up-and-down approach though best with a tiny bit of current; or if it’s dead slack, even a twang with your forefinger and thumb on the braided line will make the crab bait dance and tease the fish.”
The hook-set is also an art form. “You know you’ve got a big tog on when it moves the weight, actually picks it up and moves along the bottom with it. Drop the rod tip to give a belly to the line to make the crab look natural and let the fish inhale the bait on a slack line.”
Regarding the battlegrounds, there will be a lot of casualties. “You’re going to lose lead and rigs. It’s a fact of life when targeting bulldog tog, so gear up accordingly.” Knie’s breakaway rig is designed to sacrifice the sinker when it sticks in structure. “On most of the large blackfish I’ve caught, I’ve had to break off the sinker when they get back into the wreck. I lose the sinker but come back to the dock with a tog to talk about.”
Beating the Beast
There’s no room for pussyfooting when dealing with behemoth blackfish. “When you connect, you have to reel fast and outmuscle that fish. Get him five feet above the wreck to even be in the game,” says Knie. “They play dirty: They are in their kitchen and they know where the knives are to cut you off. Keep your drag set to 30 pounds, almost locked, to pull them out. If you get them outside the five-foot window, they are yours.”
Braided line offers the sensitivity to feel the strike and boasts pulling power to get tog off the bottom, with a minute bit of stretch from a fluorocarbon leader to prevent a pulled hook. A 10-pound tautog is the trophy fish of lifetime, but when you breach the 12-plus-pound mark, consider yourself among the elite. “You can fish for grouper, big snapper, whatever, but pound for pound, a 10-pound tautog puts them all to shame. And a 15- to 20-pound tog? Forget about it,” says Knie.
Anthony Monica continues to hold the world record — a 25-pound blackfish caught out of Atlantic City, New Jersey — but records are made to be broken. Implement these tactics the next time you’re out chasing down bulldog tog, and maybe you can lay claim to one of the most underground, respected titles of the fishing world.