Massive Blackfish Smashes Record

The giant tautog will likely enter the IGFA books as one of only four over 20 pounds.
Jennifer Zuppe with record blackfish on scale
Jennifer Zuppe’s soon-to-be record blackfish ate a white crab fished in 110 feet of water. Jennifer Zuppe

It seems if you want to catch a big tautog—as in world-record big—you need to be on the Fish Bound IV with Capt. Kane Bounds out of Ocean City, Maryland.

In 2015, Kenneth Westerfeld caught the world record blackfish from the boat at 28 pounds, 13 ounces, about as big as the species gets. On January 11, another tog that’s likely bound for the International Game Fish Association record book came over the gunnel. The angler was Jennifer Zuppe, and her tog weighed 23 pounds, 4 ounces.

“I’m just super psyched,” the West Haven, Connecticut resident told Salt Water Sportsman the following day. “I can’t even deal with all the social media yet. It’s amazing.”

Tautog Teamwork

Record Blackfish
Everyone was all smiles once the big tog hit the deck. From left to right: Ken Westerfeld, mate Kevin Twilley, Jennifer Zuppe, Kane Bounds Jennifer Zuppe

Is it surprising that Westerfeld was on the boat when Zuppe boated her fish? Only until you learn they are both in a friend group that has tautog, and a bunch of other species, fully dialed in.

Zuppe and her husband, Al, “became friends with Ken Westerfeld several years back,” she said. “We fish a lot together actually. Ken has come to fish with us from shore, and we fish together on charters and his boat, and his friends’ boats and our friends’ boats.”

Fishing with Capt. Bounds is gender-neutral, she added. “To be treated like an actual angler and not just a girl is an amazing feeling,” she said. “I’ve been fishing for most of my life, and I put a lot of effort into it. I like to do things well.”

The IGFA has no women’s division in its all-tackle category, but Zuppe appears to be a shoo-in for the 50-pound and possibly 30-pound line test categories (the IGFA will test her PowerPro braid and leader when considering the record.)

Tautog are found along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to South Carolina, concentrated between Cape Cod and Delaware. They can be caught from shore, but are mostly pursued from boats, bottom-fishing inshore structure such as wrecks and rocky bottoms. They’re prized as a food fish, and typical catches are in the 5-pound range. A double-digit fish is noteworthy. There are only three tog in the IGFA records over 20 pounds (at least for now), though a handful of states list records over 20 pounds.

Multiple Family Records

Jennifer and Al Zuppe with record blackfish
Jennifer and her husband Al and her record catch. Jennifer Zuppe

The big blackfish is not the Zuppe family’s first record. Jennifer caught (and released) the Connecticut state record porgy, just under 20 inches, in September 2020. The same summer, Al set state records with a 33.75-inch weakfish and a 57.75-inch cownose ray, not a common visitor to the Connecticut shoreline.

Jennifer Zuppe was fishing in 110 feet of water when she caught the jumbo tog. She used a Jigging World Night Ranger conventional rod with an Accurate Valiant 400 reel, 30-pound braid, a 40-pound Ande leader, and a white crab on a Jigging World 5/0 octopus hook. It was her first fish of the day after a slow start. The tautog was destined for Northeast Taxidermy Studios in Middletown, Connecticut.

She counts herself lucky to live near the Long Island Sound, not to mention Connecticut’s bountiful fresh waters.

We are insanely lucky. We have an amazing fishery,” she said. “Catfish in the Connecticut River, weakfish five minutes from our house, so many great striped bass. But tog fishing, there’s just something about it. It’s addictive. So is all fishing.”