New Connecticut Record Tog

A first-time blackfish angler hooks the fish of a lifetime, but lightning strikes twice for the captain.
Capt. Luke Wiggins and angler Aiden Cole with Connecticut record tautog
Capt. Luke Wiggins, left, and angler Aiden Cole, right, are all smiles after boating the new Connecticut catch and release record tautog. Courtesy Capt.Luke Wiggins

Seventeen-year-old high-school senior Aiden Cole caught a monstrous 25.78-pound blackfish on Wednesday, Oct. 25, while fishing aboard the charter boat Melissa Ann in Connecticut’s Thames River. Knowing it was a record, the captain placed the fish in a cooler filled with water and transported it to a certified scale. Once the certified weight that was needed to clinch the Connecticut Trophy Fish Award was secured, the fish was safely released.

“I didn’t want to fish this spot, but it was blowing too hard to get where I had planned,” said Capt. Luke Wiggins of Melissa Ann Fishing Charters. “And once it was hooked up, everything that could go wrong did.”

Capt. Wiggins has been fishing the waters along the Connecticut coast his entire life, the last decade or so professionally as a mate on charter boats in and around the Long Island Sound. He recently received his 100-ton Master Captain’s license and started running trips of his own. So when the wind kicked up, he piloted his 26-foot Seaway to a piece of structure that had produced well for him in the past.

Previous Catch and Release Connecticut State Record Tautog

Capt. Luke Wiggins Catch and Release Connecticut State Record Tautog
Capt. Luke Wiggins previously held the Connecticut catch and release record for blackfish, with this 23.7-pound, 32.5-inch specimen that went back into the waters where it was caught. Courtesy Capt.Luke Wiggins

Despite being in just 15 feet of water, the structure has already given up one record tog: a 23.7-pound, 32.5-inch beast that Wiggins caught there in 2020, just before the season closed on November 28. Wiggins brought that fish in to be weighed and measured on a certified scale before releasing it, clinching honors for the Catch and Release Connecticut State Record tautog. Though he can’t be certain, he believes the fish caught by Aiden Cole bears more than a passing resemblance to that record fish.

After arriving on the blackfish grounds, Wiggins set the anglers up with green crabs rigged on circle hooks. Though he notes that circle hooks might not be the traditional choice, they work well to capitalize on light bites from the notoriously finicky eaters, letting tog take the bait all the way in and hooking themselves in the process. It also provides a safe release for those not destined for the frying pan. He uses a fluorocarbon leader to help the rig disappear, and also for its abrasion resistant properties.

“The fish ripped so hard, it just about pulled Aiden over,” said Wiggins. But that was not the end of the calamity. “The line got around everyone. And once we got the tangles undone, the fish went into the rocks.”

Patience was the order of the day, and they were able to wait the fish out. “We loosened the line to take tension off it. Tautog will often relax and swim back out if you give them some slack. Sometimes they swim farther into the structure, or out the other side, but we got lucky and she came out the same way she went in.”

But the excitement didn’t end there. “I thought it was a world record when it came up,” said Wiggins. “If we caught that fish in the spring when it was egged up, it would have broken the world record. Imagine seeing a 36-inch blackfish? When we got it on board we noticed how bent the hook was.”

Current Catch and Release Connecticut State Record Tautog

Aiden Cole with Connecticut Record Tautog
How’s that for a first time? Aiden Cole weighs in the new Connecticut State Record tautog he caught on his very first blackfishing trip. Courtesy Capt.Luke Wiggins

Tautog are incredibly hearty fish, and are often transported great distances alive to fish markets using the most rudimentary equipment. They filled a 150-quart cooler with water and took it right to the bait shop for an official weight. Once the weight was secured, the fish was released to hopefully be caught again on the Melissa Ann in a couple more years.

It was the first blackfish trip for Cole, who will be shipping off to join the Marines shortly after he graduates high school. Making the trip even more special, his grandparents were onboard fishing right alongside him.

Wiggins has a replica mount of his almost 24-pounder hanging up on his wall, complete with a bent circle hook of his own. Hopefully he runs into that giant again, and can place another replica right next to it.