Tautog Season is Open and ’Toggers Are Out in Force
If there is one fish that can get the best of a fisher, it is none other than the tautog (tautoga onitis). These powerhouses pull and jerk your line hard, making it tough to extract them from their rocky habitat. Give them an inch and excitement will be replaced by frustration as they put those strong pectorals to work, creating a wedge between themselves and structure.
However, these typically cautious and tricky feeders can be extremely gentle when lipping or mouthing a crab or soft bait. Rightfully so, these bulldogs have earned the reputation of being one of the best at stripping your hook clean without giving the slightest indication. To successfully hook a ’tog, one must be focused, have a hand on their fishing rod, as well as thumb and fingers on the line, in order to detect the slightest tap. Therefore, a short fishing rod with a powerful butt end and a sensitive tip, along with (preferably) a conventional reel (spinning optional) filled with braided spectra line is recommended for the ultimate in a ’tog setup.
Terminal tackle will vary depending on the fishing ground, but choices fall either to tandem or hi-lo rigs or various types of single hooks somewhere in the range of size 5 to 3. Sinkers can span many ounces depending on depth and current. After all is said and done, one needs the touch, which has everything to do with feel and timing when setting the hook on these regionalized and non-migratory fish.
Aside for their value as one of the finest eating fish caught in Long Island Sound, tautogs have established themselves as a worthy competitor to an ever-growing group of ’tog pullers. The ultimate catch is a male white chin well into double digits in length and pounds. Unlike a female of the species that is, for instance, simply mottled brownish or bronze in color, males are grayish and have a clean, distinct lateral line. Mature males seem to be territorial, possess a bump on the forehead, a squared-off chin, most likely bare a few dots and a white chin.
Fall ’tog season is underway and will remain in effect until Monday, Nov. 28, during which time a fisher may possess a daily creel limit of 3 fish at a minimum length of 16 inches. Jetties, breakwalls, rockpiles, and other bottom structure (manmade or otherwise) are in play and, for the most part, as in the years past, green crabs will be the one bait that will catch the most. Enjoy the season, your well-earned meals, the dockside, and table talk. And while you are at it, we would enjoy seeing your pics and hearing your story, so send them along to email@example.com with your name, hometown, and particulars of your catch.
On the Water
High pressure was centered to the southwest as a cold front stalled over central New York, but then approached, causing a drop in air and water temperatures. The high pressure prior to the weekend was followed by a colder front that lasted a day before passing through the region to offshore. High pressure once again returned, setting up a week of a typical transitional fall weather pattern. Long Island Sound water temperatures ranged from the high-50s to the low-60s and seas were relatively calm, yet were influenced by periodic showers and gusty winds.
The long wait for tautog season to open was over as weather broke in favor of ’toggers. Seas and weather took a turn for the better, although there were periodic gusty winds and wavy seas. Overall, conditions were a big improvement from the previous week, including the gradual drop in water temperatures. White chins were the target of most fishers, however, the majority of ’togs hooked were under 16 inches or between 3 to 5 pounds. While some ’toggers came up short, others managed notable fish hooked on both tides. A further drop in water temps ought to see an uptick in more larger sizes being caught before or as they edge into deeper water.
Albies intensified their bite as schools ripped through water, chasing whichever baitfish were prevalent at the time, be it anchovies, silversides, or spearing. They turned on for short periods of time before taking a dive and then once again resurfacing. More birds were working these runs as the activity escalated and dense schools of forage fled the onslaught. Albie runs were experienced at both ends of the Sound and beyond.
Striped bass enthusiasts are in their glory! From the rips off Montauk, breachways and shores of Rhode Island including Napatree Point, and ultimately into Long Island Sound, schools of baitfish are holding linesiders near shore. At a dropping tide, when they become trapped in the troughs and the only way out is through a cut, stripers are there waiting for an easy meal. Whether fishers are working tidal rivers, beaches, channels, or bays, they are finding thick schools of hefty feeding stripers that are capable of either providing outstanding action on light gear or testing a fisher’s capability on a surf rod. Live eels, other baits (fresh or frozen), hard and soft lures, or flies are all on the table. This exciting time is full of adrenaline rushes, storytelling, and, of course, photo-ops. Soon, all this will come to a season’s end, but before it does, the hope is that you will share in this phenomenal fall season.
Bluefish are smacking lures with the ferocity they are best known for. It’s that time of year! They also are being caught both near shore and out on the reefs as they chomp on mackerel and bunker chunks, cut into plugs, overtake flashy spoons, and bite jigs. Their blitzes are intermittent, but do not let that fool you or lull you into a false impression as to their presence. They are competing for food, so expect the extra kick. That also goes for the weakfish that are mixed in the fall run. Most are caught as a bycatch, but they, too, are competitively attacking their prey.
There is so much talk about bass, blues, and hard tails that reef fish have been under played. Not so by the porgy pounders or the black sea bass hunters. It is their season, as well. Catches are good, sizes are mixed, and the bite on deeper reefs are netting quality scup slabs and serious knothead black sea bass. Squid is the bait of choice baited on rigs, jigs, or snelled hooks. If you are more into the shark variety, then fret not since sand sharks, dogfish, and skate continue to grab chunks of mackerel and other fish. Northern kingfish catches, for now, are also up, and the estuaries continue to offer blue crabs as long as water temps remain steady.
Inland waters are also having good catch results in spite of the cooler mornings. Trout and largemouth bass are gaining much of the limelight, especially since the recent stockings of trout and salmon. Pickerel, crappie, catfish, and other panfish are in play and there should an uptick of pike activity above what it has been. Whether live bait, artificials (including flies), or a combination is fished, try alternating presentations and retrieves for the best results.
Note: Email us pics of your catches to share with our USA and international fishing friends who keep up with the latest fishing news and frequent social media.
For all things fishy including permits, swing by the shop (203-245-8665) open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road in Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline's full-service fishing outfitter, where we don't make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.