Last Chance at Spring Blackfish Whitechins
April flew by and here we are going into the last weekend of springtime blackfish (tautog) season. Inshore Long Island Sound water temperatures broke 50 degrees, which is when fishing for togs takes off.
This is when toggers worth their salt would appreciate another week or so. Results using soft baits have been producing very good results on togs that have been feeding in and around inshore rocky sea bottoms, jetties, and island outcrops.
Unlike previous seasons, when it was a struggle to hook into whitechins, especially in areas that are foraged heavily by other species (including those that feed on togs), this spring season has seen better quality fish (double-digits and above) and fewer shorts. Throwbacks continue to be an issue, and smaller fish around three to four pounds seem to dominate populated areas. Nevertheless, tog fishing came alive sooner than many toggers were ready for it.
Tog jigs, single/double hook rigs, and snelled single Virginia hook setups, tipped with a juicy seaworm, clam, or a whole/piece of a crab fished near the bottom, will get attention provided conditions are right. Add a chum pot to increase action, but be careful of the placement and current so as to attract fish to you and not a nearby fisher.
Generally, when filleting these tough-skinned fish, a sharp, stiffer, and wider blade will do a better job than a flexible, thinner one. Unlike a bluefish and perhaps a striped bass, where the flesh can easily be separated from the skin, blackfish are more slippery and tougher to fillet. TIP: Pinching the edge of the skin at the tail end of the fillet to the cutting board with a dinner fork makes separating the fillet from the skin easier. There may be a few residual rib bones that can be easily removed by using a small needle nose plier. To cook them whole: scale, gut, remove gills (head and fins if you wish), and then proceed with the recipe, keeping in mind how mild and firm the white flesh is as well as delicately sweet.
Try this roasted blackfish with olives and sage recipe on for size. It is easy, tastes good, and is healthy since blackfish (tautog) are full of Omega-3s, and vitamins and low in fat. You will need a couple of fresh fillets, 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, Kosher salt, ground black pepper, fresh sage, half cup of olives, squeezed 1/2 lemon, and red pepper.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle one tablespoon of oil into a baking sheet. Place fillets skin side down. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle small pieces of sage leaves on fish. Scatter olives on top and around fish. Drizzle with remaining two tablespoons of oil. Roast (no need to flip) until fillets are opaque @8-10 minutes. Squeeze lemon juice over fish and lightly spread pepper. Add a drizzle of oil, optional. 308 calories, 30 grams fat, two grams carbs, 289 protein. Time: 15 minutes. Serves four-six people. Credit to Melissa Clark. A nice easy way to turn your fresh tog catch into a delicious meal!
On The Water
High pressure returned, continuing to build into the area before moving offshore. A warm front approached and moved through the region as low pressure tracked through the Great Lakes, while another low developed on top of the cold front, impacting the area before moving east. That brought 20-knot gusty winds and seas around two feet. After a series of rain, clouds, wind, and sun, air temperatures climbed back into the mid-60s. Meanwhile, Long Island Sound nearshore water temperatures wavered in the low 50s, bringing on more marine fishing opportunities.
This is the last weekend to get out togg’n before spring blackfish season closes on May 1. Weather and seas cooperated during the week, leading up to the weekend, as white chins were caught in the rocky boulder-strewn areas and along the breakwalls. Soft baits like clams and seaworms scored good fish, along with some of those fishers dunking crabs. Small vessels, kayakers, and shore fishers all had chances at quality togs, and many enjoyed a relatively decent spring season, while others missed out on the early bite.
Striped bass are becoming more prevalent in the Sound and are being caught by conventional and fly fishers. Top waters, like spooks and other walk-the-dog types, are being effective along with soft plastics, bucktails, spoons, and swimmers. Incoming tides are when fly fishers should be casting along the beaches, while both ebb and flood tides can be productive when working the channels or tidal rivers. It is definitely worth checking out white perch in brackish stretches of tidal rivers!
Anyone following our local birds of prey that consume fish have been seeing increased activity from ospreys, eagles, and cormorants. Currently, Atlantic menhaden is the main attraction for those birds feeding in the Sound, while trout are dominating the inland feeders that concentrate on the rivers, lakes, and ponds. Anglers fishing those waters can testify to those keen-eyed hunters diving and catching a trout as they skimmed the surface prior to flying off with a meal. Gasping and uttering a few unmentionables was generally overheard in the aftermath but understandably, survival food wins out over frustration.
Many more state waters have been recently stocked with rainbows, brook, brown, and tiger trout, along with seeforellens and lake trout in dedicated lakes. Overall, the bite has been ongoing and good! Natural, scented baits, artificials, and flies continue to be effective, although some of the river levels and flows have eased, which is causing a shift in presentations and locations. Insect hatches are intermittent while other live metamorphing and swimming critters have been providing forage below the surface.
All other lake and pond species are in prime time. Water temperatures are rising and vegetation is growing. Look for largemouth and smallmouth bass to be taking hard and soft lures worked above and below the surface, with live worms being a go-to bait. Pickerel have been increasingly more aggressive and have been on inline spinners, spoons, and swimmers while other species, such as crappies, catfish to sunfish, etc., are onto baits and small jigs.
Fly fishing: an outstanding opportunity for the experienced or beginner. Booking inland and marine fly fishing lessons for 2023 with world fisher, certified master fly fishing casting instructor and fishing lodge director. From trout, salmon, steelhead, and sea-run browns to striped bass, bonefish, permit, and tarpon, etc., techniques learned and honed will improve your fishing.
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 the latest gear, flies/fly fishing, rods/reels, clam/crabbing supplies, fishing trips, licenses/permits, and much more, swing by the shop (203-245-8665), open seven days located at 21 Boston Post Road, Madison. Until next time from your Connecticut shoreline’s full-service fishing outfitter and Authorized Penn Premium Dealer, where we don’t make the fisherman, we make the fisherman better.