Blackfish/Tautog Join the Hectic Fall Fishing Season
After a month-long break, fall blackfish (tautog) is just around the corner. Water temperatures are dropping, and with plenty of competition for food among a slew of seasonal fishes still foraging, the challenge to hook into a prize white chin is increasing. Striped bass are tearing up the coast, and it goes without saying that bluefish are displaying the aggressive characteristics that have made them a formidable target. Add to that the intrusion of feeding coastal sharks on a fisher’s catch, and we can see how a tog can be lost during a retrieve.
This season in particular, paying attention to one’s line and rod tip is paramount since gear in use early in the fall is often lighter than when togs head to deeper water. Three things that assist in determining a tog’s nibble are sensitive braided line, fingertips, and a responsive rod tip. The thinness of braided line transmits the nibble or tapping, while fingertips are sensitive enough to pick up on the bite. A responsive rod tip reacts to any action down below, giving a visual as well as a physical indication of any interest or feeding.
Once hooked, the fun begins! Either the tog will pull back into the rocks or make a valiant attempt to free itself. Here is where a fishing rod with a stiff lower butt portion will help in the tug-of-war to follow. Will it strip the crab, wedge itself between a set of rocks, or snap back and forth while being retrieved? Will there be a meal to follow, or will this bulldog be too short and returned? In deeper water, the other alternative is that it could be consumed (or partially consumed) by another hungry critter, like a seal or coastal shark — a likely possibility.
Next to a bucket of crabs, a handful of different colors and sizes of tog jigs, and a few miscellaneous accessories, there is sure to be a thermos of hot mud — something that almost becomes a necessity as we slip through October and into November. More to follow, but right now, there is so much to concentrate on that it is time to take a step back and just enjoy the beginning of this diversified fall season.
On The Water
Low pressure drifted south, followed by high pressure that built out of southeast Canada. The high remained in control, then eventually gave way to an inverted trough moving northward along the coast. A low-pressure trough drifted offshore as high pressure built back. Rainy weather was replaced by several days of sun and then mixed clouds as air temperatures fluctuated from mid-70s to the mid-60s, while Long Island Sound water temperatures continued a downward trend into the mid-60’s. Winds and seas varied as fronts came through, creating gusts to 15 knots and wave heights between 1-2 feet.
Striped bass are in full fall mode, as many tidal rivers, bays, and harbor channels are stacked up with Atlantic menhaden that are spurring the striper run; however, catches have not been limited to this specific forage. These short-slotted and slot-limit linesiders have been taking soft plastics, spoons, and sinking flies, as well as topwater plugs. Out on the mid-Sound and near-shore reefs, it has been mackerel, bucktails, and diamond jigs.
The bite has been solid from the beginning of a tide, where smaller fish have been feeding non-stop, to late in the tide, when fish over 40” perked up and began chowing down as the pace slackened. During these hookups, it is a good idea to keep a cautious eye open — especially near drop-offs. Coastal sharks have not let up on their interest in hooked, distressed stripers as they fight a fisher on the other end of the line.
When much action is occurring with stripers, bluefish cannot be far from the bait source. There has been more than one serious blitz going on this past week. Bunker have been breaking the surface, as chopper blues attacked them en masse from the rear, bottom, and top. Bird activity went from periodic to heavy, compared to some of the more recent quieter days. On the other hand, snapper blue action has been mediocre compared to those hot bluefish blitzes. Anyone fishing with top water plugs had a field day. Without ginning it up, one had to be there to appreciate such fishing even though fish sizes did not rival those of the early 1970’s. With the days getting shorter and water temperatures dropping, let’s see how long this lasts.
There is still no appreciable presence of albies or bonito showing up in the Sound proper. However, the east and west ends have had surprise popup bites, along with Spanish mackerel. There certainly is enough bait around, and conditions are right, but there is some serious competition for food and much activity surrounding it — predators included. A fisher always has weakfish to fall back on, generally when trolling or drifting mid-Sound waters. They will take artificials but are more appetizing when garnished with a touch of squid.
The last day for recreational fluke in CT waters is Oct. 9, so take advantage of those few days left. However, if your vessel is seaworthy or you venture out on a functional headboat, a fluker has through Dec. 31 in RI to put a fresh one out on the holiday. For now, it is fall porgy and black sea bass time, when the Sound’s reefs are giving up these tasty rascals. Squid is the primary bait, which could be backed up with clams when using simple single-hook or multi-hook rig setups and weight heavy enough to get to the humps and reefs. For now, the rest of the bottom fishery is still feeding — sharks, skate, rays, sea robins, northern kingfish, and toadfish. Keep in mind that water temperatures are dropping when some of these bottom fishes might be begging off, leaving blackfish (tautog) season to re-open in style on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Captain Morgan’s will have crabs, tog jigs, and all the hooks and rigs needed to make for a successful togging day.
Making room for the Fall Run along the coast and squeezing in the freshwater bite is a dilemma for certain anglers. Considering that the fall bite on inland rivers, lakes, and ponds is good, the decision as to which to devote time to can be complicated — less so when paying particular attention to tide times, moon phases, and weather conditions. Those three considerations can go a long way in picking the days that the sweet or briny gets the nod. Regardless, the basses are chowing down, pickerel are chasing baits, panfish are aggressive, and trout are really liking the temperature drop. In any case, your rod is sure to bend, so have a good day on, in, or near the water.
Fly Fishing Clinic: Now accepting reservations for October. An outstanding opportunity for the experienced or intermediate fly fisher! Booking inland and marine fly fishing lessons for 2023 with world fisher, certified master fly fishing casting instructor, and fishing lodge director, accompanied by an accomplished guide, instructor, and local striped bass enthusiast and specialist. 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.
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