How to Catch Tautog

Tautog fishing comes down to location, tackle, and technique. Here are a few tips to get started. 

➤What is a tautog fish?

Learning how to catch tautog has become extremely popular in recent years, as saltwater anglers target “tog,” or blackfish, not only for their phenomenal filets, but also for fun. A bottom-feeding fish, tog can be found from Cape Cod west into Long Island Sound, and south from New Jersey to the Chesapeake Bay. Catching tautog comes down to having the right bait, the right tackle, and the right technique; here are a few tips to get started.

➤When is the best time to fish for tautog?

Tog fishing season varies from state to state, but learning when to hit the water is crucial to success. As a general rule of thumb, spring tautog and fall tautog gives anglers the best opportunity to catch legal and trophy tog. Shore anglers should spring tog fish in April, May, and June, and again in September, October, and November. While many saltwater fish migrate south in the early fall months, tog are an inshore fish, and can be caught well into December. Winter fishing for trophy tautog has become popular off southern New Jersey and Delaware Bay. The world record tautog weighed 28 pounds and was caught off Ocean City, Maryland.

Catching tautog comes down to conditions and technique.
Jimmy Fee landed this keeper tautog fishing in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island aboard the REEL EZ.

As sea temperatures cool down, tog move into deeper waters. Although some saltwater fish feed at night, tog are strictly daytime feeders and go dormant at night.

Submit your tautog photos on Instagram using the hashtag #onthewatermagazine, or email them to feedback@onthewater.com.

➤Where is a good place to catch tautog?

The best tog fishing spots are areas with hard structure like rock piles, boulders, wrecks, mussel beds, jetties, bridges, moorings, and reefs. Try to find spots away from other boats and anglers, as the most popular areas will be overfished. Capt. Mike Roy of Reel Cast Charters recommends moving to another spot if 15 to 20 minutes go by without a bite.

Tautog can be caught in rock piles and boulders using tog jigs.
The best spots to fish for tautog are jetties, rock piles, boulders, reefs, and wrecks.

➤What is the best tautog fishing rig?

Experienced tautog fishermen favor traditional lead weight rigs in 10-to-30 foot depths, given that lead sinkers can stay positioned in areas with heavy current. One of the best rigs for tautog is a High-Low rig with a lead sinker that can be easily swapped out for a different size weight using a surgeon’s loop.

A High-Low rig is one of the most common tautog rigs used by shore anglers.

In recent years, tautog jigs have flooded the walls of northeast tackle shops and are used by boat and kayak tog anglers. Check out this video by On The Water editor Jimmy Fee, where he offers up a few tips on how to get started jigging for tog.

➤What is the best bait for tautog?

Catching tautog often comes down to bait. Green crabs, “White Legger” crabs, and Asian crabs are the most effective bait for tautog and can be found at most tackle shops.

Although green crabs are invasive, they’re the most abundant and popular tautog bait. Asian crabs are a dynamic crab for shore anglers because they’re useful, easy to find along tidal shorelines. Jonah Crabs, also known as “White Leggers”, are often used at the offshore wrecks in New Jersey for giant tautog.

Make sure you bring a cover or lid for the crabs and a pair of scissors to snip the claws and legs. It’s easier to thread a crab onto a hook when the claws and legs have been removed.

Green crabs, Asian crabs, and "White Legger" crabs are the three most common tautog baits.
Green crabs, Asian crabs, and “White Legger” crabs are the three most common tautog baits.

Tautog teeth are built to crush shellfish and they aren’t crab-shy. Insert the hook point through a rear leg socket and out the top of the shell. It’s okay to hook several small crabs at once, as tog are notorious for picking off the bait, and not getting hooked. If the local tackle shop is out of green crabs, it’s not difficult to find Asian crabs along the shoreline. The best way to find Asian crabs is to turn over a few bowling-ball-sized rocks near the high tide mark. It might take 30-60 minutes to fill a small bucket, but it’s worth the time and effort.

Don’t hesitate to throw some crushed crabs and legs in the water to create a slick in the water. The scraps will put nearby tog into a feeding frenzy.

➤How do you set the hook on tautog?

One of the most frequent questions is, “When is the right time to set the hook on tautog?” Tom Daffin of Fishin Fever Sportfishing says it will initially feel like the rod is being scratched. The ‘scratching’  is the tautog teeth chewing on the crab bait. Be patient, and don’t set the hook yet. Wait until there are several hard thumps to set the hook. Daffin shows how to set the hook on tautog in an On The Water short video.

➤What’s the best fishing tackle for tautog?

With so many options, choosing tautog fishing tackle can be overwhelming. Although tackle shops carry a plethora of tackle, keep it simple. If the water is deep or the current is moving at a fast clip, a conventional setup is ideal for boat and kayak tog fishing. When fishing waters 30 feet or less, or when fishing from shore, a spinning setup is practical. Head to a local tackle shop and ask for help picking a tautog setup. Toggers with experience prefer a rod with a sensitive tip and a strong mid and butt section.

How to catch tautog using a lightweight spinning rod and reel.
A lightweight spinning reel like a Shimano Stradic 4000 is preferred by many when using a tog jig. (Photo: JoeBaggs Tackle Togzilla Lay-Perfect Jig)

Trophy tog will head directly for a hole or structure when hooked. For this reason, Joe D’Agostino of JoeBaggs Tackle recommends using 20- to 30-pound braided line with a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader.

➤How to cook tog: tautog recipes

Tog is considered by many anglers to be the best Northeast inshore fish for the dinner table. Tautog is fairly easy to filet, even for those who have never brought home fish. After the scales and blood are washed off the filets, two firm and mild-flavored pieces of fish remain. During the chillier months, a tautog chowder recipe is one of the more popular dishes. If chowder isn’t in season, On The Water author Andy Nabreski recommends Portuguese-style braised tautog.

Creamy tautog chowder made easy with an On The Water recipe.
During the cooler fall weekends, a hearty tautog chowder is an excellent option to warm up friends and family.

Originally published in October 2020

4 on “How to Catch Tautog

  1. RAYMOND HOFFMAN JR

    never use braided line in a rock pile it has no abrasion résistance what so ever i use 60 lb.test ande line and have tog break it on a dead run also use only a single hook rig in a rock pile it hard enough to get through the rocks with 1 hook instead of 2 i hav fished for tog most of my life and have earned the title of tog man many people have come tom wanting to learn how to fish for tog the larges tog i have caught to date is 10 lbs 13 ounces i have taken 50 tog from under 1 rock at different times i read you article and my advice is never use any smaller line than 60 lbs..test mono tog will teach you that lesion in a hurry i have caught tog with 4 hooks in there mouth from lighter line when there was no limit on tog it was not uncommon to take 30 or 40 tog at a time tog man r.hoffmanjr@yahoo.com

  2. Michael

    I prefer to use 50-pound braid with a foot or so of a 50-80 pound mono leader for the abrasion resistance that you can’t get from braid. This setup really works well, I haven’t been broken off while using it this season.

  3. John jacobs

    I fish tautog from shore . In cape cod canal . I’ve gotten pretty good at it. There is a definite learning curve to landing this fish . Keeping ur line tight to feel the light bite before setting the hook . I use a 3 to 4 oz egg weight red bead to the swivel then a 10 inch 30 lbs wire leader another red bead an a sharpe # 3 needle nose hook they give a great fight an are an extremely strong fish as once hooked will dive straight for the rocks . They are by far the best tasting fish I have eaten a beautiful sweet tasting white meat the Asian crabs work good for me as I can catch plenty at low tide turning over the rocks crabs the size of ur thum work just fine

  4. Ken chen

    From shore, use 40lb braided line for casting distance, with a 3-4 foot mono leader at least 60lb test. High low will rarely get you a keeper from shore. Use a hook off a dropper loop about 10 inches. This way will get you bigger fish. I recently caught my daily limit 2 days in row used for this method.

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