2015-10-22 / Nature

Blackfish Angling is Outstanding in October

By James Merolla

Paul Daugherty of Middletown with a 16-inch blackfish he caught in local waters on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Photo by James Merolla) Paul Daugherty of Middletown with a 16-inch blackfish he caught in local waters on Saturday, Oct. 17. (Photo by James Merolla) You will find three things dotting the boulders that align Newport Harbor this month – men with blackfish rigs, buckets of crabs, and tautog.

The tautog, or blackfish, Tautoga onitis, is a species of wrasse native to the western Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to South Carolina. This species inhabits hard substrate habitats in inshore waters at depths from 1 to 75 meters. It is currently the only known member of its genus.

It is a hard fighting, great tasting bottom feeder.

Locals call it the bulldog of the bottom because its big head will wrestle the line straight down to the rocks once it’s been hooked. It looks and fights like a bulldog, too, complete with buck teeth on its lower jaw.

Blackfish are really biting this month and will continue to do so well into November. There are special blackfish rigs set up for these fish. You will catch them over offshore craggy ledges with inlets in at least 20-to-30 feet of water.

Get a bucket of crabs from Sam’s Bait & Tackle or at your local bait store and cut them in half through the soft underbelly with ordinary scissors. Hook one half (each half if you set up double hooks) and drop to the bottom with at least a four ounce weight if the day offers two-foot swells or more. (You might need five ounces or more in heavier weather.).

Be ready, but not anxious. Tautog will strike hard. Steadily lift your pole after you feel the first tug in anticipation of the second; but don’t jerk your pole up too fast or too far or the fish will strip the bait. Catching blackfish takes patience once the first hard strike is made. Very often, the crabs can be stripped from the hook with just one strike, or two quick ones.

The fish will dive down, once hooked, and literally try to rub the hook out of their jaws on the rocks below. We’ve seen many an angler hook a tautog, then lose the fish to the rocks beneath in a heartbeat. Sometimes, the fisherman will wrangle the line out of the rocks, only to discover the tautog still on it. Once you hook a blackfish, hold your pole steadily high.

Paul Daugherty of Middletown has become a master tautog angler. Daugherty and a friend went “out front” last weekend from Newport Harbor and caught their limit of tautog in the first couple of hours (and many smaller ones that were thrown back). Among his keepers was a 23-inch white-chin.

But this was nothing compared to a record, or near-record, blackfish of 31 inches caught in the upper bay off Portsmouth in early October.

A fish of similar size was reportedly taken in Connecticut a week ago. These fish get bigger every week until anglers get too cold to catch them. Dress warmly, be careful and don't take chances while fishing from rocky shorelines. No fish is worth an ocean fall or being swept away.

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