Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips How do you catch those tautog?
How do you catch those tautog?

“How do you catch those tautog?!”

Tautog fishing can be frustrating or rewarding. You have to give
it some time and usually a good amount of tackle. It takes some practice and
a lot of patience. Skill? Well, everyone has a different technique and like
most fish, they feed differently one day to the next. One day the tautog
will slam the baits and are easy to catch. The next day, they will barely
mouth the bait. Then you have to be as crafty and patient as the tautog!

Tautog hang around rocks or underwater debris. They like hard
running water. That’s why they bite along the rock jetties (both Ocean City
and Indian River), the pilings along the Route 50 Bridge, the bulkhead from
2nd through 4th Streets, the end of 5th and 6th Streets, the 9th Street
Pier, the very end of Oceanic Pier and the rocks just south of the Homer
Gudelsky Park.

“What kind of bait do I use?”

Tautog like crustations. Any kind of crab or clam will entice a
tautog. Cut baits like squid and mullet rarely lure a tautog to the hook.
They aren’t interested in live minnows or frozen shiners either. They will
take a shrimp, bloodworm or salted clam, but their preferred meal in Ocean
City is sand fleas (mole crabs) or green crabs.

Sand fleas (or mole crabs) are those little crabs the kids dig
up on the beach in the summer. They don’t have any claws to bite you and
they are very easy to use as bait. Simply hook the sand flea through the
apron and let the hook protrude out the outer shell about an eighth of an
inch. Some anglers hook them through the tail section as well. Experiment.
Like I said. Fish change the way they bite day to day. Sometimes they bite
differently tide to tide! Always pay attention to the “bite.” You’ll catch
more fish!

“How about green crabs?”

Anglers buy green crabs from tackle stores. The tackle stores
buy them from a couple different bait distributors out of New Jersey. Since
green crabs are not native to our waters, the Maryland DNR asks that anglers
not release live green crabs into the water when they are done fishing. Toss
them into a trashcan or give them to another angler. You can also freeze
them for another day if they are still alive.

“How do you hook a green crab?”

The best thing to do with a green crab right off the bat is to
kill it so it won’t pinch you or scurry away. Stab the crab right at the
point of its apron and this will kill it. Then, pull off the shell, cut it
in half, and shove the hook in the leg socket. Some anglers also cut off the
legs so there is no part of the crab dangling off the hook. When you do
this, the tautog can’t pull at the legs and pull the bait off the hook! I
cut the legs off when I tautog fish, but I’ve seen plenty anglers that leave
the legs on. Hint- If you do a lot of cutting on your green crabs, a pair of
kitchen shears come in very handy.

“Can we catch our own bait?”

Sure, some people go down to the edge of the surf at low tide
and dig in the wet sand for the sand fleas (mole crabs.) Others turn over
rocks on the bayside and grab marsh crabs as they scurry away. You have to
be quick at this! I tried it one day and got about 9 baits in an hour!
People find these rocks around 9th Street Pier, the Homer Gudelsky Park, and
around the Coast Guard Station.

Fishing for tautog is very hard on your line because you are
fishing right in structure. Some anglers fill their reel with heavy line- 30
to 40 pound test monofilament and make rigs right out of the line on their
reel. Simple is best when tautog fishing. If you do this, tie a simple
overhand loop knot at the end of your line for the sinker and another
overhand loop knot for the hook. Then simply insert a loose hook into the
loop and you are ready to fish for tautog.

Since you are fishing in structure you want to use a sinker that
won’t get hung up too easily. Popular sinker shapes are in-line, cushion,
and flat sinkers. Some simply use a bank sinker. Be sure to avoid pyramid
and bass cast type sinkers. Pyramid sinker get stuck in the structure for
obvious reasons. Bass cast sinkers can roll the angler right into a snag!

(Some anglers do use an egg sinker and make a sliding rig for
tautog. Never tried it myself, but some good tautog anglers swear by an egg
sinker rig.)

“What size weight should we use?”

You want a weight that stays where you put it when you want it
to stay, but you also want it to move when you want to nudge it along the
bottom. Anglers use anywhere from one and a half to three-ounces for tautog
fishing and change the sinker weight as conditions change. Deep water, more
weight. Harder tide, more weight. Shallow water less weight, slack
tide--less weight….

A little trick some anglers do is put a rubber band on the loop
and attach the sinker to the rubber band. Just loop it through. If you get a
nice tautog on and the sinker gets hung in the bottom, you can pull and
break off your sinker and still catch the tautog! This really works well if
you are pulling the fish out of a deep hole or steep underwater incline. It
also creates “less stress” on your arms when trying to break your line when
getting hung up with 40-pound test leader. If you hook gets hung it will
generally bend out.

“What kind of hook should I use?”

A sharp, short-shanked hook makes a good tautog hook. Don’t use
a hook too large, because if you’ve ever looked at a tautog’s mouth, it is
not very large. One of the most popular hooks in Ocean City is the Mustad
Octopus beak hook #9255BL size #2/0. Some anglers like a little smaller #1/0
hook. Some old timers say the tautog takes the bait into its mouth, crushes
it, and then spits the shells back out. This is when the angler actually
hooks the tautog. (Or so they say.) I just know that sometimes they are
easy to hook and sometimes not!

“So what’s the trick to catching tautog?”

The most important part of tautog fishing is to get the bait
where the tautog are hiding. Sometimes they are close to the rocks or
bulkhead and sometimes they are a little further out. Generally, when the
tide is running hard, the tautogs are closer to the structure. When the tide
slacks up, you can catch them a little further out. THIS is usually when you
can catch the larger tautogs as they may be hiding in deeper holes that you
could never get to when the tide is ripping.

Cast out to a depth that you feel your sinker will hold (or at
least half way hold) and then ever so slowly pull it back in a little at a
time (or let the tide slowly move it) until you feel the sinker fall into a
deeper hole. Then stop, hold your rod tip up, and wait. Usually when the
bait falls into a nice hole, you’ll get a bite. Once you start getting
bites, you’re half way there. You found the tautog. Now all you have to do
is hook one, and get it in.

I like to keep the rod tip up until I get a bite. Then I slowly
let the tip fall down and point the rod tip right at the bite. Then I slowly
pull the rod tip up and hopefully hook a tautog. If the bite stops and you
haven’t hooked the fish, the bait is probably gone. Time to start over
again. Bait up, and try to get to that same hole again.

“I got one on!”

Keep your rod tip up and crank like no tomorrow. If the tautog
gets half a chance, it will go into a hole or under a rock and get you in a
snag. Most tautog anglers keep a pretty tight drag as well. The heavier
pound test you use on your line, the tighter you can set your drag.

Tautog fishing is lots of fun… And good eating too…

Good fishing…