Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips Spring Tautog Fishing in Ocean City, MD
Spring Tautog Fishing in Ocean City, MD

Tautog in Ocean City, MDSpring Tautog Fishing in Ocean City, MD

“What the heck is a tautog?”

Tautog, also called Blackfish up North, is a member of the wrasse family. Its scientific name is Tautoga onitis
. The name originated from the American Indians who called the fish a taut. The plural was tautaoog. And thus we got the name tautog!

Anyway, tautog  live on the bottom floor in structure such as rocks, wrecks, mussel beds, bridge pilings, inlet rocks or slabs of underwater cement and of course, artificial reef structure! They are found from Nova Scotia to South Carolina with a few being caught in Georgia. They are generally black, but since they pick up the color of the surrounding bottom, they are often molted in color and can be grayish or brownish. They are distinctive in that they do not have regular scales. If you ever tried to scale a tautog you would learn fast, that they don’t come off and you really need to skin a tautog to get the beautiful white fillets to the table.

In Ocean City anglers catch them really good in the spring and fall. They bite all summer, but tend to run small inshore. They are especially targeted in the spring and fall when the “bite” is on and the fish are larger. Besides structure, tautog like deep running water. In Ocean City, we find tautog in the following hot “tautog spots”:

2nd thru 4th Street Bulkhead in Ocean City, MDFrom the shore we have the Ocean City Inlet, the very end of the Oceanic Pier, the sea wall behind the Oceanic Pier, the bulkhead from 2nd through 4th Streets on the bayside, the end of 5th and 6th Streets, the Route 50 Bridge, and some over by the Homer Gudelsky Park on the West side of the bay. Some are caught from 9th Street Pier as well.

If you are in a boat, anglers cast into holes around the South Jetty or along the Homer Gudelsky Park. If your boat is big enough, you don’t have to go far offshore to catch tautog. Anglers catch them right at Little Gull Shoal (near the Black Can Buoy just south of the Inlet. (Kelly’s Reef) Buy a set of the Ocean City Reef Foundation Charts and you can zero in on some good tautog fishing. There’s good “close-in” tautog fishing around Russell’s Reef as well. Later on, these same numbers will catch you triggerfish, sea bass, and flounder.

Ocean going party boats go out of Ocean City for tautog in the spring and fall and even in the winter when the season is open. When nothing else is biting, there’s always a chance of catching a tautog. Tautog fishing is not everyone’s cup of tea. They dive into structure and get you hung up. They sometimes are crafty and nibble and peck your bait right off your hook without you feeling it. They can make a good man cuss. But the rewards are one of the hardest fighting fish you can catch and some great table fare if you catch a keeper.

You can fish all day with a live minnow or a strip of squid and never catch a tautog. Tautog like crabs, clams, and sometimes shrimp. Any kind of crustacean or mollusk is the bait of choice for tautog.  Anglers in Ocean City generally fish for tautog with green crabs (imported from New Jersey) or mole crabs (or sand fleas- those little crabs the kids dig up on the beach all summer).  Some anglers flip over rocks at low tide and catch marsh crabs (a little tiny black crab that’s way too fast for me!) Others catch fiddler crabs in the green marshes. I’ve seen one guy smack open snails. Little speckled calico crabs cast netted in the surf are a delicacy. The local tautog anglers can get very creative with their tautog baits. I watched a man on the jetty one day, put a fish head on a string, and dangle it between the rocks into the water. Little rock crabs would cling to the fish head, and he was putting them in a little tin can. Wow!  (It’s a whole lot easier to go to a store and buy some bait!)

“I’ve gone fishing for sea bass on a party boat. Is tautog fishing similar?”

Party boat fishing for sea bass is pretty simple. Bait up the hook, put it on the bottom, and the sea bass hop on the hook. For tautog fishing, you have to concentrate. The one most important factor is to keep your bait still on the bottom. As the boat rocks up and down, you need to let your rod tip go up and down with the boat motion, so your sinker stays still on the bottom.  Don’t let slack get in your line either, or the tautog will either steal your bait without you knowing it, or it will pull you into the structure and hang you up.

Every day and even every tide is different with the bite. Some days the fish SLAM the bait. Other days or tides the fish will just pick. Tautog have a set of grinding teeth in the back of their throat that look like molars.  When the tautog picks up the piece of crab he pulls it into his throat to these back molars to crush it. The fish will give a telltale jerk or twitch when he does this, and this is when the angler should set the hook. You can set the hook too soon. And whoa! You can set the hook too late!  If you think the fish is there, pull up on the rod slowly. If you feel the weight of the fish, set the hook. If not, slowly set it back down there.  Do the same thing if fishing from the shore.

Keep your bait fresh, as the tautog like to pick out the crab guts and leave the rest. Pinch the crab between your fingers to let out the juices (Yuck! - But it works!)

“How do you hook a green crab?” Green crabs are the most popular of tautog baits.  Cut it in half with scissors, pinch the bait to get the juices flowing, and jam the hook in the leg socket. Some people, like me, pull off the back, cut off the legs, and insert the hook in the leg socket.  

“How do you hook a sand crab?” Sand crabs are the second most popular baits. Insert the hook in the apron and out the outer shell. OR hook it thru the tail section and out the outer shell. You can give them a pinch too! (Take a rag to wipe your hands!)

how to hook tautog bait
Tautog don’t move around a lot, so sometimes you have to move to the tautog if you are fishing from the shore or a boat. If you aren’t getting bites in one spot, move to another. Even a slight move, may take you to a better hole. Concentrate on the bottom, and if you feel the sinker go deeper into a hole, let some line out so it stays in the deeper hole, then bring in the slack, stop, and hold. A bite will be coming if the tide is right.

The rig?

simple tautog rig

Keep it simple. At least a 40 pound test leader is a must. Make a dropper loop for the sinker which should be a bank, round, cushion, torpedo shaped or flat sinker. Go up a few inches and make another dropper loop three to five inches long and insert a Kahle or Octopus hook into the loop. Anglers inshore tend to use a 2/0 to 3/0 black Octopus style hook. Offshore in deeper water anglers tend to use a 2/0 to 3/0 Kahle hook. Anglers in party boats use two hooks. Anglers inshore generally use one hook.

Tautog fishing is lots of fun, and good eating too. Many anglers in the spring make a habit of releasing the females that are obviously full of roe.   

Good fishing... See ya soon, in Ocean City, Maryland... and surrounding areas of the Delaware Seashore State Park, Bethany, and Fenwick Island, Delaware.

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Good fishing….

Last Updated on Tuesday, 29 March 2011 00:42