Tog Fishing - The Basics
by Capt. Marc E. Resciniti
Tautog fishing is at its best in the fall. Commonly called "tog", tautog is one of the most challenging species to pursue while fishing over New Jersey's Artificial Reefs.
This fall the posession limit increases to six fish a day on November 16 (it is a one fish limit at the time this is being written - see the Marine Digest for current regulations) and they are on the reefs in good numbers.
The following basic techniques will help you land more fish this season.
Boat Placement Over a Reef
Proper boat placement and anchoring is the key to a successful day out tog fishing. Your boat has to be positioned directly over a piece of structure and remain steady. To accomplish this, first locate a piece of structure using DGPS or LORAN C coordinates. Once in the vicinity, circle your boat around the waypoint and watch the depth sounder until you see the structure on the screen. Mark the area with a buoy - it will give you a reference point while you anchor the boat.
After the site is located, kick the boat in neutral and determine your drift. Run up current of the drift and lay two anchors off your bow making a 45 degree angle between them. Finally, let out enough scope to drift back to your reference buoy. This anchoring technique will keep your boat much steadier over the structure than using a single anchor.
Tackle and Rigging
The ideal equipment for tog fishing is a conventional rod and reel. The rod must have a good backbone and be capable of handling a minimum of an 8 ounce sinker. The reel should be spooled with at least 30-pound line and have a low gear ratio to provide enough torque to haul the powerful tog out of its home. Old time pinhookers (commercial rod and reel tog fishermen) would use a 1:1 ratio reel, but that is not necessary.
A good tog rig consists of leader line, two sharp and strong hooks, and a heavy lead sinker. The leader line should consist of at least a 50-pound fluorocarbon and be about 3 to 4 feet long.
An easy way to snell hooks is to use a 2-foot piece of fluorocarbon and tie a 2/0 to 4/0 hook to one end with a domhof knot. Then do the same to the other end of the fluorocarbon. This leaves you with two hooks, one on either end. Hold the hooks in your hand and double up the line and tie a double overhand loop at the opposite end of the hooks. Take the double overhand loop and run it through the dropper knot on the leader. The snelled hooks should extend about 6-8 inches from the main leader line. This leaves you with a rig that has two hooks lying on the bottom.
The most common bait of choice under most conditions is the green crab; however, sometimes other species of crab works better. For instance hermits, calicos, or fiddler crabs may entice more bites during the warmer months, but Jonahs and rock crabs may be better during the winter. Surf clams and conch can be used, but they generally attract small fish.
The two hooks are inserted into either a piece of crab or a whole crab. Run the hooks through the knuckles of the crab to prevent the bait from falling off. On days when the bite is good, a whole crab will entice the larger fish to hit.
Feeling the Bite
Tog are one of the most difficult fish to hook. The repetitive tapping when a tog hits causes a lot of people to set the hook too early and miss fish. The key is patience. When tog are lightly tapping they don't have a good hold of the bait. Be patient, wait until the fish gives a pull, not a tap.
Every day brings a different bite. Sometimes the bite is on and you can't miss and other times you can barely fill a tug. If the bite is light or non-existent just move to the other side of the boat or let some scope out to adjust your position on the piece of structure. That can make all the difference in the world. Once you feel a good pull, set the hook and crank the reel. Tog have to be hauled out of structure with gusto, otherwise, the fish will hang your rig in structure.
Enjoying Your Catch
One of my favorite ways to prepare this tasty fish is to make chowder. Use any New England clam chowder recipe and substitute cubed tog fillets for clams. Remember, don't overcook the tog as it may become tough and chewy. Here is the recipe that I prefer most:
Tog Chowder Recipe
2 tablespoons of butter
In a deep pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and bay leaf and cook 2-3 minutes. Whisk in flour and Old Bay and cook 2 more minutes. Whisk in clam juice and broth and combine; cook until broth begins to thicken. Stir in milk slowly. Add potatoes raise heat to high and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 12-15 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add bacon and tog. Cook 2-3 minutes or until tog begins to flake. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with chives. Enjoy!