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Tautog  -  Blackfish

   Blackfish, also known by its Native American name Tautog, is found from Nova Scotia to South Carolina. They are most abundant from Cape Cod to the Chesapeake Bay. Blackfish live both in near shore coastal waters as well as offshore ocean waters. They prefer structured habitats and are frequently found near piers, breakwaters, artificial reefs and areas with rocky bottoms. They are distinguished by their large lips and teeth, which are used to catch and eat their favorite foods, shellfish and crabs. Blackfish have a strong affinity for their chosen home site, and adults only travel about one-third mile in search of food each day. In the spring when water temperatures approach 50°F, blackfish migrate inshore to reproduce or spawn. They remain in waters near the shore throughout the summer. As the water temperature begins to drop again toward 50°F in the fall, blackfish move back to deeper ocean waters for the winter. Blackfish can grow up to 25 pounds, but smaller fish up to three pounds are more typical. When not feeding during the day and when resting at night, tautog often become so docile that they appear to be sleeping and can be touched by divers.

Blackfish is primarily harvested by recreational anglers who according to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission have accounted for about 90% of the catch since 1980. Most commercial landings have been by otter trawl, fish traps and gill nets. Tautog are also caught commercially by hook-and-line gear and as bycatch in lobster or other pots. Fishing methods that allow fish to be captured live have become more widely used in recent years due to the demand for live tautog in Asian markets in metropolitan areas in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada.

Blackfish has a relatively firm white meat, which makes it well suited for a variety of different preparation methods including fish stews and chowders. In fact in many seaside towns blackfish is the traditional ingredient in fish chowder. Blackfish can be used in almost any recipe that calls for lean white flesh fish with a mild taste like cod, sea bass, tilefish or halibut. Baking, broiling or sautéing are all good choices for this versatile fish.

Blackfish are usually caught in the early spring and late summer. Fishing with Green crabs and Fiddler crabs from an anchored boat works well. Any rock pile in the bay or ocean will hold fish at one time or another and blackfish are territorial so if at one time your catching big fish the it turns to smaller fish you might have cleaned out the area. Locating and catching these fish requires a good bit of knowledge and skill. It's not for amateurs. Fishing the ocean is some what tricky since the fishing is done by locating wrecks and rock piles . It's best to fish from a charter or party boat that knows the wrecks and how to fish them. Blackfish are notorious bait stealers. You have to be fast. Some sharpies say you have to set the hook before the fish bite. It's a great way to cure your fishing itch over the long winter. The Easter holiday usually kicks off the season and that's when the part boats start. into full swing.

Time of year: Blackfish usually like cold water so late winter/early spring and fall are good times.

How to: Green Crabs or Fiddler Crabs are great baits but I know that hermit crabs are the best when you can find them. A 3 way swivel with a sinker and a 6 to 8 inch leader works well. You have to be right on the wreck or in the rocks or you won't catch. Best fished from a boat. When your line hits the bottom and I mean as soon as it hits the bottom get ready to slam them blackfish they are fast.

Best Places: Any natural or artificial reef is a good spot. Any rock pile in the ocean or bay is likely to hold fish at one time of the year or another. Bridges are great spots but only early in the season then they move out into the ocean.

Tips: Make sure to bring plenty of rigs. You'll need them since you'll be fishing in areas full of snags. Use a pole with a strong tip so you can get a good fast hook set. Some people like to tie the sinker on with lighter weight mono then the line your fishing with. If the sinker gets snagged it can break free and allow you to save the rest of the rig. When using green crabs first take the top shell off then split it in half and remove the leg.

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