Game Fishing > Bottom Saltwater Fish types > Blackfish


BlackfishThe tautog or blackfish is one of the species of parrot fishes, stockily built, with hard scales, and harder mouth; it is slippery as an eel, and salt-water anglers like to fish for it because of its strength and hard fighting. Although not a large fish, only averaging two to three pounds, individuals weighing ten and even fourteen pounds are by no means unusual.

It is found in greater and lesser abundance from St. Johns to Charleston, S.C., and is known in various places as blackfish, tautog, chub, moll, Will gorge, and oyster fish. East of New York it is usually called tautog, a name given to it by the Narragansett Indians. As may be inferred from its haunts and the character of its strong, sharp teeth, the tautog's food consists of hard-shelled mollusks, squids, scallops, barnacles, and sand dollars; many of the mollusks they swallow, shells and all, ejecting the hard parts after the flesh has been digested.

Angling from the rocks for the tautog is a favorite pursuit all along the coast, particularly about New York, where there are precipitous shores, on which the fishermen stand. On Long Island Sound and other protected waters they are usually fished for from boats anchored among the reefs, or near wrecked vessels, and shell-covered piles and wharfs; rocky bottoms are very good places. At some places they bite best on the flood tide; in others they are voracious during the ebb tide. Some anglers bait for them by throwing overboard broken clams or crabs to induce them to renew their visit.

In April and May we have the best angling; though they frequent local waters all through the summer, not many are caught in the hot months until fishing begins again in October and November. The best bait in the spring is the clam, preferably soft­shell clam, for at this time, many anglers say, the tautog has a tender mouth. In the fall, both lobsters and crabs, as well as fiddler and rock crabs, are the favorite bait; sometimes they will take shrimp and sand worms.

Large numbers of tautog are caught by the anglers who go out daily on the fishing steamers in the open sea. All, or nearly all, use the regulation salt-water tackle: a short, stout and heavy rod, strong line, and large wooden reel. Such tackle is necessary for outside fishing, and the hook should be very strong but not large in size. For inside fishing lighter tackle will do the hooks the same. In baiting the hook with a small crab it should be done in the same manner as for sheepshead, viz., the point passed through the belly to the back near the head.

A shrimp should be hooked by placing the point near the tail, underneath, afterward drawing the shrimp over; by such a method it will live longer. The sinker should be a heavy one, and the two hooks should be tied about six inches apart, as near the sinker as possible. No leader is required, but the gut snells must be very strong to withstand the sharp teeth when the fish is tugging at the bottom.

The tautog is supplied with a pair of strong crushers, situated in the back part of its mouth, and consisting of two flat groups of ball-shaped teeth between which they crush small shell-fish before swallowing. When it takes the bait it passes it on to the crushers, when a peculiar succession of bites is felt by the angler, who loses many a fine fish by being too hasty to hook it. After the first indication is felt of a fish taking the bait, it should be struck sharply.

The tautog bites like a sheeps­head, but with less power. It is an adept at getting hooks or sinkers fast in the clefts, for as soon as it bites and feels the barb it darts under or between rocks, leaving the angler thankful if the fish liberates the hook or sinker at the price of freedom.