Pictured above: Bill Taylor and his father, Bill Taylor, Sr., show off a pair of chunky keepers caught in 60-foot depths southeast of Jones Inlet.
WAKE UP THE WHITE CHINS
When it comes to targeting the biggest blackfish, having patience is more necessity than virtue. Often smaller, more aggressive fish are first to an angler’s bait. If you can control the urge to stick every bump or tap you feel on the bottom, it’s possible to wait out the cunners, smaller blackfish, sea bass and other bottom dwellers while holding out for a bite from something that will turn heads back at the dock.
Don’t be afraid to lose a few baits in the process. If you feel around and find a high point, let my your bait stay in place until you get a big fish strike. Any baits that come off serve as chum to wake up and draw the bigger ones out, and sometimes you actually have to cull a few smaller fish so the bulldogs have a chance to get to your offerings. Even if you miss a hit from a big fish—a strong, sinker-lifting tap, tap—don’t really worry. That bulldog isn’t going anywhere and he’ll be waiting for the next piece of crab you send to the bottom. I don’t miss on many second chances.”
Another trick to cue the big ones is choosing large crabs for bait. Try to think nothing of using a big green or white crab with the legs and claws removed but the shell simply cracked and left on the body to marinate in the depths and “soak out” the beasts. Fish these baits using a single-hook bottom rig over nasty bottom, or from a double-hook snafu rig when snags seem a little less likely. Either way, effective standard rigs feature 3/0 Gamakatsu octopus-style hooks and leaders consisting of 60- to 80-pound-test Berkley Big Game monofilament or Ande leader material. A six-foot, medium-action Ugly Stick conventional rod and a Daiwa Saltist reel filled with 50-pound-test Power Pro braided line is an effective combo for pulling whitechins out of structure.
If you’re fishing over rocks, or if the bite is a tough one, use a fairly long leader so the blackfish can chew without feeling much resistance. If you’re working a snag-infested wreck, shorten it up for better control. Go to fluorocarbon leader material if the water is especially clear or if the bigger fish seem overly picky. No matter which leader you use, be sure to check it constantly and replace it if you feel any nicks or chaffing.”
While many anglers shy away from competition, sometimes it is good to have a few extra rods on your boat. Blackfishing is often a game of inches and having another sharp bottom bouncer or two aboard simply helps cover more ground more thoroughly. Hook a good one, however, and you can expect your neighbor to drop a line right alongside your own.
The biggest blackfish often stack tightly together, so don’t be afraid to get close and personal if the bite is tight. Most people also move away from a spot after getting stuck on bottom. That’s another time to move in. Lost rigs indicate the kind of sticky place you want your baits.
DON’T CROSS THEIR EYES…
One interesting point to note is how hooked bulldogs—or any large fish, for that matter— respond to being out-muscled. Many anglers use heavy hook-sets and several strong rod pumps to try and quickly pull big fish out of the snags.
Work your retrieval a little differently-the harder you pull, the harder a fish fights. Lift the rod high on the set but then reel steadily or with short strokes. It’s almost like you don’t want to wake a sleeping giant. Get that fish coming up and simply keep the pressure constant. A big fish is still going to try and dive back down once you get it off the bottom a bit, but you’ll gain more line this way so you’ll have a bigger cushion when a beast decides it’s time to bear down.
RESPECT THE STRUCTURE
One point to always follow when droping for tautog is that it’s important to respect the structure other people are fishing. Do your own homework and find your own pieces, and don’t crowd someone who is already set up and catching fish. There are plenty of sources to gather published GPS coordinates. Start your search with some of these and then spread out to find your own super blackfish pieces.”