Jigging for Blackfish (Tautog) By Braden Niper
What is it: Jigging for blackfish is not really a new technique, but it has been gaining widespread popularity over the last few years. Different from traditional jigging, you are simply letting the baited jig sit motionless on the bottom until a fish comes along and bite. Most of the time you are imparting no action on the jig whatsoever. The advantage of using a jig instead of a standard hi-lo or bottom rig is twofold. First off you have far less hardware in the water to snag or alert a wary blackfish that something is amiss which leads to a more natural presentation and more bites. Secondly, using light jigs on light tackle is a blast!Many people think of blackfish as nothing more than a tasty bottom fish (which they certainly are), but try landing even a smaller one on a light spinning rod and you might start re-thinking your opinion on blackfishing! Over the last five years, more and more anglers in the northeast are starting to think of tog as more of a sport fish than just another meat fish due to these innovative and fun techniques.
When and Where to do it: Jigs will work wherever blackfish live and feed. Jigs generally work best in shallow water or at times when there is not a lot of current running.Sod banks, mussel beds, inlet jetties, bridge and pier pilings, as well as shallow wrecks and rock piles are all productive places to jig for blackfish.In the northeast, shallow water blackfish jigging is very productive April through October so it provides a go to fishery before and after Fluke season and in between Striper runs! Blackfish can be jigged in deeper water as well, generally practiced in the late fall to early winter when they begin to move offshore. Just make sure to beef up the tackle a bit to handle your heavier weight jigs.
The Bite: Learning to consistently hook blackfish when fishing with a jig is a little different then hooking them with traditional tackle. If you are fishing a light enough jig over rough bottom you need to be very careful as you are lowering the bait. Many times your crab will get bit as it slowly sinks down to the bottom. It may seem a bit strange, but if your jig starts swimming away from or towards you at any point in time, set the hook! Most times your jig will sink to the bottom though, and you want to try to hold it as still as possible for several minutes when it gets there. A bite might feel like a series of small taps followed by a pause, and then if you are lucky, a solid crunch or thump. Try not to set the hook on the little pecks and nips and wait until you feel the jig lift up off the bottom, or feel a solid bite before swinging. If your jig has been in place for several minutes without a touch, gently lift it off the bottom to move it over a few feet, and allow it to settle back down. You want to fish with the lightest jig that you can get to hold bottom.
Baits for Blackfish Jigging: Blackfish jigs are always fished with some type of natural or synthetic bait attached.The standard blackfish baits such as pieces of green crab, white-legger crab, or clam are the most popular offerings on jigs and reliably catch fish each year. Since blackfish jigging is normally taking place in shallow water, some of the more natural near shore baits should be considered as well.Asian shore crabs, fiddler crabs, calico crabs, mole crabs (sand fleas), gulp crabs, and pieces of legal sized blue claw crabs can all work wonders on the jig.
Tackle: Many traditional blackfish anglers will shake their heads the first time they see typical jigging gear. Gone are the heavy conventional rods and reels filled with 40lb to 65lb lines and instead light spinning setups or low profile baitcasters have taken their place. A lightweight spinning setup is very underutilized for this fishery and is very effective while providing a more enjoyable fight than conventional setups. The rod needs to be sensitive enough to handle the light weight jigs, yet strong enough to turn and raise a big tog heading for cover. Most anglers start out jigging blackfish with a rod and reel setup they already own for fluking or throwing small soft plastics to school stripers. While these set ups do work well, further experience shows that rods with a softer tip and a slower taper are better suited for this type of fishing.
Slow pitch jigging rods have been popularized in Japan for lightweight jigging due to their action and taper. The Tsunami Slimwave rods are a recently released model holding up to this new standard.They bend for almost the whole length of the rod which helps prevent pulled hooks when those big blackfish start shaking their head a few feet from the boat.The 7′ 0″ Medium Heavy action rod is ideal for jigs in the 1/2oz to 2oz range with other sizes available based on personal preference.
To complete your ideal lightweight setup, it is important to match up the proper reel. Reels for jigging blackfish need to have an extremely smooth drag and lay braided line correctly. Many large blackfish are never landed due to a sticky drag or buried braid. Some anglers go all the way down to 1000 size spinning reels with the lightest jigs, while those fishing deep water wrecks and rock piles will frequently go up to a 4000 or 5000 size to match heavier weights.Most anglers will find a reel in the 2500 to 4000 size a great place to start. The PENN Slammer 2500 will balance well with Tsunami Slimwave of your choice and offers an incredibly smooth retrieve in a strong lightweight design.
Since this is a lightweight setup after all, braided line is a must!The small diameter and decreased water resistance of braided line is essential for fishing lightweight jigs and keeping them as still as possible.Braided line from 10lb up to 40lb can be used, but most jigging anglers find themselves using 15lb or 20lb braid. The Power Pro Maxcuatro offers an even further line diameter reduction making it the thinnest strongest braid available on the market!
Terminal tackle for jigging blackfish is very simple.A small strong barrel ball bearing connects your braid with about 3 feet Seaguar Fluorocarbon leader (20lb – 40lb test) and a jig tied on the end of the leader.Several different companies are now producing jig heads that work extremely well for blackfish with S&S and Magic Tail being two of the absolute best. Once your jig is attached all that’s missing is your bait of choice!
Other Applications: If you reside in an area where sheepshead are prevalent almost everything in this article will apply just replace the word blackfish with sheepshead and you will be good to go. Also, do not be surprised if something else grabs your crab, as it is a popular bait for stripers, bluefish, fluke, porgy, seabass, triggerfish, weakfish, ling, redfish, black drum, and whiting which can all reside in the same environment as blackfish.
Final Thoughts: If you are one of those people when they hear mention of blackfish your thoughts drift to heavy rods, heavy sinkers, and foul weather gear, give blackfish jigging a try one warm late spring or summer day sometime soon. I think you will be pleasantly surprised, I know I was.