Scientific Name: Tautoga onitis
Ideal Temp: 50-68°F (10-20°C)
Environment: Inshore, Nearshore
Technique: Bottom Fishing
Lure Type: Bottom Rig
World Record: 11.33 kg (25 lb 0 oz) Ocean City, New Jersey, USA 20-Jan-1998
The tautog or blackfish is a fish of the wrasse family found in salt water from Nova Scotia to Georgia. It lives along the bottom, in and amongst rocks, wrecks, mussel beds, bridge pilings or other bottom features.
Tautog are brown and dark olive, with white blotches, and have plump elongated bodies. They have an average weight of 1 to 3 lb (0.45 to 1.4 kg) and reach a maximum size of 3 ft (0.91 m), 25 pounds (11 kg).
Tautog have many adaptations to life in and around rocky areas. They have thick rubbery lips and powerful jaws. The backs of their throats contain a set of teeth resembling molars. Together these are used to pick and crush prey such as mollusks and crustaceans. Their skin also has a rubbery quality with a heavy slime covering, which helps to protect them when swimming among rocks.
Tautog become blacker in color as they grow older, and their coloring also varies depending on the local bottom habitat. The distinguishing feature of the adult male tautog is the large protruding forehead. Mature males are often referred to as "chinners" because of the white patch on the chin.
Tautog feed entirely on invertebrates, including crabs, mussels, mollusks, sand shrimp, amphipods, and worms, using their strong back teeth to crush hard shells. These fish are not active swimmers. When not feeding, they often gather in groups under the safety of a ledge or hole in the rocks, sometimes lying on their sides. Although, tautog are active during the day, they remain close to cover. At night, they are quiet and inactive, hiding from predators. Juvenile tautog stay near the sites where they were hatched, and are frequently found on eelgrass beds where invertebrates are abundant. The adults gather around rocky bottoms, ledges, pilings, and submerged wrecks.
Spawning occurs offshore, in late spring to early summer. The eggs hatch and develop while drifting. All of the young take residence in shallow protected waters and live and hide in seaweed, sea lettuce or eelgrass beds for protection, and are green in color in order to camouflage themselves. During the late fall, they move offshore and winter in a state of reduced activity.
Popular among fishermen, tautog have a reputation for being a particularly tricky fish to catch. Part of this is because of their tendency to live among rocks and other structures that can cause a fisherman’s line to get snagged. The favorite baits for tautog include: green crabs, asian shore crabs, fiddler crabs, clams, shrimp, mussels, sandworms and lobsters. Tautog fishing may also be difficult due to the tendency of fishermen try to set the hook as soon as they feel a hit, rather than wait for the tautog to swallow the bait. Rigs with minimal beads, swivels and hooks should be used to prevent entanglement with the rocks, reefs or wrecks tautog frequent.