It's not the most popular fish around and it certainly isn't the easiest to catch. In fact, the tautog is downright ugly and slimy, but it's wonderful to eat and certainly gives the angler an excellent fight.
The tautog, also called a blackfish, is a member of the wrasse family. Though it somewhat resembles a sea bass, they are not related.
With the cooling water temperatures, the tautog are moving from offshore waters into the inlet areas. The Ocean City Inlet and the Indian River Inlet are the best places to find this crafty, hard-fighting fish.
The tautog hangs out in areas that have underwater structures where they can hide from their predators and feed on the food they like the best -- mussels, oysters, and small crabs. It also likes an environment where the water runs deep and swift. To find a good tautog hole, anglers should go to the inlets at dead low tide and note where all the exposed rocks are. At high tide, they may be hard to see.
When fishing, anglers should check for swirls on top of the water to find a good spot for the tautog. Also, each large rock usually has a deep hole on one side of it, where the tide washes around it. This could be another good tautog hiding place.
rTC Cast out 10 to 20 yards away from the rocks, with a rig made out of a short shanked hook (about a size No. 1/0) and a flat or torpedo shaped sinker in the 2- to 4-ounce range. Many anglers use old spark plugs for weights to offset the price of sinkers. (Expect to lose your share of rigs when fishing for the tautog in the rocks.)
There are only a few baits that work to catch tautog, including the sand flea or sand crab. These can be easily dug up this time of year, or they can be purchased at fishing tackle stores. Sectioned hard crabs will work also. Put the hook in one leg socket and let it come out the second leg socket. Or try tiny, speckled crabs. These can be netted along the pilings on the bayside.
Other Ocean City areas that are producing tautog are: the 9th Street Pier, the bulkhead from Second through Fourth streets and areas near the draw on the U.S. 50 bridge. It takes a patient angler to get the knack of catching tautog, but once the art is learned, it is an addicting pastime.
Flounder fishing was very good last weekend. Georgie Lookingood of Ocean City caught 10 flounder while drifting in the inlet on the last 2 1/2 hours of the incoming tide. The largest weighed 3 1/4 pounds. She was using shiners and squid for bait.
Anglers fishing from the U.S. 50 bridge last week were rewarded with catches of good-sized flounder and also a good number of sea trout at night. Kevan Salimian of Salisbury landed one of the largest flounders of the week -- a 4 1/4 pounder -- from the U.S. 50 bridge. He was using a frozen shiner for bait. This was quite a catch considering Kevan is only 6 1/2 years old.
Lloyd Snyder of Pasadena had an interesting catch while he was fishing with a piece of night crawler for Norfolk spot when he reeled in a 7 1/4 pound sea trout.
Earl Simpson of Ocean City had a good catch of sea trout from the south jetty with live spot. This experienced fisherman had eight trout in the 6- to 7-pound range. Other anglers are picking up sea trout in the inlet with squid strips or led heads with twister bodies. For anglers who are happy with an array of small fish, the surf was the place to be last weekend. Little pieces of mullet caught snapper blues one after another, and pieces of bloodworm brought in Norfolk spot up to 10 inches long, or whiting up to 1 1/4 pounds.
A surprising number of flounder were taken from the surf by anglers using a strip of filleted mullet. Most of the flounder and spot have been extremely close to shore. This means, on a calm day, anglers can use a shorter surf rod with very good success.
Anglers fishing at Indian River had an especially good weekend. Besides the usual fish in the surf, anglers picked up a number of puppy drum on mullet. (Many of these were taken in the north pocket next to the rock jetty.)
Anglers fishing from the rock pile for tautog also landed a few pompano, puppy drum and one 7 1/4 -pound sheepshead. Anglers casting on the incoming tide with bucktails did well with snapper blues, and at night sea trout were being taken.
Offshore fishing was fantastic last weekend. The first and second lumps of the Bass Grounds were covered with Spanish mackerel, false albacore, bonita and king mackerel. Farther offshore, anglers tied into the yellow-fin tuna and long-fin albacore. Most of these were taken around the Baltimore Canyon or Poor Man's Canyon.
A number of swordfish were caught on overnight chunking trips. Greg Jones fishing aboard the Magic Marlin landed a 400 pounder at the Baltimore Canyon.
Anglers drifting for sea bass aboard the party boat Taurus with Capt. Howard Cleaver had quite a surprise when they ran into a school of big black drum. Arlene Corso of New York landed a 47 pounder and Chris Strains of Hagerstown won the pool with a 55 pounder.
One of the largest white marlins since 1982 was brought into Ocean City last weekend. Robert McCullough of Ocean City, N.J., brought in a 101-pounder south of the Poor Man's Canyon. He was fishing aboard his boat the R and J in about 100 fathoms of water.