Tautog fishing is full swing from mid-October through November throughout southern New England. It’s usually not hard to catch a limit of these good-eating bottom fish, although it helps to have a few hot spots dialed in ahead of time.
As for tackle and bottom rigs, I like to keep it simple. A sturdy 6 1/2-foot rod with a stiff butt section and fairly light, sensitive tip is ideal. I match it with a basic conventional reel loaded with 30-pound-test braided line. Braid provides an advantage over monofilament of the same breaking strength, as it’s thinner and more sensitive, and has no stretch. This makes it easier to feel when your sinker is on the bottom, and when a fish takes the bait. Braid also allows for better hook-sets, especially in deep water.
As for a rig, I use a single-hook setup coming off a dropper loop. This rig lets me tap bottom with the sinker while the bait rests slightly off to one side. The beauty of this rig is that it reduces snags and makes it easier to detect the subtle taps of the fish eating the bait. It also makes for cleaner hook-sets without interference from the sinker.
I like to make a bunch of snelled hook-and-leader rigs ahead of time so I don’t have to waste time tying them on the water (no fun with chilly fingers). If snags are a problem, I will sometimes suspend the sinker from the end loop using a rubber band. If the sinker becomes snagged in the rocks or wreck, the band will break, allowing me to save the rest of the rig.
Here’s how to tie the basic tautog rig:
1. Start with 3 to 4 feet of 40- to 50-pound-test monofilament.
2. Tie a double surgeon’s loop in one end to form a 3- to 4-inch loop for attaching the sinker.
3. Tie a small dropper loop in the line roughly 6 inches above the surgeon’s loop.
4. Tie a barrel swivel to the other end of the mono, using a Palomar or an improved clinch knot.
5. Snell a 4/0 or 5/0 octopus hook with an upturned eye to a separate 12- to 14-inch piece of heavy (30- to 40-pound test) mono.
6. Tie a small double surgeon’s loop in the end of this leader.
7. Attach the hook and leader to the dropper loop of the main leader via interlocking (figure 8) loops.
8. Lastly, pass the surgeon’s loop in the end of the main leader through the eye of a bank sinker. A 2- to 4-ounce sinker should suffice in most situations where the current is light to moderate.