May 2006


Tog Time
By Lee Kelly




Dr. Bob Allen proudly displaying two very nice Togs.

The boat is securely anchored in about 30 feet over water over the tube of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel. The tip of the fishing rod is pointing down toward the calm water as you observe the tidal current is nearly slack. You think to yourself that these conditions are… p e r f e c t! It is a nervous time as your focus and concentration are peaked on the depths below, waiting for the slightest movement of your no-stretch line. Adrenalin has fed your muscles as you try to anticipate the bite you know will come. You wonder if you will be fast enough, then the tap on your line, BAM! Instantly, the rod tip is flying up through air, jerked up by reflex, no time for thought! Just as fast, and equally as violent, the rod in your hands is jerked back down as you strain to keep this huge fish from retreating to its rocky haven. This fish has turned its shoulders toward safety, pulling so hard you question if you'll be able to turn it in time. The battle is on and oh what a great battle it is! In what seems like minutes, the pressure slacks a bit and you are able to work the tautog to the surface. When you see it, you are amazed that the fish isn't twice as large due to the incredible fight!

Ok lets be blunt, shall we? Tautog are ugly fish, however, their diet of crustaceans makes them delicious to eat. Tog's are territorial and rarely venture more than a foot or two from the structure they occupy, which is why they fight so extremely hard to stay there once hooked. Joe Malat said it best while giving a seminar on tog recently…"A 5 pound fish that fights like a 10 pound." Tautog are nearing the beginning of their spawning time which begins in late April to May. This means the biggest of the big fish are ready to test your tackle. Already, an 18lb, 1-oz fish has been registered in the Virginia Saltwater Tournament.

Preparation. It is a good idea to construct your own tog rigs ahead of time, and bring plenty of them with you. As I mentioned these fish are territorial and they will break you of in the rocks. There is no way to avoid it. But, if you are prepared with pre made rigs, it will take you seconds to be back in the game when you need to be.

Constructing Tog Rigs. This preparation is probably the easiest part of tautog fishing. The easiest and very effective rig consists of a single knot tied three times. If you can tie an overhand knot, you'll be a pro at making these rigs in a few minutes. The knot I am referring to is called a surgeon's loop. The rig consists of a surgeon's loop tied for the top of the rig (this connects to the main line or swivel), another surgeon's loop in the center to hold the hook, and lastly a third surgeon's loop for the weight. Double the line then simply tie an overhand knot with two wraps instead of a single wrap. See illustration 1. Wet the knot and pull to tighten.


Illustration 1

Illustration 2 shows the bottom loop with a weight attached and the center loop, which is the loop where the hook will be attached by threading the loop through the hook eye. Since tog relate so closely to structure and you will be fishing with as little current as possible, you'll want the bait to be very close to the weight.

Illustration 2
Notice the type of weight used. Although there are many different shaped weights available, this has a narrow profile and will be less likely to get caught in the rocks or wreck. Bell shaped sinkers have a tendency to get hung up easier due to their wider profile.

The most common hooks used in this fishery are 4/0 long shank hooks or 4/0 Octopus style hooks shown in Illustration 3.

Illustration 3
Both are heavy wire hooks that hold up well against the pulling power and strong crushing power of these fish. Some anglers prefer slightly larger or smaller hooks mainly dependent on the types of bait used.

General equipment includes stout rods with enough backbone to keep these fighters away from the pilings and rocks once hooked. My preference is a 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 foot rod with a Penn 320 GTI rigged with 80-pound no-stretch line such as Power Pro terminating with a plastic bead and a quality snaplock swivel. To this I attach pre-rigged 20 to 40 pound mono drop leader. I've had great success with 30 lb Yo-zuri hybrid or 25 lb fluorocarbon leaders. The latter seems to work well when the area I'm fishing has had a lot of recent pressure.


The most popular bait includes fiddler crabs, blue crabs, clam or even whole hermit crabs. Capt Jim Jenrette, skipper of the Buccaneer over on the Eastern Shore tells me he creates a heavily salted brine to soak the hermit crabs in on the way out to the fishing locations. This assists in getting the hermit crabs out of their shells.

Although anglers use different types of rig and hook combinations, which I described here, the intent is to show an easy way to construct your own rigs, and to provide anglers with an opportunity for success. So stock up on some homemade rigs and get in the game because right now is "prime time!"
Good luck and…don't catch em' all!

Bob Manus with a recent tackle-testing “citation” tog.


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