23 Nov From Charter To Chowder – A Blog about Toggin’
Edge Angling Community Member Kevin Jackson on a recent successful ‘Tog Charter:
I just got back from a Tautog charter on F/V Snappa out of Pt. Judith, RI with eight buddies from work on November eleventh, 2009. Tautog may not make the thrilling runs of a bluefin tuna, or hold the prestige associated with the striped bass. In fact, they’re downright ugly fish with a nasty set of teeth and a face only Arden could love. But what they lack in looks they make up for in pugnacity and taste. Tautog fishing is done on rocky bottom- these fish need lots of structure to feel comfortable. This structure also contains lots of invertebrates such as mussels and crabs, a tautog’s favorite food. As a result of this when fishing for tog it’s best to have a locked down drag to prevent the fish from wedging itself in between the rocks and refusing to come out. Trust me- there’s not much worse than feeling a nice fish on your line then having him bury in a hole, impossible to move. Due to the heavy drag a large tautog will put an immense amount of strain on your leader, knots, and hooks. It’s important to religiously check for nicks in your leader, because that will be the difference between a jumbo chinner and a lost fish. Even if you check constantly, expect to lose a few fish- large tautog do NOT want to leave the safety of the rocks, and many are lost when they make that first mad dash back to the structure. These rushes are part of what makes tautog fishing so much fun- the initial pandemonium after the hookset. Tautog also have a reputation for being one of the finest table fares of the northeast gamefish. The firm, slightly sweet meat lends itself well to grilling, broiling, frying, and chowders. The meat has the flakiness of cod, with a stronger flavor and a texture not unlike monkfish. That was the goal of our trip- knock back a few beers, have some fun on the water, and stock up the freezer with some fish for the long, cold winter.
The gear I used was a St Croix TSWC70MHF paired with a Shimano Torium 16. I like the Torium for blackfishing because the quick retrieve allows you to get the hook set then muscle the fish away from the reef before they bury you in the rocks. The rod is also affordable and has enough backbone to turn the shoulders of a nice tautog. Line was fifty pound mossy green Power Pro tied with a slim beauty to a shock leader of sixty pound Triline Big Game. For a rig I snelled a 4/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook on the end of the shock leader, then a four ounce flat sinker was attached to a five inch dropper about twelve to sixteen inches back. Flat sinkers are invaluable while fishing hard bottom as they’ll lay still on structure, rather than rolling around and possibly getting wedged between rocks. This rig allows me to feel the solid bites of a nice tautog without striking at the pecks of the cunners and smaller fish. Other rigs produced well- the high hook came on a Mustad Virginia 4011E size four tied to a fishfinder rig with a four to six ounce egg sinker. Bait was live green crabs, sheared in half. I like to remove the legs, then thread the hook through the leg sockets and remove the top shell. ALWAYS rebait every five minutes or so- you want your bait to have the most smell in the water so it stands out from the others, and old bait loses its effectiveness pretty quickly.
So we headed out at about 0600, and after a quick steam we hit our first spot. Forecast was snotty (northeast twenty knots, four to six foot waves), but once we were out there it layed down a bit… wasn’t a nice day on the water, but definitely fishable. We dropped anchor, and with a bit of maneuvering got on some nice structure. After donning my lucky toggin’ cap it was time to start fishing! It wasn’t long before some tight lines were had, but they turned out to be jumbo sea bass. These fish are delicious, but unfortunately there’s an emergency closure on them right now, so back in the drink they went (damn National Marine Fisheries Service!). We moved to another spot, where this slow bite continued until about 0730, when we hauled up the first (and also biggest) fish of the day- a nice fat eight pound whitechin. We were going to set up a pool, but forgot… and after I saw that one come over the rail I figured I should keep my mouth shut! The bite picked up nicely after that- constant run of tog for about two and a half hours, while the tide was moving. Most had some good size to ‘em, too- I’d have to say average size around five to six pounds. These fish were not hitting the crabs aggressively. You would get a quick tap, followed by (if you were lucky) a more substantial tap. Most often the line would simply slack up a little, and that was the time to strike. A few times I wasn’t even aware I had a fish on- I went to rebait, and found some extra pressure on my line that shouldn’t be there. This often resulted in a dropped fish if the hook wasn’t set promptly. Speaking of strikes- I find that a violent, swing-for-the-fences type of strike works the best for me with tog. Tautog have very tough mouths, and you really need substantial force with a very sharp hook to get a tight hookset. I replace my hooks whenever they lose their “sticky-sharpness”- IE, if the point doesn’t stick in my thumbnail with very little pressure I snell a new hook on.
Once the tide slacked up the bite slowed down into a pick. There were some good periods of action, but nothing like the outgoing tide. The increasing winds and seas also made fishing a little more difficult- by the end of the trip we were getting sustained thirty knot winds and six foot seas stacked on top of one another. I’m recovering from a nice case of windburn as I write this. Lines were reeled in around 1400, and we scooted back to Point Judith harbor.
What was great about this trip was the ratio of keepers to shorts. We must have discarded a maximum of ten undersized fish. While the numbers weren’t astronomical, the size of the fish made up for it. My buddy had the high hook with twelve keepers, and I had around nine. Everyone else at least caught three fish. With the swell you really had to focus on keeping your bait still on the bottom, and the hits were also softer than I’d ever felt from blacks before, so those with a little experience fishing for them did better than the others. Braid also outperformed mono. Total tally at the end of the day was forty-five fish, and we split up all the fillets, so everyone went home with some nice meat for the fridge.
I’d recommend the boat to others, as well… She handles like a champ in the snotty weather, there was plenty of room to move around, and Captain Charlie and Nelson were great. Every time I even thought I needed new bait a cut greenie would magically appear next to me on the rail. They were almost too helpful at times- I’d often have my hook rebaited without asking, and I’m kind of particular about how I rig my bait. You really can’t fault someone for that though- It’s been a while since I’ve been on a charter, and that’s the kind of service you should expect on these trips. The rate was affordable, and at the end of the trip the guys cut some excellent fillets. I’d definitely go out with them again.
Overall, a good Veteran’s Day trip- a nice way to spend a holiday out of the office. It was great to go fishing with some friends who I’d never been out with before. Everyone had a blast, caught some fish, and ended up with some fillets to throw in the freezer for those cold winter days when hot chowder is needed. Speaking of that…
‘Tog Seafood Chowder
This recipe is modified from one I found online. While I can’t take full credit for it, the nice thing about chowder is it lends itself to improvisation! Feel free to switch out any of the seafood, herbs, etc. listed. Just make sure not to over-cook it and you’ll be all set.
½ pound salt pork, diced
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups water (Ideally use a fish stock made from boiling/simmering the racks of the fish with celery, garlic, whole onions, and herbs, then straining the liquid. Chicken stock can be used as well- the low-sodium variety. I didn’t have either of those things so water it was.)
1 cup Snow’s bottled clam juice
Two potatoes (about two, I used Russet), peeled and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1 rib celery, chopped
Dried red-pepper flakes to taste (I like it spicy)
Dried or fresh thyme, to taste
Salt, to taste
2 cups fresh (cut from about three to four ears) or one bag frozen corn kernels
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 cans Snow’s chopped clams, drained. Reserve juice from one can
~1 ½ pounds tautog fillets, cut into 1-½ inch chunks
~½ pound raw shrimp (any size), shelled and deveined, tails removed
~½ pound fresh scallops (I used sea scallops, but I bet bay scallops would be great!)
Fresh-ground black pepper, you guessed it… to taste
Heat a large (4-6 qt), heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add the diced salt pork, and render until three or four tablespoons of fat have come out of it. Increase the heat to medium, and remove once the salt pork cracklings have browned with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Add the onions and garlic and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Cook until the onions soften and turn translucent, about five to eight minutes.
Add the water, clam juice (from bottle and one can), potatoes, celery, red-pepper flakes, and salt and bring to a boil. You want just enough liquid to cover the potatoes and onions. If using dried herbs, add them at this point as well. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about ten minutes. This is an important step- Keep checking the potatoes! You DON’T want them to overcook. As soon as they lose their “crunch” in the middle, proceed onto the next step. Overcooked, starchy potatoes are gross in chowder.
Return the cracklings to the pot. Add the corn, milk, fresh herbs (if using) and cream, stir, and simmer for ten minutes. Check the thickness of the chowder- if it appears too thin, gradually sift in flour until it thickens to your liking. A few tablespoons should be enough- you want it to be thicker than soup, but not paste. Don’t forget that it will thicken overnight!
Stir in the clams, ‘tog, scallops, shrimp, and pepper. Bring back to a simmer and cook until just done (Once the fish flakes easily with a fork and the scallops are just opaque in the center), about three to five minutes longer. Remove from heat and serve in hot bowls with crusty bread or oyster crackers.
This chowder is more like a stew- done correctly it’s loaded with seafood, corn and potatoes, and is quite hearty. Any leftovers should be left out until they cool to room temperature, then refrigerated. Like any chowder, this is best the next day after it’s left to sit overnight. The flavors meld and the chowder thickens. Delicious!