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Blackfish are challenging -- and delicious

Neil Vicerra of Hicksville fishing for blackfish at

Neil Vicerra of Hicksville fishing for blackfish at the Jones Beach fishing piers inside of Jones Beach State Park, New York. (Nov. 1, 2009) Credit: Joel Cairo

Heading into late October, blackfishing hits full stride in our waters, and even though stripers, blues and false albacore continue to light up the inshore scene, many local anglers are planning trips to target this perennial bottom-fishing favorite.

What is the allure of blackfish that so endears it to veteran anglers? For starters, they taste great. They also fight hard with a straight up and down, no-nonsense battle that puts tackle to the test. Finding the fish can be difficult, too. Blackfish are structure lovers that rarely stray more than a few feet from rocky, snag-infested bottom. Drop your crab-baited hook more than a yard off the mark and you might as well be fishing in the desert.

Then there’s the matter of hooking these fish. Rather than lifting the rod sharply on the slightest bite, the most successful anglers wait an extra second for a solid tug before driving home the point. That’s because blackfish pick up green, Asian or Jonah crab baits with their front teeth before passing them back into the throat to be pulverized by crushing molars. Swing too soon and you’ll pull the bait from the fish’s mouth; wait too long and a big blackfish will grind the crab off the hook.

If all that isn’t intimidating enough, consider that blackfish also fight hard and do everything they can once hooked to dive into their tackle-eating lairs. Give them even a little slack line while reeling up and they’ll find a rock crevice or wreck cave to bury into. At that point, it’s probably game over in terms of getting a big one to the surface.
Surprisingly, when you add all this together it turns out blackfish actually offer veteran anglers qualities they truly crave: serious challenge and sweet-tasting reward. The ability to catch blackfish on a consistent basis, it turns out, is a badge of honor — and eating them is pure delight.

Truth be told, for all their challenging traits, blackfish are really quite catchable. In fact, keeping just a few key points in mind can dramatically increase your score. For starters, don’t use too much bait. A single piece of green crab or medium-sized Asian crab the size of a quarter is the ideal offering. Crab baits larger than this should be cut in half or quartered. Next, resolve not to set the hook on the very first light tap. Instead, wait for a firm tug with a little bit of weight at the end of the line. Upon setting the hook, keep the pressure steady with the rod held high.

While it’s possible to figure out blackfishing basics through trial and error, the learning curve is greatly reduced by watching the pros. Thus, it’s well worth investing in an open boat or charter trip for the learning experience. The time to do that is now, because the best fishing is still in relatively shallow water and just a short run from shore. Blackfish season continues through Dec. 14. The minimum size limit is 16 inches and the daily creel limit is four per angler.



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