Thud! The sound of a huge blackfish hitting the deck signaled the start of an amazing day of togging recently aboard the Orient Point charter vessel Nancy Ann IV.
It was a solid sound, the kind only true bulldogs weighing over 10 pounds can make, and it came from an eastern Long Island Sound trophy that would tip the scales at 15 pounds. Somehow, this huge tautog had actually chosen my green crab for breakfast. That turned out to be a mistake.
Mate Kevin Parker had just freed my rod tip from a stern tangle when I felt a solid tug, set the hook and realized instantly this was the tog of a lifetime. Following a couple of short bursts when the thick-lipped, white-chinned brute seemed to be simply testing my power and skill, the action grew intense. Steadily, I gained line and worked the heifer toward the surface before it suddenly turned and powered all the way back to the bottom, some 70 feet below.
“Don’t pump the rod or you’ll tear the hook out; just reel steady,” warned Parker as the match settled into a 10-minute tug of war. It was good advice and I took it without question. Twice more I worked the lunker nearly to the surface only to have it peel the 30-pound test braid against the reel’s drag in search of a snag.
Finally, a streak of whitish-blue color appeared beneath the waves and Parker plunged the net to end the fight. As the bulldog hit the deck, the hook dropped out of its mouth. We had won the battle with no time to spare.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a blackfish that big in Long Island Sound,” said Capt. Rich Jensen, considered by many to be among the premiere blackfish skippers on the East Coast. “The piece we’re working today doesn’t see much pressure, so it always has the potential to produce a big one. That fish is a real beast.”
Big fish were indeed the rule on this trip. Ethan Gross, age 14, of Sayville, fishing with his dad, Edward, drilled an 8.5-pounder for runner-up honors and had his four fish limit before the sharpies — on his first blackfish trip ever. Many other anglers on the Jerry McGrath charter recorded solid fish in the 3- to 7-pound class before the boat reached its full limit.
“Heck of a day,” said Jensen in his usual understated tone as he turned the vessel back toward home. “It doesn’t get much better than this.”
Huge bulldog limit
While the Nancy Ann IV enjoyed what many on board considered to be one of their finest days for big tautog, the East End blackfish bite has also been hot and heavy off Montauk, Block Island and Shinnecock. In fact, one of the most impressive blackfish limits I’ve ever heard of went to angler Garrett Wire recently aboard Capt. James Foley’s open boat, Hampton Lady.
Like Jensen, Foley was fishing a smallish piece of structure that sees little pressure and it paid off big for the 34-year old Valley Stream angler. When the action came to an end, Wire had taken the pool with a 16.7-pound brute and rounded out his limit with fish weighing 12.5, 10.2 and 9.5 pounds.