Typical Size
12-16" (1-3 lbs.)
Decent Size
17-23" (4-8 lbs.)
Nice Size
24-28" (10-15 lbs.)
36.8" (24 lbs. 14 oz.)
Awards Program
Qualifying Size

8 lbs.
Genus/Species Tautoga onitis
Common Names blackfish, tog, white chinner
Hot Spots Hardings Ledge, Minots Ledge, Cohasset Shoals
Best Time May - November
Best Baits green crab, shrimp, seaworm, squid
Best Method Bottom fishing with bait

Tautog are very stout, drab colored fish with white chins, thick lips, and small mouths with very large, sharp teeth. They vary in color greatly depending upon their surroundings and age. Younger tautog tend to be a mottled brown color whereas larger 'togs are more gray and olive in color with far less distinctive mottling. The dorsal fin is very long, running almost the entire length of its back and not broekn up despite the fact that the last 10 or so rays are soft and higher than the longer, spiny front part. The pectoral fins are rather large and fan-like.
Tautog are not nearly as plentiful on the south shore
Tautog inhabit large rockpiles and heavy structures in depths of 30 to 70 feet preferably with temperatures ranging from 55 to 70 degrees. Tautog particularly like to hang out in areas where there is a large concentration of crabs (their favorite food) and shellfish (especially mussel) beds. They feed quite heavily on mussels, in fact, but also like to pick off barnacles, periwinkles, oysters, scallops,beach fleas, and sand worms.

Tautog range from the north shore of Massachusetts down to South Carolina but undergo seasonal migrations in the more northerly and southerly parts of this range. They tend to hang close to shore, especially in the south and north parts of their range. If the water temperature gets too cold, they simply shut down most activity and languish until the warmer water comes again. Tautog feed very infrequently during the winter months.

Along the south shore of Massachusetts, tautog spawn in the summer and the young quickly move to the shallow water and estuaries. Tautog are a long-lived and very slow growing fish. In fact, it has been said that the average tautog grows one inch per year, making the current world record a fish of nearly 37 years of age.

You can fish for tautog with many different kinds of bait. Seaworm is probably the most popular but crab and shrimp can be more productive. They will also take clam and squid strips and half crabs. The same aptly named blackfish rig is used to catch tautog. Depending upon current, a 4-6 ounce sinker may be required to hold bottom. Keep in mind that although the depths fished are not that great, these fish make a nice account of themselves on a rod and reel, so you will want to use a medium-weight boat rod to pull them up. The key to successful 'tog fishing is to understand a little bit about the fish. These fish have sharp teeth up front that they use to pull mussels and barnacles off with, then they move the shell to the back of their mouth where they crush it with some rather impressive molars. If you are in an area where there are tautog, do not set the hook at the first few taps, or you'll simply pull the bait right out of their mouth. Wait a moment or two and the 'tog will send your offering to the back of it's mouth for a good crushing. Now, it is safe to set the hook. Once set, the tautog will swim like crazy to get back to the cover of a rock, which is why you'll need a rod with a little backbone to pull him up and away from the rocks. If the 'tog wins, you'll likely get your gear hung up in the rocks. If you win, you'll boat a nice fish.

Artificial lures are useless when fishing for tautog as almost all mimick some sort of fish and tautog don't feed on fish.

Fishing for tautog is far more important recreationally than it is commercially. Here on the south shore of Massachusetts, they just aren't plentiful enough to support a commercial fishery. There are also no charter or party boats that take passengers out on tautog trips, rather they are part of the bycatch when fishing for inshore cod or flounder. If you do catch one, you are in for a fine treat at the dinner table. The flesh of the tautog is offwhite, firm, and has a very sweet flavor. It can be baked, broiled, or used in chowders. Due to it's firmness, however, it is important not to overcook tautog as it will tend to be tough, chewy, and lacking in flavor.