Be Anchor Savvy to Catch More Tog

February 8, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Fishing Tips

Saltwater Fishin’ Vol. 7, No. 7

Use two anchors to get on the structure and stay there!

Even though the hot days of summer fishing are a memory and fall is starting its march toward winter, mid-Atlantic anglers shouldn’t have to take their boats out of the water just yet. The best fishing of the year for blackfish, aka tautog or tog, is just getting started, and the season is open through January in most states along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts. Open seasons, size and bag limits vary from one jurisdiction to another, so be sure to check your state’s marine fish regulations so you don’t run afoul of the law.

Tog are bottom fish that live and feed in and around structure. Likely places include mussel beds, wrecks and rocky outcroppings – pretty much any form of what is classed as “hard” structure. Regardless of whether it’s naturally occurring or manmade, if it’s been on the bottom in 25 to 100 feet of water long enough to be encrusted with mussels and other anchoring life forms and invaded by crustaceans like crabs, tog will inhabit it at some time during the year. The most productive depths to fish will change with the seasons and water temperature because tog will generally move from shallower to deeper environs as temperatures drop. In late fall and early winter, concentrate your efforts on hard structure in 40 to 70 feet. When ocean temps get down into the 40s, shift to even deeper spots. There are many artificial reefs found off states such as New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland that provide prime tog habitat; further north your focus will be on naturally-occurring hard structure.
A serious tog fisherman packs a pair Danforth® anchors and ground tackle for pinpoint anchoring. If you want to know why, read on.

Fishing for tog requires a higher level of boat handling expertise and an understanding of how to use your depth finder, chart plotter and anchor(s) to position your boat. Your depth finder and chart plotter are the keys to finding and saving good structure spots to fish, but they will also be critical in helping you anchor directly over those spots to cash in on the tog they are holding. Private boaters will learn that some of the most productive pieces of structure consist of smaller wrecks and rock piles that are overlooked by larger head boats and charter boats. But to get on them you have to be able to anchor with pinpoint accuracy, and that’s an art form that requires a little practice.

You can find small tog scattered around most structure, but bigger fish like this might only land on a small corner. Deploying two sets of ground tackle lets you explore the structure without having to re-anchor every time you want to move a few yards.

Most serious tog fishermen keep two complete sets of ground tackle (anchor, chain and rode) aboard their boats and with good reason. One is typically kept in the boat’s bow anchor compartment, the second in a tub so it can be stowed when not in use. There are a number of anchor designs, but a Danforth-style is the most widely accepted for recreational fishing boats and works well for both sets of ground gear. When choosing an anchor, start by referring to the manufacturer’s application chart for the weight generally recommended for your size boat, but for fishing purposes go up one additional size. This will let you anchor more quickly and with less line between the boat and anchor, which makes deploying and retrieving less work. For a typical 20- to 27-foot boat, each set of ground tackle should consist of an anchor, 12 feet of 1/4-inch chain attached to the anchor with a shackle, and one cable length (600 feet) of 3/8-inch braided nylon line, which is called the “rode.”

Once the work of anchoring is done and you’re on the spot, cut up some crab, bait the hooks, and enjoy the action.

If you’re new to this, you’ll probably want to have a marker buoy or two rigged and ready to drop on the structure as the boat passes over it. A buoy will provide you with a visible reference point when trying to get the boat settled over a spot. If you are well practiced with your GPS, you can forego the buoy and use the saved structure waypoints on the plotter screen for your anchoring reference point. Buoys can be purchased at marine specialty stores or websites, or you can make your own out of brightly colored commercial pot marker buoys wrapped with 150 feet of 1/8-inch nylon twine, marked every 50 feet with a permanent marker with a sash weight attached to the opposite end. Use stainless steel screws to attach a Velcro strap from the top to the bottom of the marker buoy, and use it to control how much line will pay off the buoy when it hits the water. If the water is 75 feet deep, release about 85 feet of twine before dropping the buoy to keep it above your spot, with enough extra line to keep the weight from being bounced off the bottom by waves.

One anchor might be sufficient for most boating needs, but for serious tog fishing two anchors spread approximately 90 degrees apart allow you to adjust the boat’s position by lengthening or shortening the rode for each anchor. By double anchoring, you can hit your mark quickly with some wiggle room to spare for adjusting position if the wind or current changes after you’re anchored. Nothing is more frustrating than getting on a spot and building a good bite only to have the wind change a few degrees and blow you off the spot.

Jersey angler Mike Inzetta is a master at double-anchoring his Yamaha-powered 25-foot Sea HuntTM on a small fish-holding piece of structure.

Here’s how to do it. Once you mark a spot, either on your chart plotter or using a marker buoy as a visual reference, you have to determine how the wind and current are going to affect the way the boat will lay at anchor. To do this put the boat in neutral, and let it drift for a few minutes with your plotter scaled down to a very tight range setting (200-500 feet works fine for this phase) with the plot trail feature activated to record the direction of the drift on screen. That trail will be your guide to approximate how the boat will settle back on the anchor lines. The other thing you have to determine is how much rode you’ll have to let out for the anchors to set and hold the boat, because that will tell you how far away from the structure point you have to drop them. To get that number, simply multiply the depth of the water by five. For example, if the structure is in 70 feet of water, you’ll want to drop each anchor about 350 feet away from the mark. Don’t worry about being off by as much as 50 feet one way or another – that’s why you’re using an anchor one size larger than recommended.

Now that you’ve determined the direction the boat should rest at anchor and how far away the anchors should be dropped from the mark, get your anchors ready for deployment at the bow of the boat, and then slowly run the boat directly down current of the buoy or the waypoint marker on your plotter. Turn so it parallels the drift trail you just created, passing directly alongside the buoy or over the mark on the plotter screen. As soon as the boat reaches the mark, turn the boat at least 45 degrees to port of the drift line, and proceed at a slow speed until you are about 350 feet from the mark and drop the first anchor. Once it strikes bottom, carefully power backwards toward the buoy in reverse letting line out until you get close to the mark. Then hold the anchor line tight until the anchor sets in the bottom and pulls the line through your hand. Take a wrap on a bow cleat, let the boat settle back on the rode to be sure the anchor is firmly set, then loosen that line and repeat the procedure, but this time running the boat from the mark at least 45 degrees to starboard of your drift line. When you’re done you will have two anchors set 350 feet out from the mark, spread approximately 90 degrees apart.

The reward for accurate anchoring is a day of great fishing for hard-fighting blackfish and some great eating fillets once you get home.

Drop back both lines until you get close to your mark, and wrap them around a bow cleat and let the boat settle in. If the boat is positioned too far forward, drop back by letting out more rode from both lines to put it on the mark. If it’s behind the mark, pull up on both lines. If it is laying to the right, let out a little line on the starboard anchor and pull in some line on the port. Do the opposite if the boat is laying too far to the left. It’s that simple.

If you want to move the boat while you’re fishing to cover more of the structure, you’ll find that adjusting the anchor lines will give you quite a bit of latitude to do so. This is important because you will encounter structure where you will only catch tog on specific areas and not on the whole piece. Sometimes bigger tog will show a preference for a specific portion of a larger piece of structure. For example, there are wrecks where they feed on the up-current side so anchoring over the up-current portion of the wreck will catch a lot of fish, while being off that spot might only produce a few bites or small fish.

Remember that anchoring accurately is an art that takes into consideration some scientific observations on your part and the smart use of the tools you have on your boat. It takes practice to gain an understanding of how sea and wind conditions affect your boat under different anchoring scenarios. Just remember that tog fishing is all about location, so with some good structure numbers, a compliment of well set-up ground gear and these techniques, you can get on even the smallest piece accurately and hold the boat there while you limit out. If conditions change during the day, you might have to reposition one or both anchors, but that’s the price you pay for great fishing. Anchoring might be the least fun part of the trip, but nine times out of ten it’s the most important. Y

RSS Fishing Tackle