Fall Blackfish Primer

The fall leaves are turning, there is a morning chill in the air and the water temperature is dropping signaling the start of the fall season. The striped bass and bluefish are feeding heavily for their migration south and will hit most anything with abandon. However, my sights turn to chasing blackfish from now until December.

The black fishing is a shadow of years ago. Heavy commercial trapping as well as recreational over fishing in past years has really put a dent in the blackfish population. The recreational and commercial size and catch limits have helped, but we are a long way from restoring the fishery to where it was ten years ago.

To state it simply, I am a blackfish fanatic. I will usually pass up fishing for other fish just to chase blackfish. I concentrate my efforts on the east end from Orient to Montauk and Block Island, and then to Seventeen Fathoms late in the run in the pursuit of bulldog blackfish. This is more than a passion with me; it is an obsession.

Tackle and Rigging:

Let's first talk about tackle and rigging. Where we usually fish there are strong tides and the need to use a minimum of 10-12 ounce sinkers. Therefore a 6-7 foot conventional boat rod with a firm tip is ideal. A matching reel with a smooth functioning drag capable of holding 200 yards of 30 LB line will balance out the rod nicely. For line I like to use the braided synthetics like Spiderwire or Fireline. Both have zero stretch and superb bite detection. Attach approximately 25 feet of 50 LB mono to the braid to use as a shock leader. Tie the braid to the mono using a double uni-knot. Then tie on a small black barrel swivel to the end of the mono shock leader with an improved clinch knot.

I like to fish with just one hook. Some fishermen use two hooks, but I am always looking for that big bulldog blackfish in very heavy cover and the single hook has less chance of hanging up on the bottom. I also tie my own rigs. For a leader I use 60 LB mono leader material. I purchase it in 48-inch sticks, several hundred at a time. Most tackle shops carry leader material in various pound tests. You can buy a dozen pieces for a buck. Next is the hook. The standard blackfish hook is the #4 05 #5 Virginia, however I prefer Gamakatsu Octopus hooks in size 3/0. The Gamakatsu hooks are needle sharp right out of the pack, and I rarely loss a fish using these hooks.

To prepare the rig, first cut one stick of leader material in half. Then snell two hooks in tandem approximately 4 inches apart. It looks like a double hook fluke rig that you would fish a strip bait with. Then tie the perfection loop at the other end so that you have a twelve-inch snell.

Now take a second 48-inch piece of leader material and tie a one-inch dropper loop approximately 6 inch from one end and then tie a sinker loop. On the other end tie on a black barrel swivel. Now tie the rig to your main line. Attach an appropriate weight sinker and you are ready to bait up and fish.

Some words of advice, I would tie up several of these rigs at home and put them in ziplock sandwich bags. I always bring two rods that are rigged up since there is usually a certain window of time when the blackfish bite becomes furious. If you break off a rig you don?t need to spend time re-rigging and lose part of the bite.

Bait and Hooking Techniques:

For fall blackfishing I like nothing better than to fish with hermit crabs. These are hard to come by and not readily available. Getting them is well worth the effort. If hermits are not available than I will fish with green crabs.

For rigging to fish with hermit crabs, take the top hook and run it through the soft belly and than into the body of the crab. Take the second hook and run it through the lower part of the body near the large claw. Then gently tap and large claw with your sinker to just crack the shell.

To rig green crabs you can rig two ways:

Cut the larger green crabs in halves or quarters and put a piece of crab on each hook by running the point of the hook through one leg socket and out the other. Take a half dollar size green crab and carefully break off the legs. Then insert the top hook into one side of the crab by passing it through the leg holes. Take the second hook and put it through the other side the same way. Now gently crack the back shell with your sinker

Now that you are baited up, drop your rig to the bottom and start fishing. Typically you will usually feel bites immediately. These could be bergalls, small blackfish or sea bass. The bites are very light and rapid. Don't strike at them. Just wait and be patient.

The bite of a good size blackfish is very distinctive. They tend to mouth the bait and then give a distinctive tug signaling that they have passed the bait to the back of their mouth and are attempting to swim away with the bait. You can actually feel them pulling on the line. Now the moment of truth. Take up any slack in the line and strike for the sky while reeling like crazy to get the fish moving away from the bottom. Try to get five or ten turns on the fish. This will move the fish off the bottom and hopefully prevent you from being taken into the rocky bottom.

Blackfish are very strong fighters and will give a good account of themselves. Slowly reel in the fish while keeping your rod tip level with the water. This will allow the rod to absorb any head shaking by the fish to free himself from the hook. When the fish comes up and is ready to be netted, please follow the mate?s instructions by leading the fish to the net. Remember than a big blackfish has lots of power and will make several attempts to dive for the bottom, especially when binging him to the net. Make sure to ease up on the drag slight when the fish is heading for the net. The fish may make one last effort for freedom so let it run. Then start reeling him back in to the net. Remember to lead the fish headfirst into the net and release your drag when the fish is in the net.

In conclusion, remember to keep only what you intend to use and try to release the larger females, since they are the spawners, and the future of the species. I hope you will feel like I do about these magnificent battlers