Running through Saturday, April 30, the early spring blackfish season is underway, and yes, there will certainly be bumpy days via the Fool Month winds and yes, the tog can be finicky feeders in the still cold bottom waters. However, it’s the final month-long shot at a four fish limit.
The minimum length remains at 15 inches.
Green crabs and fresh clam remain the two most popular baits, with white leggers and thawed, cooked shrimp also putting fish in the box. We’ve caught them on all four types. It’s merely a matter of giving the early spring feeders what they prefer.
The one school of thought is that the maws of April tog are soft and tender thus their preference for clams and shrimp certainly has its devotees. We can’t complain as we’ve used these offerings with success. At the same time, we’ve also had April tog put the crunch on the greenies and ‘leggers. Go figure.
Rigs or jigs is the question. As the fish will be in deeper haunts, sometimes as far down as 100-plus feet, we’re more comfortable with a snafu or single hook rig. Yet, we’ve watched “jig masters” like Stan Gola, founder of S&S Bucktails and manufacturer of the Chin Wrecker series of tog jigs, put a hurtin’ on spring blackfish utilizing his creations.
Basically, it’s what you’re comfortable with, but by all means, pack an assortment of both.
During last Saturday’s Rack & Fin Radio program (available on the podcast), marine fisheries biologist and tog fishing aficionado Peter Clarke, who also heads New Jersey’s Artificial Reef Project, named his five favorite reefs for April togging. These include the Shark River Reef, Garden State North Reef, Atlantic City Reef, Townsend’s Inlet Reef, and the Deep Water Reef.
One thing is a constant, at least during our decades of dropping baits for April blackfish: the last two weeks usually produce better results, most likely because of the warming bottom water and the fish becoming more active.
No matter, get out this month if you can. It’s a matter of personal choice as to keeping the bigger breeder fish, especially if they are females. This is a slow-growing species and it takes a long time for a tog to attain double-digit weights.