Tautog ( Tautoga onitis ) are territorial fish found in hard-bottom reefs and rocky environments from Nova Scotia to South Carolina, most commonly from Cape Cod to Delaware. The species frequents rock piles, bridge pilings, artificial reefs and old wrecks. It feeds on a variety of mollusks and crustaceans such as mussels, barnacles and crabs , which the fish crushes in its strong molars. A cold water fish, tautog migrate seasonally inshore and offshore. They are year-round residents of the Chesapeake Bay , entering the Bay when the water temperature reaches about 40 degrees F. Tautog are abundant in the lower Bay from autumn to spring, and the population extends as far north as the Chester River in the winter months. During the summer and perhaps in January and February, there is a population shift to more offshore locations.

Life Cycle

Spawning occurs from late April to early August in the lower Bay and offshore.
The young are planktonic for about three weeks and then take up residence in the camouflaged safety of green sea grass beds.
The young fish lose their bright green coloring as they mature–usually in three to four years–and become uniformly black.
A mature young tautog is approximately 13 inches long, and maximum adult size is 3.1 feet.
The largest recorded tautog, caught off Wachapreague, Virginia in 1987, weighed 24 pounds.
A slow-growing fish, the tautog can live for more than 30 years. In older fish, the sex ratio is known to be skewed toward males, larger fish with an enlarged white chin. Older females resemble young fish, retaining their uniform black coloring.
The Fishery

Tautog are of minor commercial value, but have been a popular recreational fish. Eighty-five percent of the historical fishery has been recreational. Spear fishers target tautog, but most of the recreational catch is by anglers who bottom-fish with hook and line baited with crabs or clams. Recreational landings peaked in 1984 with 799,000 fish caught in Virginia. Since then, levels have dropped, with an average estimated recreational catch of 158,237 fish between 1990 and 1992. Since 1980 tautog have become more marketable and commercial pressure has increased. Virginia reported a steady increase in commercial landings–from 1,343 pounds in 1984 to 5,337 pounds in 1993. The primary gear types for commercial harvest in the southern region are hook and line and fish pots, due to a market demand for live fish.

Because they are easily located by fishermen and are slow to reproduce, tautog populations are susceptible to overfishing. Anecdotal observations from Virginia anglers have indicated a slight decrease in the size of landed fish over the last 10 years, but there is no clear trend in average size. An Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) was put into place in April of 1996, with effective size regulations beginning in April of 1997 (13 inch minimum size). Trip limits to reach a target fishing mortality rate of F=0.24 began in April 1998. The coast wide average F ranged from F=0.36 to F=0.58 before the FMP was implemented. All states must reduce fishing mortality to F-=0.15 by April 2000.

To book your trip aboard Light Tackle Charters call Captain Walt at (410) 845-3231 or email him from this site! Remember, your date is not "booked" until a deposit has been recieved.

Light Tackle Charters
543 Wellington Road
Crisfield, Maryland 21817

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You may bring your own fly, spinning, casting or trolling outfits. I recommend different outfits of different size & weights dependent upon the time of year and the species we'll be stalking. Just talk with me (via phone or e-mail) prior to the trip and I'll be happy to make recommendations...