Get ready sport fishermen of New England, because your favorite time of the year has finally come. That’s right, in just a few short days, (on October 15th to be exact) Blackfish season opens in Connecticut. Tautog, or Blackfish as it’s known here in New England are a delicious fish to eat and a challenging one (depending on your method and timing) to catch. These tasty fish that are sometimes called “Poor Man’s Lobster” are found off the Atlantic Coast from as far north as Nova Scotia and and as far south as Georgia. However, they’re most heavily concentrated from Cape Cod through Delaware.2
Blackfish can be difficult to catch because they tend to inhabit rocky, low lying areas near the shore (seldom in waters below 60 feet deep) and also like to dwell within sunken wrecks. Because of this, you’ll frequently find your lines snapping and lose some rings when pursuing these fish, since in addition the hard-to-get areas they live in, they also put up one heck of a fight.1 It’s recommended that when fishing for Blackfish, you use a strong, solid rod, bounce your sinker around if your line gets caught, and to give the line a bit of slack once you hook the fish, since it might try to flee by way of swimming out of its crevice.1
As is painfully obvious from the above image, Blackfish aren’t exactly pretty. They tend to have a murky brown color with white blotches along with thick, heavy lips and a white underside to their chin area. They tend to have a rotund appearance, usually weighing between 2 and 4 lbs, though some on record have weighed as much as 30 lbs. They are very slow to reach large sizes, and it is estimated that their lifespans top out at around 35 years.2 They have strong, powerful teeth toward the back of their mouths and they use these teeth to chaw on their favorite foods, which include lobsters, mussels, shrimp, and clams. Due to this diet, it’s advisable to use small crabs or cut up strips of clams as bait.2
Blackfish are known to have a mild flavor and to be on the dry side, with a flavor reminiscent of Red Snapper. A versatile fish that is great for use in chowders, Blackfish can also be substituted as a reasonable facsimile for recipes that call for Striped Bass if you don’t happen to have any handy. As you’ll see when you visit our seafood market, when cut up into fillet form, Blackfish look far more appetizing than they do in the wild.
If you stop in for some Blackfish in CT at Atlantic Seafood Market or if you’ve just caught some of your own and are looking for a tasty way to prepare them, take a look at this recipe entitled Blackfish with Herb Butter from the seafood recipe treasure trove on the Epicurean website.
Here’s what you’ll need: 1 1 lb Blackfish fillet, cut into 4 pieces, 2 tbs chopped chives, 2 tbs chopped parsley, 3 tbs fresh chopped dill, 2 tbs lemon juice, 1/4 cup butter, and salt, pepper, and cayenne (if desired)3
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Melt the butter and blend in the chopped herbs and spices
3. Pour the butter and herb mixture over the fillets after placing them into an oiled baking dish
4. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes
5. Check to see if fish is flaking. If it is, it is ready to be removed from the oven and placed on a serving platter.
6. If desired, boil the remaining juices in the baking pan and pour them on top of the fillets.3
Peninsula Salt Water Sport Fisherman’s Association
2. Special Profiles – Tautog
Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game
3. Tautog Baked with Herb Butter