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Learn about tautog

The tautog is one of the more popular game fish in Massachusetts. Read on to learn more about this prized fish.


  • Tautog have a stout body with thick lips and a blunt nose. They only have one dorsal fin, which has many sharp spines. Tautog have a dark green to black mottled coloration on the dorsal and lateral regions, with a slightly lighter underside.
  • Tautog can reach large sizes, but are very slow growing. They can reach a length of about 30 inches and live to be over 30 years old.
  • The average fish caught by an angler weighs 2 to 4 pounds.
  • The largest tautog caught hook-and-line in MA weighed over 22 pounds.
  • A white chin is characteristic of large, often male, tautog has led many anglers to call this fish the "white chin."

Tautog facts

  • Species name: Tautoga onitis
  • The tautog spawning season is from late May until August.
  • Fecundity increases exponentially with size and weight. Females 12 inches long produce around 30,000 eggs and 20-inch females produce 196,000 eggs.
  • Tautog primarily spawn in eelgrass beds.
  • Tautog spend much of the year within 60 feet of water and usually stay within miles from shore. However, they migrate to deeper and warmer offshore waters for the winter.
  • They have a home site where they rest each night.
  • Tautog eat shallow water invertebrates such as:
    • Mussels
    • Clams
    • Crabs
    • Sand dollars
    • Amphipods
    • Shrimp
    • Small lobsters
    • Barnacles 

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Angling tips

  • Tautog support one of the earliest spring recreational fisheries in Massachusetts, with availability in April and May; however, catches are usually highest during the fall months of October and November.
  • Anglers use bait such as a large piece of sea worm, whole or halved crabs (green, rock, hermits, or fiddlers), and pieces of conch, snails, or cracked clams.
  • They are hard fighting fish so you will need a rod with a "backbone". Most anglers choose a medium-action spinning or conventional rod with 20 to 30-pound test line, and use a "no hardware" 2 hook rig with a sinker tied to the bottom.
  • Stay alert when casting or lowering the bait into the water, as fish often hit the bait as soon as it reaches the bottom. All slack line should be taken in as soon as the bait stops sinking. Once a fish picks up the bait, let it tap once or twice, and set the hook, lifting the tog away from the bottom before the line becomes entangled in rocks. When fishing in deep water, it is best to reel slowly to reduce mortality associated with the barotrauma when releasing undersized fish.
  • Tautog is a popular fish for chowder, with its flavor being compared to red snapper.