Gary Jennings fishes with Capt. Craig Cantelmo every spring targeting striped bass near Fisher’s Island, New York. But the striper action was poor early last June so the anglers devised an alternate plan.
“Craig told me about the shallow-water fishery for tautog in the Southold town area (near Block Island Sound), and said it was ripe for sight fishing for the sporty little fish,” says Jennings, the Florida Fishing Director for the Virginia-based American Sportfishing Association. “It’s a lot like sight fishing for sheepshead or redfish, using the same style crab-imitating patterns for tautog that cruise around rocky shallows feeding.
“So, we went out and I caught a 4-pound tautog sight fishing like I’d do for redfish, and we decided to really target them the next day and try to get a world record fish.”
The next day, the anglers set out in Cantelmo’s Pathfinder bayskiff near Fishers Island and even though it was a little overcast they located a prime area for tautog. They spotted a dark-colored cruising tautog on a lighter sand bottom, Jennings made a cast with a crab-imitating, lead-eye fly, using an 8-weight fly rod.
“When the fish saw the fly sinking, it jetted over to it, tipped down to take the fly much like a bonefish or redfish would do,” says Jennings, the former publisher of Fly Fishing In Salt Waters Magazine. “I just made a slow fly line strip, the line came tight, and the fight was on.”
Jennings says the tautog fought well, but soon wrapped around some weeds. They were worried about losing the fish because it was hooked on a light 8-pound test tippet, but they freed the tautog, and Cantelmo used a big net to collect the fish, bringing it to boatside.
Cantelmo knew the fish was a potential IGFA fly rod record, and used an IGFA Boga grip to weigh the tautog, with photos and measurements of the catch. They eased into shallow water, while keeping the fish alive in their big landing net, so they could then stand on hard ground while the fish was weighed on the IGFA-certified Boga.
The tautog measured just over 20 inches in length, weighing 6 pounds, qualifying for the open 8-pound tipped fly rod category for IGFA recognition. Then the fish was released unharmed and very alive, having been kept in Cantelmo’s large net for most of the procedures.
“We were just ecstatic about the catch, and the potential record, but the day was young and we went right back to fishing,” said Jennings. “We caught some stripers later on fly, and had another outstanding New York fly rod flats trip.”
After filling out all the IGFA paper work and sending photos, a few weeks later Jennings’ fly rod tautog was accepted as the 8-pound tippet world record for the species.