Story by Tom Pagliaroli

February is a tricky month fishing-wise. With air temperatures fluctuating from cold to moderate to warm and back to cold again before getting warm again, well, at least on the fresh and brackish water scenes, it can go from bust-to-boom-to-bust literally overnight.

A more consistent rod-bender is found on the Atlantic’s inshore and mid-range wrecks, structures and rock piles in the form of tog, aka blackfish. With the season drawing to a close February 28, only a few weeks remain to get in on a bite that can range from picky to plunder, with scrumptious fillets the ultimate reward.

At this stage of the season, the tog grounds can be anywhere from 15 to 30-plus miles from inlets (north to south) Manasquan, Barnegat, Absecon, Great Egg, and Townsends, so be prepared for a boat ride, be it on a private, charter or party boat. With rare exception, expect a bumpy to bouncing commute to the wrecks, and by all means, dress in layers with headgear and gloves to keep the melon insulated and the digits flexible. It’s easy to shed outerwear if the temps moderate, but it’s torture trying to concentrate when your freezing.

When temps are hovering in the thirties, party boats get the nod as they have heated cabins and some even boasting heated handrails.

Tog are now transitioning to a delicate diet from their normal green crab and white legger crunch. Sure, they’ll still peck at these, but the age-old wisdom calls for clam or shrimp baits as per the winter time tog’s “soft” mouth. Owing to the cold water and slowed metabolism, the bite will be slower and more subtle than normally rapid peck-peck-snatch the species is famous (or infamous, depending on your hook-setting acumen) for, and now it’s more a matter of timing than a lightening lift to bury the barb.

The daily limit is four with a 15-inch minimum.

Bonus Babies: Hit a hot wreck and chances are there will be bonus meat in the forms of ling (red hake). The homely, slithery, barbel-festooned ling is also ignominiously referred to as “sewer trout” and “Brooklyn brown”, but, from this corner, make the finest fresh fried fish sandwich or platter, bar none. “Fresh” is the operative word, as this soft fleshed bottom feeder does not freeze well, turning to mush within a week, even when encased via a vacuum sealer. Fling some ling, and fry ‘em up that evening or the next day at the latest. There is no length or daily limit, and figure fish anywhere from the average 1-lb. up to a whopping 6-lbs.

 

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