Spearfishing Tautog from Shore Guide

Spearfishing for Tautog From Shore

I absolutely love spearfishing for Tautog, most people don’t know this, but they are one of the tastiest fish in the ocean. Their diet mainly consists of crabs and mussels, making their meat come out perfectly flakey. Spearfishing them is surprisingly easy, in fact the first fish I ever shot was a Tautog. Due to where they live and how they act, once you know how to spearfish for Tautog and where to find them, you can practically get some any day of the week.

As I mentioned shooting Tautog is quite easy, unlike spearfishing for Striped Bass from shore, shooting a Tautog really only involves finding a spot that holds them, and having decent conditions, so you can see them. I also want to mention, many people call Tautog, Black Fish, or even Rockfish, in my opinion there’s no write or wrong name, I grew up calling them Tautog, so that’s what I’ll mainly reference them by.

I also want to mention that Tautog can be found on the east coast from Canada to Delaware, so their living conditions can change. I'm in Rhode Island so most of this info is most relevant to New England Spearfishers.

Spearfishing a Striped Bass and 3 Tautog from Shore in Rhode Island

These 3 Tautog and Striped Bass were shot this past summer in Rhode Island. These are all from shore dives.

Finding Spots That Hold Tautog

It’s no surprise given many people call them rockfish that they live in rocks. Tautogs are anywhere that there is easy food for them to eat, in Rhode Island nearly all rocky coastlines are overgrown with mussels which makes for easy eating for blackfish. You can also find them in other more sea-weedy areas that hold other sea life like crabs and sea worms.

With that said, if you want to find a shore diving spot that holds Tautog look for a rocky coastline, or a rock pier. If you are in the northeast, and you find a rock wall that drops to at least 10’ deep, you will likely find some nice Tautog living by it. One thing to mention is there are considerably more Tautog to be found on the Atlantic coast as compared to inside bays. I have shot multiple Tautog in Narragansett bay, but I definitely see more on the Atlantic coast.

Using Google Maps to Find Shore Diving Spots

Google maps is pretty great for finding Tautog spots, look piers / rock walls, or coastlines that look like the image below.

Using Google Maps to Find Spearfishing Spots for Tautog

Using a Nautical depth Chart to Find Shore Diving Spots

I like using a Nautical Depth chart so I can have an understanding of what the bottom is going to be like. In Rhode Island you only need to go down 10’ or so to shoot a nice Tautog. There are lots of blackfish to be found deeper, but it’s not necessary if you don’t want to. Knowing this, look for areas that the coastline drops to at least 10’ deep quite fast. I don’t see that many Tautog around coasts that gradually descend.

Weather Conditions for Spearfishing Black Fish

Water Visibility Factors in New England

The water visibility in New England is always changing, some days you can see nearly 20 feet, while other days you’re lucky to see 5 feet. Seriously, I have gotten in the water countless times and not been able to see the tip of my speargun. The cool thing with Tautog, is even in those conditions, if you’re at the right place you can still find and shoot them.


Rain makes New England waters very cloudy. If possible, wait at least 2 days after any significant rain, if it only rained for an hour or so you should be fine. But if it rained for a few hours you are not going to be able to see.


Similar to rain, big waves stir up the water in New England and will likely give you some crappy conditions. I believe the waves matter a bit less than rain, but still, a few days of big waves will create some suboptimal visibility.


Tautogs aren’t active at night, but during the day they can be found swimming near and inside of rock walls. Time doesn’t matter too much for visibility, as long as the sun is out you should be good.


The tide plays a part in the visibility in New England. The best time for good visibility seems to be about 2 hours before high tide. Low tide pulls all the sediment from the bays and the beaches, and will make for worse visibility. Don’t let low tide keep you from going though, I have gone during many low tides and walked out with plenty of fish. The worst is when you combine low tide with rain, waves, or any other visibility factor.

What Time of Year is Best for Spearfishing for Tautog

In Rhode Island and surrounding states Tautog is only able to be harvested during certain months. The good news is it’s only closed during June and July, so any other time of year they are open. I have shot the biggest Tautog in August, normally towards the beginning of the month when no one else has been harvesting them. Tautog seem to stay in Rhode Island through November and seem to be completely unfindable by January. They seem to start showing up in late April/May. By May 20th we are normally able to consistently get some Tautog, before the season closes on June 1st.

What Time of Day Is Best for Spearfishing Black Fish

As I mentioned above, the time of day really doesn’t matter for Tautog, they are very active during all daylight hours, so as long as the visibility is good, you’ll be able to find them.

What Tide is the Best for Spearfishing Tautog

Again the tide doesn’t matter too much since Tautog seem to stick around similar spots. The visibility is the main factor when it comes to shooting Black Fish.

What type of Bait Attracts Tautog

Tautog are bottom feeders. They enjoy rocky terrain that holds mussels, clams, oysters, and crabs. If you find some rocks with beds of mussels, Tautog are likely close by. I always check out what they have been eating when I am gutting them, it seems like all Tautog are eating the same stuff in one area. One spot every fish I shoot will have a belly of mussels, the next spot might be mainly crabs.

How Deep Are Tautog?

You can find Tautog at nearly any depth you can get to. They go to wear the food is, I have seen Tautog in water as shallow as 2 feet, but on average I seem to find the most around 10-15 feet deep off piers and rock walls. I have seen countless videos of Tautog being much deeper doing the same thing, eating mussels.

Since I am not diving very deep when I am spearfishingf or Tautog I add a bit more weightt o my weight belt, than if I was diving deeper. I use a 4.5mm O'neill surfing wetsuit for spearfishing. Because of this I find myself using about 14lbs of weights on my weight belt. You can calculate your weight belt weight using my calculator here.

The Drop

When I am getting ready to take a drop for Tautog, I always plan what kind of dive I am going to have, some Tautog are very skittish, so you have to move slowly and calmly to be able to get a shot. Other Tautog will stand still and basically let you dive bomb them without even moving. Since Tautog have a few different personalities, each spot has a different “best” method for shooting them. This is one of the great things about spearing Tautog, it lets you practice a lot, and really start getting good at a bunch of different diving techniques. Please note, all these names for drops are my own makings, I don’t know that anyone else uses the terms to describe dropping.

Drop and “Chill”

The tried and true method that works for nearly all fish, works great for spearfishing Tautog. This method consists of doing your breath up, diving to the bottom and grab onto a rock. This my main method when I know Tautog are around, but I can’t see any prior to my drop. I typically dive down and grab a rock, have my speargun pointed to where I expect them to show up from a rock pile, and only move my head to see them. It’s important if you’re doing this method to move slowly and calmly on your way down. Any aggressive movements will likely spook any potential fish that are nearby.

Join the Tautog

If the visibility is great and I can see Tautog below me, I will sometimes swim down and join them. For this method it’s important to not come directly on top of them, but instead from behind them. Many Tautog will spook away once they see you, but if you’re with a big enough school of them they will likely only spook for a second and then swim back in to check you out. This is when you can get some great shots on fish if you’re ready.

Surprise the Tautog

Sometimes when I am running out of air on a drop and chill dive I’ll see a fish on the other side of a rock or something. What I do in this situation is do my breath up, then drop down and hide behind a rock, I will then slowly crawl using my free arm on the bottom and surprise a Tautog. I try to surprise Tautog when I am diving a rock pier that I know has a lot of hiding spots. Otherwise sometimes when you spook them they go into a crevice that you won’t be able to get a shot through.

Surface Shots

Tautogs are rarely by the surface, the only surface shot on a Tautog I can remember happened in about 3 feet of water. Otherwise Tautog are always closer to the bottom where the food is.

Deep Drop Off Drops

I do deep drops when I know the depth is around 30ft and the visibility isn't great. The method with this is to dive along the ledge as it goes down. You need to go very slowly down, and you will likely get some sideways shots at Tautog eating mussels off the ledge.

Shooting a Tautog

Luckily for you Tautog aren’t the strongest swimmers. This is nice because even though they are always around rocks, if you shoot one you can likely pull on the line after the shot and prevent them from getting rocked up. In all my years shooting Tautog I believe I only had 1 fish really take himself deep into a rock hole.

Spearfishing for Tautog Tips

Don’t rush into it. Tautogs are plentiful in many spots around New England, so even if you don’t see a fish within 10 minutes of water time, just keep going. Some spots hold more than others, but almost all rocky drops off with mussels will hold them when the season is right.

Spearfishing Gear for Shooting Tautog from Shore

If it isn’t obvious yet, Tautog are quite easy to shoot, the nice thing about them too is they hang where other fish can be found. I shoot a lot of Tautog and Stripers in the same dives. Due to this I prefer a spearfishing gear that can easily handle both species, and maybe even some Seabass or Flounders if I’m lucky. The below image shows a nice day in Rhode Island that I was able to get a 21" Flounder and a 19" Tautog.

A Tautog and a Flunder both shot from shore will spearfishing in Rhode Island

Speargun for Shooting Tautog

Since shooting any New England fish is almost always an option, I use my Rob Allen Snapper Railgun 800 Series on most of my dives. My father who I go with often uses his Rob Allen Tuna Railgun 800 series also. This gun seems to be the perfect balance between power and manoeuvrability. If you know you aren’t going to be spearfishing striped bass on that particular dive than a smaller gun would be nice for Tautog. Since they love rocky areas, having a small 50cm gun would be really fun. My father oftentimes only uses one band when shooting Tautog and has never had an issue of the spear not going through. So as long as your mini speargun has some power you should be ready to go.

Dive Flag for Shore Diving

Since I am always near rocky coastline and potentially decent sized waves I always make sure I have a hard float / dive flag. Most of these coastlines aren’t very forgiving, so it’s important to have gear for the worst case scenario, like it being too rough to climb on the rocks to get out of the water. You can see my dive flag and float set up in my post about them. I added a bunch of things you can DIY to make your spearfishing gear set up really great.

Contact Us!

I hope you enjoyed this article, if you have any questions or want to go diving in New England together leave a comment. I’ll be sure to get back to you! You can also contact us through the contact form on the website.

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