Tap, tap, tap … spring tautog fishing has been great

Posted 3/15/23

On April 10th last spring the water temperature at Narragansett Beach was only 45 degrees.   Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence, said, “The water is too cold for tautog. …

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Tap, tap, tap … spring tautog fishing has been great


On April 10th last spring the water temperature at Narragansett Beach was only 45 degrees.   Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence, said, “The water is too cold for tautog. The temperature has to be around 50 degrees for the spring tautog bite to turn on. Let’s hope the water warms a bit this week.” 

“I generally start fishing in the spring for tautog in mid-April when the water temperature hits 52 to 58 degrees.  I will start in 30 to 40 feet of water but as the water warms I will move to lower water, as low as six to fifteen feet,”  said Jeff Sullivan, a tautog sharpie who mates for Capt. Kurt Rivard and is an associate at Lucky Bait & Tackle, Warren.

“If you like fall tautog fishing you have to give spring tautog fishing a try.  Particularly with the new one trophy fish regulation, large size tautog can be caught in the spring easier than ever before. So what’s not to like. They are the first and last species I target each season,” said Sullivan.


There will be new regulations for tautog fishing this year in Massachusetts, similar to the Rhode Island 2022 regulations. “I think the new more conservative tautog regulations worked well in Rhode Island last year. We have had a positive response from members and with RISAA’s leadership we were able to get similar regulations in Massachusetts,” said Greg Vespe, RISAA Executive Director. “It’s refreshing to see Massachusetts take steps to join RI in being proactive in protecting these slow growing fish that are quickly becoming the backbone of the New England fall fishery. With no change to the bag limit and everyone still allowed to catch a trophy and set their own, club or state record it’s hard to find a negative with this change.  It’s responsible management at its best.”

Rhode Island and Massachusetts will have the same trophy fishing regulations that RI had last year.  Anglers were allowed just one trophy fish, 21 inches or larger, the minimum size is still 16 inches and a ten fish boat limit applies for private recreational vessels.

The spring season runs from April 1 to May 31 and allows for three fish/person/day, the season reopens Aug. 1 to Oct. 14 with a three fish/person/day limit and then jumps to five fish from October 15 to December 31. In Massachusetts anglers are allowed to take one fish in the spawning season of June and July (as noted in RI the season closes for June and July). At press time Rhode Island has not finalized 2023 regulations.

Find structure to find tautog

Tautog can be fished from shore or boat and in both cases they like structure (rocks, wrecks, bridge piers, dock pilings, mussel beds, ledges holes and humps along the coast). So, no structure, no tautog.

“Generally I fish in boulder fields in the spring or where broken bridges and pilings are in the water.  Those spaces are often hard to access and can be dangerous bringing your vessel close to submerged structure unless you know the area well but it is a perfect area to fish from a kayak,” said Sullivan.  “I also like mussel or oyster beds in the spring. They are generally in low water and I like to bounce my jig off the bottom and because they are generally in low water the jig is very productive.”

Soft baits good in spring, but crabs are still preferred by some

Spring tautog baits have historically been soft including clam worms and clams. However, I have found green crabs with their shells broken off to expose the crab meat is a very temping bait. You end up feeding a lot of fish but once they put on the feed bag the bite increases exponentially.

“My bait of choice in the spring are Asian crabs,” said Sullivan.  “They are kind of soft early in the season so you have to stack more than one on a hook. Don’t get me wrong worms work too, but often times it is hard to get your worm past the scup even in the early season. And, working at a bait shop I know how expensive clam worms are now.”

Preferred rigs or jigs

“I jig all the time unless conditions such as deep water, heavy structure, etc. dictate a traditional rig. The jigs I use are generally ½ to ¾ of an once with my favorite colors being white and orange. I think that these colors tend to get more attention when down at the bottom of the water column below.” said Sullivan.

As an alternative, when on heavy structure in spring or fall I prefer to use an egg sinker rig that has reduced bottom tie ups by 50 percent. The egg sinker slides on a small piece of monofilament adorned with red and white beads which has a two-way swivel on each end, a pre-snelled lazar sharp hook is attached to the end of the swivel and hangs down about eight inches. The aim is to work the hook and crab right down between rocks and bottom structure.

Where’s the bite?

Striped bass. “There has been holdover striper activity in local salt ponds and rivers with alewives beginning their run enhancing activity. Anglers are also finding some white perch.  March is often the best month for targeting white perch,” said Declan O’Connell of Breachway Bait & Tackle, Charlestown, RI. “We have seen a ton of bait, small Atlantic menhaden in the Providence River. Birds have been working the past couple of weeks and three dolphins were spotted off Sabin Point by a customer. The water is warm and the bait is plentiful,” said Littlefield of Archie’s Bait & Tackle, Riverside.

Fresh water fishing has been good as not many have fished ponds in Rhode Island and Massachusetts that were stocked in fall and early winter. “Customers continue to catch trout in area ponds.  It has been a mild winter and fresh water fishing has been great,” said Littlefield.  For licenses and trout/salmon waterway stocking information in Rhode Island visit, and in Massachusetts .

Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and charter fishing license. He serves on a variety of boards and commissions and has a consulting business focusing on clean oceans, habitat preservation, conservation, renewable energy, and fisheries related issues and clients. Forward fishing news and photos to or visit


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