A 24-pound, 3-ounce tautog, caught on March 25th by Ken Neill III of Seaford, VA, has been certified as the new Virginia State Record by the Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament. Neill’s catch surpassed the long standing record of 24 pounds, caught by Gregory Bell in 1987.
Neill made the record-setting catch at the Morgan wreck, which is one of the vessels contained within the footprint of the popular Triangle Reef site and located slightly over 30 nautical miles off Cape Henry. Neill, a dentist by trade, was fishing solo aboard his private boat the Healthy Grin. “I fished the day before with my regular crew of Peninsula Angler Club members and caught my biggest tautog ever, a 15-pounder. Sunday I had several other friends set to meet at the boat at 6 AM and planned to return to the same wreck,” said Neill. When the crew failed to materialize by 6 AM, Neill realized neither party had the other’s cell phone number. After a long 15 minute wait, lines were cast off and the Healthy Grin slowly motored out of Rudee. The wreck site from the day before was a relatively small structure and located well south of Rudee Inlet. Without any help to deploy, set and retrieve the anchor on the heavy 305 Express Albemarle, plans changed. “The Morgan is a large wreck and much easier to set anchor,” noted Neill. One can only speculate what the day would have been had the crew arrived on time but Neill, being a active participant in Virginia’s Volunteer Angler Gamefish Tagging Program who specializes in catching, tagging and releasing tautog knows one thing for certain from all the tag returns he has received over the years, “I never would have come close to that tog on Sunday.”
The tautog bite Sunday on the Morgan was much slower than the prior day on the southern hang and the first two hours produced only two tautog. Both were tagged and released. Sea bass were far more numerous at the Morgan, some were very good-sized but all were released because the season was closed. In an effort to detour at least some of the sea bass Neill baited up with a whole quarter of a blue crab. To fish a different area, and rather than weigh anchor and then reset the anchor, Neill opted to cast a short distance from the boat. Shortly afterward the big tog was hooked. “I knew this was a good fish right away. It was a really hard fight to keep it out of the wreck,” said Neill. But it was not until the fish was in the landing net and brought aboard that the true proportions of the fish could be realized. “I stopped fishing right then. I managed to set the camera up and take a couple of pictures and then I ran in to have it weighed.” The record tautog was caught on a St. Croix rod, mated to a Shimano Torium 16, spooled with 50-pound PowerPro Braid. A short mono leader and simple one hook mono bottom rig baited with fresh blue crab completed the outfit.
Tournament Director Lewis Gillingham conducted the official State Record weigh-in at the main office of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in Newport News, although the initial Citation application was completed at Inlet Station Marina earlier in the day. The huge tautog weighed 24.22 pounds on the agency’s digital scale. For State Record recognition, weight is rounded down to the last full ounce, yielding an official weight of 24 pounds, 3 ounces. A mold and mount from the record setting tautog is being prepared. When this process is completed, Neill has donated the fish to the VMRC Biological Sampling Program. The sex will be determined through a necropsy and the otilith and opercula bones will be removed from the fish and taken to Old Dominion University’s CQFE Ageing Lab where age will be determined. The CQFE Ageing Lab has been examing tautog since 1999. To date the two heaviest tautog, both female, were determined to be 12 years (22-pounds and 9-ounces) and 17 years (21-pounds 13-ounces). Likewise the two oldest tautog were female at 23 years (11.49 pounds) and 22 years (at 12.99 pounds). So it will be interesting to learn how information from the new State Record fish, at over 2 pounds heavier and over an inch longer than any prior tautog sampled, fits the existing pattern. The shape of the head suggests the fish is female.
The 24-pound, 3-ounce record-setting tautog measured 32 inches in length and had a girth of 26-3/4 inches. The prior state record of 24 pounds was caught in the Atlantic Ocean off Wachapreague on a section of the Powell Wreck, by Gregory Bell on August 25, 1987. Subsequently, Bell’s tautog was accepted by the International Game Fish Association (IGFA) as the All-Tackle World Record. Bell’s IGFA record stood for over 10 years, until a 25-pound tautog was landed off Ocean City, NJ on January 20, 1998 by Anthony Monica.
For more information, contact Lewis S. Gillingham, Virginia Saltwater Fishing Tournament, 2600 Washington Avenue Third Floor; Newport News, VA, 23607, (757) 491-5160