(Tautoga onitis)

Also known as Blackfish and Chinner


Tautog exhibit sexual dichromatism, which is distinct color differences between males and females. Both have irregular mottling on their sides with males displaying a combination of olive green, dark brown and black colors, while females only exhibit brown and grey. Juveniles are green in color and darken as they age. Reaching up to 22 inches in length, Tautog are stout fish with a high arched head, blunt snout, small mouth, and thick lips. Males possess a distinctive protruding forehead and large males are known to have a white patch on their chin. Tautog have round shaped fins. The long dorsal fin has spines that fade to rays nearing the caudal fin.


Ranging from Nova Scotia to Georgia, Tautog are most commonly found between Cape Cod and Chesapeake Bay. They are a seasonally influenced migratory species. In spring, as water temperatures rise, they move inshore for spawning in estuaries and nearshore coastal waters. Come fall, Tautog migrate up to 40 miles offshore to water depths between 80-150 ft where they spend the winter. Tautog gather around structured habitat including wrecks, jetties, ledges, reefs, piers/docks, and rocky bottoms. Juveniles are known to inhabit eelgrass and seaweed beds.


You’ll typically see Tautog from April to November; local divers say that when the dandelions start to flower, Tautog are back in our waters. You’ll find they are active during the day, feeding on invertebrates such as crabs, mollusks, shrimp, amphipods, and worms. Strong conical teeth help them crack through hard shells. Since they’re not active swimmers, you’ll often see them congregate in the safety of a ledge or hole when they’re not searching for food. Adult males are also known as “chinners” because of the white patch on their chin. Tautog are fished both commercially and recreationally with 90% of the stock harvested by recreational fishermen. Increased pressure from gill-net fisheries has led to a decline of stocks. Tautog grow slowly and don’t reach sexual maturity until 3-4 years, making it difficult for the population to rebound when over-fished.

Written by M. Cote Updated 3/13/2019 CAL