Dr. Ken Neill, a dentist by trade and the Virginia representative for the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), caught the state’s current record tautog back in April. Recently, age testing determined that the fish was 19 years old.
Two of the other oldest-known tautogs were females aged 23 years old (weighing 11.49 pounds) and 22 years old (at 12.99 pounds). Dr. Neill’s fish not only was among the oldest, but it was the heaviest in Virginia marine record, and a close contender for the world record.
Weighing 24 pounds, 3 ounces, Dr. Neill’s fish surpassed the long-standing previous Virginia state record of 24 pounds caught by Gregory Bell in 1987 in the Atlantic Ocean off Wachapreague on a section of the Powell wreck.
Dr. Neill took his chances at the Morgan wreck, one of the vessels contained within the footprint of the popular Triangle Reef site just slightly more than 30 nautical miles off Cape Henry. He chose the spot because the Morgan wreck is large and easy to set anchor in.
On Sunday, March 25, he had arranged to accompany a crew of Peninsula Angler Club members and other friends to go fish a wreck that they had fished the day before, a smaller wreck south of the Rudee Inlet, where he caught the biggest tautog of his life at 15 pounds.
But by 6 a.m., none of the other party members had shown up and Dr. Neill realized that nobody had one another’s cell phone number. So he waited 15 more minutes and took off alone in his boat, the Healthy Grin, for the larger wreck. Who knows how the day would have ended up had his crew shown up.
Dr. Neill speculates himself that it would have been much different. “I never would have come close to that tog on Sunday,” he said to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
He tagged and released two tautog in the first two hours of fishing. Sea bass were the common catch, but even at a good size, they had to be released since it was off-season for sea bass. To detour the sea bass, Dr. Neill baited tautog with a whole quarter of a blue crab and cast a short distance from the boat to avoid re-anchoring. He was using a St. Croix rod, mated to a Shimano Torium 16 and spooled with 50-pound PowerPro Braid.
He hooked something and instantly knew it was a good catch. He fought to keep the fish out of the wreck successfully, then gazed at the proportion of the fish once it was netted and brought aboard. He brought the fish to weigh in to the main office of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in Newport News and the rest is history.