Jason Hoffman has been casting lines from the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers for more than 25 years. Through experience he’s learned the best times and tactics to target its various fin visitors throughout the year. Even then, a surprise catch caught him off guard while leaving online anglers questioning the authenticity of such a rare catch.
For targeting snapper, grouper and sheepshead, Hoffman prefers to fish the south Skyway fishing pier for its more numerous rock piles and old Skyway rubble. “I use select shrimp on a 5000 Penn spinning reel with 30-pound leader and a 2-ounce weight,” Hoffman said. “That allows me to cast it out close to the rocks where the grouper and snapper live, and they love select shrimp.”
With the conditions looking good, Hoffman ventured to the southern pier with hopes of bringing home a tasty snapper or grouper dinner. He put a shrimp out near one of his favorite rock piles, and when his shrimp was eaten and his drag started peeling, the excited angler thought he had a fish to take home at the end of the line.
“I’ve got a good one!” he yelled. “Someone get me a net!”
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When it hit the surface, Hoffman was stunned. It was a 24-inch, 7-pound hogfish, one of the toughest targets in the Gulf, and a good-sized one at that.
“I couldn’t believe it. Normally when I target them, we’re fishing in 60- to 80-feet of water and their even tough to catch out there.”
When Hoffman began to share the story, anglers had a tough time believing it.
“At first people thought I went and caught it offshore, then drove to the Skyway to take a picture with it. I wasn’t going to put in that much effort. Pretty soon I heard of at least two other people who caught them at the Skyway, so it helped to validate my catch.”
It wouldn’t be the strangest catch I’ve heard of from the Skyway. Anglers have reportedly caught sailfish, tuna, and red snapper from the piers before. Big kingfish are known to frequent the structures during the spring and fall as well with tarpon frequently landed in the summer months.
Hogfish inside Tampa Bay may be more common than anglers think. Searching “Skyway Hogfish” on YouTube returns multiple results of divers who have plucked large hogs out of the rubble and rockpiles. It’s very evident where they are with the Skyway clearly in sight as hogfish patrol their structured homes.
Hoffman will switch gears in the upcoming weeks, as a week of cold weather will drastically change the fishing around the bay.
“Sheepshead. That’s what will be biting best with the upcoming cold.”