With the weather finally settling down, anglers are looking to point their boats west into the Gulf of Mexico in search of fish for the dinner table.
Unfortunately, many popular targets are out of season like amberjack, gag grouper, red snapper and triggerfish. Beyond 20 fathoms, other grouper species like red, black and scamp are also closed.
As a result, most anglers have changed their target species, and what’s hot now is hogfish.
I’m OK with that. I absolutely love hogfishing. It’s a rewarding challenge with non-stop action and many surprises with what you might catch.
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With the recent popularity boom of hook and lining hogfish, anglers young and old are always looking for a few tips and tricks. Here are five dos and five don’ts when fishing for hogfish.
Do bring more shrimp than you think you need. My rule of thumb is take the number of anglers fishing and then how many active hours you plan on fishing. Get two dozen shrimp for each if you’re focusing on hogfish. Four anglers fishing five hours should amount to 40 dozen shrimp. It may seem excessive, but when the bite is good you don’t want to run out.
Do use half shrimp as well. Sometimes a lively shrimp will attract other fish while a half shrimp is able to get to the bottom, where you want it. If you plan to use half shrimp, you can cut the number of shrimp back.
Do freeze your leftover shrimp. Frozen shrimp are a great way to start fishing spots and can yield good results. This will also help lower cost of future trips.
Do use light tackle and small leader to start. I stick primarily with 4,000 sizes spinning reels, 20-pound braid, and 20-pound leader. If grouper are a problem or I’m being outclassed, I will work my tackle up from there.
Do fish right on the bottom. Use short leaders, knocker rigs or jigheads as hogfish feed by rooting up sand. I recently started making jig heads to target hogfish and if you look for “Hogballs” on captainchappy.com, you’ll see my preferred jig.
Don’t start fishing too deep. It seems many hogfish have been caught recently in 35 to 45 feet of water. Start on your shallower bottom and work deeper, as you often don’t need to run as far offshore as you think.
Don’t keep smaller females. Hogfish are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning they change from female to male. By releasing females they will eventually change to male or at least keep the larger male hogfish around.
Don’t be afraid to fish on sand. Hogfish will often work their way around spots. Some of the biggest ones I’ve caught have been quite a distance from the ledge or rock pile we intended to fish.
Don’t resist the urge to move when by-catch includes too many grunts. They will cut through your bait and hogfishing time. The easiest way to deal with them is drift back 20 to 30 feet and often they will move along.
And finally, don’t overcook hogfish. They taste great with minimal seasoning and cooking time.