Glorious afternoon yields great fishing before stormy weather’s arrival

Jon Chapman shows off a hogfish caught Tuesday about 16 miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jon Chapman shows off a hogfish caught Tuesday about 16 miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo provided

Dear Santa, I wanted to follow up on my letter to you last week.

I know you’re probably really busy today making a list and checking it twice, but fear not. I’m not asking for anything.

I want to thank you. When I wrote to you last week, I asked for a nice weather day, and you delivered. That day was Tuesday, when there was a nice break, and man the fish were hungry! Let me tell you a little about it.

Early in the afternoon I joined Caleb Grimes, Jay Travis and James Sharpin aboard Grimes’ 32-foot Contender. We packed light with a few rods and tackle, only bringing a box of sardines, some frozen white bait and 13-dozen live shrimp for bait. After a quick and unsuccessful stop to try for live bait, we headed west about 16 miles to some ledges and areas of hard bottom.

I rigged up to try for hogfish while others would work on grouper. Santa, something special was happening because my first drop of the day with a 1.25-ounce Hogball and half shrimp resulted in a big hogfish. It was extremely rare to have that happen so quickly, but it was a sign of things to come for the rest of the afternoon because the next bait I dropped down, I caught another hogfish! Two for two.

On the other side of the boat, Caleb soon reeled up a beautiful mangrove snapper that ate a grouper bait. The Garmin electronics lit up like a Christmas tree and nearly every bait we dropped resulted in a nice fish. It was amazing!

Gag grouper were caught as well, but they were just shy of the 24-inch minimum now required. After an hour we had a cooler of beautiful hogfish and mangrove snapper filling up.

Later on, my technique was still working for hogfish as I was hooked into a monster. I was nearly pinned to the gunnel on the spinning tackle, and eventually a huge hogfish around 28 inches was landed. It was my new personal best!

The conditions were absolutely perfect for hungry fish. A day before an extremely strong front combined with a ¾-moon, light winds and no current had the fish feeding. After getting nine hogfish, we moved to attempt to get some gag grouper in the box as well.

The gags we did get were still just barely shy of the required length. Travis dialed in a jighead and was catching huge mangrove snapper, easily some of the biggest I’ve seen that shallow in the Gulf. We got broken off by a few big gags that rocked us up on our light tackle while snapper fishing.

We only fished for about three hours and pointed east before a cold sunset would overtake the horizon. In the box were 32 fish from that short timeframe. It was mostly hogfish and mangrove snapper with a few red grouper, lane snapper and porgies as well.

So Santa, thank you for giving us that perfect afternoon. I’d love to do it again soon, so maybe another few nice days this winter? Hopefully that’s not too much to ask for!