With a young and growing family, Taylor Chadsey III hasn’t been on the water nearly as much as he would like.
An excellent spear-fisherman, Chadsey has spent much of his life chasing hogfish underwater and knows where they school up in colder months. He’s probably speared thousands in his life but had never caught one on hook and line.
On the other hand, I’m terrible underwater. I’ve never shot one, but find myself proficient in targeting them from above. When Chadsey invited me to target them last Sunday, I was ready for the challenge.
“You ever hook and line them?” I asked.
“I have never caught a hogfish, but I know where they will be, so let’s give it a shot,” Chadsey replied.
“You put us on them and we will get them,” I said.
“Done. We are going to the honey hole first,” Chadsey said.
When Sunday arrived, we loaded up Chadsey’s Contender with 15-dozen large shrimp, chum for snapper and a few boxes of sardines for the potential gag grouper before the season closed. Six anglers were on board, so a lot of bait would be used.
The weather was beautiful other than a slight fog that slowed us a little in the morning. When we arrived to the honey hole, Chadsey got the boat anchored and I demonstrated the hogfishing technique. I rigged a 1.25-ounce pink hogball with a third of a shrimp threaded onto the hook.
“Get it to the bottom and leave it there with the slightest bit of tension on the line,” I explained. “The hogfish eat the bait while it’s on the bottom.”
Within seconds, I was hooked up, and the first hogfish of the day was in the box. A second bait and a second was landed. Everyone else rigged similarly and every few minutes another hogfish or mangrove snapper was added to the fish box. The bite was on and the spot was producing.
Seeing everyone get the hogfish touch was amazing. There is a certain feel to knowing when the bite is happening. Chadsey played mate most of the time with fish flying in the boat so quickly, but I was determined to see him hook and line one as well.
After a few grunts, snapper and grouper, his line had something a little extra on. Hogfish fight tough for their size, almost like an amberjack mixed with a grouper. They tend to swim sideways quite a bit and do circles.
When the site of a large male hogfish rose from below, Chadsey’s face lit up. He was excited, and his first hogfish on hook and line was added to an already plentiful cooler.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was more of the same. I started to target more mangrove snapper by using an 1/8-ounce jighead with shrimp and at one point landed six or seven in a row. All around the boat the fishing stayed hot until we called it around 2 p.m. to get home for what would be a lengthy session of filleting fish.
We caught over 30 hogfish, with most of the smaller females being released to fight another day and produce more hogfish. We came close to the six-person limit in the box but were just short. There were over 30 snapper and we landed two keeper gag grouper as well.
It was truly a spectacular day and one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Anglers will surely change their focus offshore to hogfish and snapper now that gag grouper is closed in nearshore waters, and fishing for both should be good for the near future.