The world record hogfish caught on hook and line was a 21-pound, 11-ounce fish landed off the coast of South Carolina. Bigger fish have been speared in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic, but catching such a massive member of the wrasse family is rare in Florida waters.
In recent years, anglers have started to dial in landing hogfish on hook and line by going through hundreds of shrimp. Most of these are smaller fish around 2 to 5 pounds caught fairly shallow between 35 and 65 feet of water.
The deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico are where divers have run-ins with much larger hogs. It’s fairly common for the winner of big spearfishing tournaments like the St. Pete Open to be around 20 pounds or larger, harvested from deeper waters around the Florida Middlegrounds or Elbow spots some 70 to 100 miles west northwest in the Gulf of Mexico.
Feeling adventurous, anglers Logan Walters, Logan Beal, Eric Pullen and Capt. Jason Stock wanted to try their luck at applying shallow water hogfish techniques where their bigger brothers may roam during a hot late spring day. They took a trip to 190 feet of water toward the Elbow about 80 miles offshore.
“It was a hunch,” said the Bradenton native Walters. “We were reading posts and heard the Middlegrounds was slowing down on hogs.”
The day was extremely calm, and the anglers thought it might cause slow, bottom-fishing conditions. “It almost felt like flat seas would mean flat fishing.”
While Beal, Pullen and Stock fished a knocker rig with shrimp, the popular inshore hogfish rig, Walters wanted to try something different to see if he could get a bite going. He readied up a normal grouper rig with an egg sinker, swivel, leader and big lively shiner. When it was eaten, the crew was excited to see action coming from below.
“I was thinking it was more like a big grouper. It was the first big fish of the day, so everyone was excited,” described Walters. “We looked over and saw it was a hogfish and couldn’t believe it.”
The intended target came through unintended methods, but nonetheless the crew was happy to take a picture.
That picture has turned into a bit of an internet legend in the few years since the catch took place. I recently saw it surface again, and anglers were calling the picture “Photoshopped.” It may be hard to believe because it’s such a rare catch, but it’s real.
“I think it’s just the angle I’m holding it shows really how big it is. I actually had friends say they saw it on a guide’s website with a fake name and fake quote. I had to tell him to take it down.”
It ended up weighing around 18 pounds, very close to the 21-pound world record and Florida record of 19 pounds, 8 ounces. “It wasn’t how we tried to catch him, but we were happy we did.”
For more information, contact Jon Chapman at captainchappy@ verizon.net.