You’ve heard it said that variety is the spice of life, and while its true for life, it is even more appealing to me in the world of fishing. I have never been one to focus on just a few species; in fact I’m driven by a desire to catch as many different and unusual fish as I can before my fishing days are through. My good friend Derek Redwine prescribes to the same theory, so both of us were chomping at the bit as we kept seeing reports and pictures of Capt. Jason Stock catching hogfish on hook and line. We knew that hogfish had been caught incidentally by bottom anglers before, but Capt. Jason has been steadily catching them with his charters and we were dying to join him.
What’s the big deal about a hogfish? Often called hog snapper, but really in the wrasse family, the hogfish is arguably one of the whitest, mildest and most delicious fish to be had in tropical waters. They are also one of the most unique in appearance, looking like something a cartoonist dreamed up with. They are very colorful, with a rooster-like dorsal fin and a mouth that opens like a hippo. They are very odd indeed. The normal methods for getting a hogfish is to dive or snorkel and shoot them with spears, because they don’t normally eat a fishermen’s offering.
We contacted Capt. Jason, who is based out of Anna Maria Island, on the west coast of Florida, and expressed our desire to fish with him. We said that we could make the three-hour drive across the state with a few days notice and he agreed that he would call us when he saw a weather window opening between January cold fronts. The call came and we answered, with great anticipation.
Capt. Jason suggested we ride with him the evening before after his day trip, because the tides were right for an epic trout bite. How could we refuse?
We met him at the boat ramp after passing through the coolest, beachy little town of Anna Maria. A great place to return with the wives and catch more fish…. I mean do some shopping. Capt. Jason grew up in this area and his folks had a kayak shop, so he naturally had started his charter business doing kayak trips.
He still does that, but has added the benefit of a 23-foot custom Hanson center console that can comfortably carry more people. The boat is unique in that it can ease along by trolling motor in shallow water and chase redfish, trout and snook, equally as well as fishing the passes for tarpon or offshore for kingfish, tripletail, grouper, flounder and of course hogfish.
If you are getting the picture that Capt. Jason likes variety too, you are correct and it was a perfect match for us, though on this trip we were on a mission to catch our first hogfish on rod and reel. Oh yea the trout bite was epic.
We worked the flats around a mangrove island and in the late afternoon sun we could see big trout spooking out of the grass as the boat passed overhead. Jason said they congregate in numbers on the higher tides and should start to bite as the sun got lower.
Right on cue, Derek bowed up as a big trout crashed his Sebile lure that he was slowly twitching across the flat. That was just the beginning, and the dimmer the light got, the better the bite became. On into the dark, we made blind casts at the sounds of small ballyhoo getting crashed by trout and continued to steadily catch big trout.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I don’t think there were any less than 25 inches and the biggest was about seven pounds. We were still getting occasional bites when we decided we better stop and get ready for running offshore the next day.
The Blue Marlin was the local favorite restaurant, and it was perfect. The inside looked very nice, but the outdoor seating area with burning fire pit, acoustic guitar player and patio heaters was our choice. Fresh seafood chowder, cajun shrimp and grits and the perfect casual ambience made it a highlight of the trip.
The next morning we climbed aboard the Hanson and stowed our gear. We eased out of the residential canals and headed across a cool, misty bay and out the pass where Jason catches tarpon in the warmer months. We had a well full of shrimp and a rack full of light spinning rods with braided line and a mono shock leader. Jason described the fishing as simple, but full of variety and action.We ran offshore into a two-foot swell for about seven miles to a broad area of hard bottom where Capt. Jason had been finding hogfish. He said we would also catch many other species, depending on which one found our piece of shrimp first. It was as simple as that, a small sinker above a swivel, to a short leader and a small livebait hook. Pinch a shrimp in half and fire it down to the bottom.I know every cast sounds like we’re bragging again, but something ate your shrimp almost every drop. We did not always catch the nibbler, but they were waiting for it to hit bottom.
Big key west grunts were the first in line but were followed by several different types of porgies. A mangrove, a sheepshead, a flounder and then it happened.
A hogfish came into view on the other side of the boat. Not huge, but a hook and line hogfish.
Derek and I were not on that side of the boat, and though you would not think 9 feet of beam would make a difference, we watched Capt. Jason and his friend CJ put on a clinic. We just wanted it too badly, but it finally came our turn and Derek bowed up on his first hog. I quickly followed with a bigger one (we’re still friends).
Jason caught his personal best 19.5-inch male hogfish later that afternoon. We could not believe that it was really happening, catching a bunch of keepers and throwing back even more shorts. It was a blast!
At the end, we were picking up shrimp scraps from the deck for one last cast. I think we burned up over 12 dozen shrimp, cut into pieces, so needless to say the action was blistering. We only re-anchored a couple times, so most of the day was spent fighting a fish of one kind or another.
To say we caught a mixed bag of species is an understatement. Nothing was giant, but we caught mangrove snapper, flounder, sheepshead, porgies, grunts, red and gag grouper, hogfish, spanish mackerel and so on. With the tunes playing and everyone kidding around as fishermen do, we had so much fun.
It doesn’t hurt that most everything you catch is amazing on the dinner plate.
Hogfish is the best, but most of the other fish can hold their own if it was a contest. It rounds out the perfect fishing experience, to take home a nice mess of fish as they say.
I can’t wait to make the opportunity to go back and sample the many other varieties of fisheries that Capt. Jason has mastered. We can’t thank Capt. Jason enough for making our mission a success and a blast.