Here in the Upper Keys we have a large and healthy local population of hogfish--more so than anywhere in the Florida Keys. This is mainly due to our abundance of shallow water coral reefs, and restrictions on spear fishing. Now, most people believe that you can only catch hogfish consistently with a spear gun--this is wrong. Catching hogfish on hook and line is not only possible, but last year my clients limited out on hogfish nine times in three months. I even had a couple of clients take some hogfish we caught to one of our local restaurants only to have the staff ask, “Where are the spear holes?” When my clients responded that they had caught their fish on hook and line, the staff replied, “Nobody catches them on hook and line.” You are allowed 5 hogfish per person, 12 inches to the fork of the tail or bigger, however, catching one person’s limit is something so rare, most people find it to be impossible.
Most hogfish are caught around patch reefs found in 10-40ft through out the Keys, however they are occasionally caught on the bayside and in canals locally.
Most hogfish are caught around patch reefs found in 10- 40 feet of water throughout the Keys, however they are occasionally caught on the bayside and in canals locally. Key Largo is home to the largest number of shallow water reefs found anywhere in the Keys, including Key West and the Dry Tortugas. These patch reefs hold a huge variety of species and offer light tackle anglers lots of opportunities to bend a rod and catch some dinner. While hogfish can be caught with regularity, species like grouper, snapper, porgies, mackerel, jacks, and assorted reef fish, are always a possibility on the patches.
Fishing the patches is a unique experience because the more you do it, the more you notice patterns and learn new and different techniques for success. Every patch reef is a different animal in regards to size, structure, and species commonly found there. The most common question I get from anglers I meet is, “Do I chum?” The answer is yes and no. Some patches I do chum and others I do not. Chum draws fish to your location, and some of the patches out there hold thousands of small yellowtail snappers and grunts that will be drawn to your location, and will be the only things you catch while chumming. Other locations require chum due to the absence of these little bait stealers and sparseness of structure.
Fishing for hogfish is not a complicated thing. In fact, it is quite simple. All you need is a GPS, some hooks/line, and a lot of live shrimp. My favorite hogfish rig is 10-15lb braided line to 20-30lb Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, to an Owner 1/0-3/0 MUTU light circle hook (depending on the size of the shrimp), with a removable split shot weight. Basically, just enough weight to get it to the bottom--and that’s it! Now when I say lots of shrimp, I mean just that! Some days I will have 20 dozen live shrimp; others, 25 dozen. I have used crabs, but nothing gets them going like live shrimp. Additionally, I typically hook my shrimp through the tail verses the head. I find this will help you get the most out of each bait. Hooking them through the head gives them a more natural presentation, however, most of the time you only get the head back after the first bite.
For those of you who know me, know that to me, fishing is more than just a game, it is a way of life. So fish hard and fish often!
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