Hogfish have become a highly coveted species for traditional anglers over the last several years. Previously they were predominately fished for by spearfisherman. For those of us who tend to stick to the west coast of Florida, this beautiful species can be fished for year-round. On the east coast of Florida, Atlantic regulations only allow the annual season to run from May 1st – October 31st.
Hogfish are also referred to as Hog Snapper. However, hogfish are part of the wrasse family and not the snapper family.
What Do Hogfish Look Like?
Probably one of the most inelegantly named fish, the hogfish, is well known for its color and its namesake. Their skim can range from bright orange to a more salmon color. This particular fish has a long pig-like snout, hence the ‘hog’ in its name. They use this elongated snout to search for crustaceans buried in the ocean sediment. Rooster like fins sprouting from the top of their fins are another identifying attribute.
These fish are generally on the small to medium scale, typically weighing in from 1-4 lbs. That is not to say there aren’t some hogfish out there that have been around a while, weighing upwards of 15lbs and measuring in at 20+ inches.
Hogfish are scientifically identified as protogynous hermaphrodites. This means the juvenile hogfish starts as a female. Once the females give birth, atleast once, they then begin to transition into males. This will generally occur around 3-5 years and when they are around 14” in length. Once male, generally that one male will become the ‘leader’ and ‘protector’ of a group of juvenile females. He will mate with the females and protect them, to continue the cycle of life.
Rules and Regulations
Luckily for us on the gulf side of Florida, Hogfish season is open year-round. In order to be able to keep your catch the Hogfish’s fork length must be atleast 14”. The daily bag limit in the Gulf of Mexico is 5 hogfish per harvester.
As for the Atlantic coast, the annual season is limited to May 1st through October 31st. The Atlantic hogfish territory includes the most southern tip of Florida and the Keys. Captured hogfish must have a 16” fork length if east coasters wish to keep their catch. And each angler can only take home one of these fish a day.
When angling for Hogfish, reef fish gear requirements apply. When fishing in state waters of the gulf, circle hooks that are non-stainless steel and not offset must be used when using natural baits. On each vessel, whether in the gulf or Atlantic a dehooking device is required. When fishing in state waters north of Melbourne, on the Atlantic side, circle hooks are required when using natural baits.
Other legal gear includes spears and gigs. Once upon a time, hogfish were strictly spearfishing targets. However now-a-days simple circle hook and line is always a safe bet. When using nets, the legal net types include Seine and Cast Nets. Seine nets let you gather the fish together where you want to capture them as opposed to casting and retrieving.
Where Can I Find Plenty of Hogfish
Hogfish are a native species to the Atlantic waters but is most abundant in our lovely Gulf of Mexico. More specifically in the wrecks and reefs off the Central Florida coast. The Florida Middle Grounds are also a hogfish hot spot. During the cooler month’s hogfish have been known to retreat into the deeper, warmer federal waters.
Hogs enjoy waters with an average depth of 25-35. This is not to say that you can’t find them in the offshore waters, 120+ feet deep. Sandy bottoms are the best, since hogfish search for their food on the sandy ocean floor. You are likely to find them rooting around the dirt looking for dinner, staying away from hard coral bottoms.
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Tips & Tricks for Catching Your Hogfish
The popularity of hook and line fisherman targeting hogfish has been a new movement over the last few years. As the years have passed, traditional anglers have grown to love catching this species. They have gradually learned their main source of food comes from crustaceans. Small shrimp have become the top bait to catch hogfish. Cut baits are likely not the best ways to get a hog on your line.
If you decide to stay with the hook and line method, medium spinning tackle, 20lb test, should do just fine. Hogfish over 3 pounds can give you a good fight though, so don’t underestimate them. However, this tasty fish is well worth the whatever fight they put up.
To make the catch a little easier you can bring the hogs to you by chumming the waters. You will want to chum the water with the right bait. Being crustacean lovers be sure to chum with shellfish and shrimp. Within about 20 minutes, if any hogs are around, they should come right into your bait range.
Alternate popular fishing methods include other legal gear, such as spears and gigs. Seine nets and cast nets have also been known to work. If you are fishing for hogfish in the shallower waters the nets may allow you to catch your daily bag limit in just a few tries. For those who like to fish with their hands, take your shot at diving with a spear or spotting from above with a gig.
How to Cook Hogfish
This species is one of the most underrated when it comes to food. However, anyone who has eaten one of their catches knows how delicious they are. Some argue that hogfish may even be tastier than a snapper or flounder fillet.
Like with most mild fish, lemon works beautifully. Additionally, garlic and herb recipes are sure to be a big hit. If you are looking for a bit more foreign flavor, Asian inspiration tends do go nicely with most fish types.
Hogfish have tender yet firm white fillets. Like most fish with solid fillets; you can grill, bake, broil or even pan fry them. If you choose to grill this fish, you may want to lay some form of citrus or maybe even some pineapple down to keep the fillet from sticking to the hot grill. For Hogfish beginners try our hogfish atop summer ratatouille.
Fishing for hogs from the safety of a vessel, with hook and line, is a relatively new practice, so there is a lot about fishing for this species we don’t quite know just yet. What we do know is they are abundant throughout our beautiful gulf, so enjoy discovering these beautiful reef fish. Central Florida waters and the middle grounds are great areas we know of. Once it starts getting cold you will want to stick to the deeper waters.
You can fish for these creatures in a multitude of forms. Take your shot at spear fishing or gigging. Toss out your net or use a seine net if you wish. If you want a decent fight try your luck casting a simple spin tackle baited with a fresh shrimp, right off your vessels deck.
For some, that mouthwatering first bite is the best part of fishing. Don’t be afraid to try different cooking methods until you find your favorite recipe. You can go the traditional route with a citrus recipe, foreign with an Asian or Indian recipe, or tropical with some pineapple or mango.