Pigfish, often mistaken for their close cousin, pinfish, are actually members of the grunt family. These hardy, palm size critters make for an excellent choice of bait for many of our favorite inshore, near-shore, and offshore species. Big trout, snook, redfish, tarpon, grouper, and mutton snapper are just some of our favorites which are particularly fond of chasing down and gobbling up grunting pigfish.
Extremely common along the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast United States, pigfish’s range actually extends all the way north to Long Island and south to the mouth of the Rio Grande River. They are particularly abundant along the Carolina coast, where they are regularly taken in trawl-seines. Though the species has not yet been carefully studied, it is believed that the pigfish population does occur in sufficient numbers to sustain at least some level of commercial importance. Evidently, pigfish are quite pleasing to the palate, though we prefer to utilize them as bait rather than broiled and served on a plate.
Typically easy to capture, pigfish grow to approximately twelve-inches in length but are most often captured in smaller, three to six-inch versions. They are best fished from an anchored or very slowly drifting boat as they do not troll very well. Those of you who don’t own boats, please keep in mind that when we refer to an anchored or slowly drifting boat, the same tactics can be applied to pier, bridge, or shoreline fishing.
In their natural environment, pigfish regularly consume smaller fishes and shrimp, but as all Florida anglers already know, these little bait stealers will readily strike a small hook baited with shrimp, clam, or squid. Add in the fact that they are extremely hardy and easy to keep alive, and it’s easy to understand why pigfish are a favored baitfish amongst so many anglers residing along both sides of our state who regularly put them to good use in just about every fishing arena.
As mentioned, typically, pigfish are caught with small gold hooks or multiple hook sabiki rigs while targeting pinfish and other popular baitfish species in the vicinity of grass flats or above shallow water natural reef formations. Rod & reel anglers typically don’t fill a well with pigfish but can always count on catching at least a handful or two around just about any type of structure, including bridge abutments, docks, piers and so on. Pigfish actually make perfect targets for young children fishing such structure. Oversee the operation, and you should be able to procure plenty of great bait for the following day.
Cast netting is a popular method of approach over shallow grass beds, but it’s highly recommended that you chum the area first to concentrate the local residents. Probably the most popular and arguably the most effective approach of obtaining a supply of pigfish, is with the use of store bought pinfish traps. With either approach, once a supply has been captured, pigfish will practically live forever in well circulating livewell or open water bait-pen. A dozen or so will even keep very well in nothing more a covered five gallon bucket with an aerator stone.
So now that you’ve captured your bait, it’s time to go fishing. In the backcountry, free-lining pigfish along a mangrove shoreline, in nearby channel edges, and along distinct cuts and drop-offs adjacent to nearby flats and grass beds may very well result in any of the multitude of near-shore targets we regularly pursue. Big trout in particular find pigfish suspended under a popping cork an irresistible treat to pass up. The same goes for bull redfish. The trick is to suspend the pigfish about a foot off the bottom. Rattling Cajun Thunder corks have proved to be an excellent choice when applying this approach.
Drift a pigfish along the rocky edges of your favorite inlet or pass, and any nearby hefty snook or hungry tarpon will rarely let the offering get out of their sight. Rig with a 48-inch mono or fluorocarbon leader and 3/0 live bait hook. If need be, add a small shot or tiny egg sinker to keep the bait in the strike zone along the bottom third of the water column.
Offshore, pigfish serve multiple purposes. The whole array of wreck and reef inhabitants can be taken on pigfish as can a number of pelagic species, including dolphin. Pigfish’s pigmentation perfectly matches that of the majority of forage species often seen mingling amongst the sargassum. A pigfish hooked near the anal fin will be forced to flee for its life in the shadows below the mats of floating grass where roaming dolphin will seldom let the baitfish go ignored.
In any environment, what really makes pigfish stand out is the enticing grunting noise they emit. The sound really turns fish on! The grunting sound calls attention to the pigfish and invites predators to come investigate from great distances. The sound can be compared to ringing the dinner bell. Catch ‘em up!
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