Shoot What You’ve Been Missing

With stringent regulations making it increasingly difficult to put together a solid catch and the blistering summer sun practically begging anglers to jump in and cool off, it’s no surprise many Floridians enjoy the crossover between rod and reel fishing and spearfishing. While there will always be the argument over the true definition of fishing, as traditionalists believe spearfishing is more closely related to hunting, the bottom line is that both methods present unique challenges.


Image 1 of 2

Photo: Chris Tavera

Rather elusive to rod and reel anglers and seldom-caught on hook and line, hogfish are common along reefs in 10 to 100-feet and enjoy feeding on mollusks, crustaceans and echinoderms. With a pig-like snout rooting around the substrate for forage, hog snapper aren’t caught or targeted by anglers with much consistency. They are however, prevalent throughout the state and relatively accessible to underwater hunters in South Florida, The Florida Keys and across The Bahamas.

…hogfish aren’t as difficult to shoot as wary grouper or snapper, and a hog will typically hang around long enough for you to take a second shot if you misfired.

With a wide-ranging distribution, hogfish prefer sandy stretches of bottom in the vicinity of sea fans and coral heads that surround wrecks, reefs and areas of fertile hard bottom. In The Florida Keys hogs can be encountered along patch reefs as shallow as 10-feet, while in the Gulf the deeper depths of the Middle Grounds hold some of the largest hogs in the state often exceeding 15 pounds.

Hogfish are actually a member of the wrasse family and not true snappers at all. Because of their inherent curiosity, these tasty wrasse are ideal spearfish targets and make for the perfect species to hone your underwater stealth and breath-holding abilities. Although purists only spear with free-dive equipment to eliminate fish-spooking bubbles associated with SCUBA, hogfish are inquisitive and the bubbles likely won’t hinder your abilities much like if you were hunting black grouper or mutton snapper on a tank. With that being said, hunting in shallow depths doesn’t require a breathing apparatus, and there are a few tips and tricks that will tip the odds in your favor. First things first, to get up close and personal you’ll want to try and blend in with your surroundings. Camouflage wetsuit patterns are available to suit various depths, levels of visibility and underwater habitats around the state, and greatly enhance your ability to remain undetected.

Although hogfish aren’t the smartest predators, if you are a novice spearo it may take you a few dives until you bag your first hog. Because they are curious to commotion, many choose to disperse chum to get the reef’s inhabitants excited and in a frenzy. With grunts and juvenile snapper creating a disturbance in the water hogfish will come out to investigate. Another trick employed by experienced hog hunters is the practice of stirring up sand along the base of the reef. Once again, hogs are interested in the slightest commotion. Nevertheless, the real secret to your success lies in your ability to find them.

Hogfish need to be 12-inches or greater to harvest and you need to remember that objects appear enlarged underwater. Realistically, you won’t get much meat from a 12-inch hog so it’s best to only shoot fish that appear well over 16-inches. If you spot juveniles it will be in your best interest to keep a close eye on them—they might lead you to larger fish. Hogfish are unique in that they are hermaphrodites, meaning they change sex during their life cycle. Juveniles begin their lives as females and mature to become males once they reach about 14-inches in length. The largest hogfish can often be found in the vicinity of smaller females. When you spot a hog worthy of shooting get down on its level and don’t make any sudden movements. These unsuspecting wrasse often make a spearfisherman’s life easy, as they are inquisitive in nature and often turn broadside to get a good look at you. Be sure not to make direct eye contact and only turn your attention to them once you are ready to shoot. Aim your spear for an area just behind the gill plate and fire away. Fortunately for you, hogfish aren’t as difficult to shoot as wary grouper or snapper, and a hog will typically hang around long enough for you to take a second shot if you misfired.

Because hogfish typically don’t make long runs once shot, a pole spear or Hawaiian sling will suffice, although most spearfishermen look to capitalize on all the opportunities available. In hopes of shooting larger predators some choose to hunt with spearguns outfitted with powerful bands, but the choice is yours. If you are strictly hunting hogs a speargun is overkill.

While most rod and reel anglers think spearfishermen shoot to kill whatever swims within reach, this is simply not the case. Most spearfishermen are stewards of the sea and know when not to shoot.

No matter your level of experience, spearfishing is dangerous so you need to always dive with a buddy. The next time your local reef isn’t producing and you can’t buy a bite, grab your freedive gear, choose your weapon and jump in. While you might bring home dinner, spending time underwater will also make you a better angler, as your experiences will give you a better understanding of what occurs below the water’s surface. You probably have no idea how many fish are actually down there and the enlightenment will give you a unique perspective over your buddies that would only think to jump out of a boat if it were sinking.

It should be noted that rules and regulations vary between harvesting game with rod and reel and spearfishing, so be sure you are up to date and within your legal limits. Above all make sure you have fun, stay safe, and shoot straight.