The Other White Meat

On many occasions, anglers heading out on any of Florida’s well-equipped drift boats get stuck in a rut targeting coveted game fish while failing to recognize the incredible opportunities at hand. Before anything else, let’s set the record straight. The two fish that form the subject of this editorial will never bottom out your scale, but they are both easy and fun to catch…not to mention they both provide terrific table fare. This means no matter your age or skill level you can have a great time targeting triggerfish and porgy. Sure, anglers chasing highly acclaimed snapper and grouper may frown when color below doesn’t pan out to be pink, but don’t fret and order takeout just yet. Dinner is about to be served!


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Gray Triggerfish Closed Season: None / Min Size: 14" Fork (Gulf) / 12" Fork (Atlantic) / Bag Limit: None Photo: © DIANE ROME PEEBLES

Whether you fish Gulf or Atlantic structures, triggerfish and porgy shouldn’t be too difficult to entice. Common catches on private and charter boats alike, these neglected adversaries are ravenous feeders and make for great light tackle targets.

Whether you fish Gulf or Atlantic structures, triggerfish and porgy shouldn’t be too difficult to entice.

Among the commonly caught clan-members of the Sparidae family include knobbed, whitebone, jolthead, saucereye, and red porgy. When talking triggerfish you’ll likely encounter three species including grey, queen and ocean tally, although the magnificently colored queen trigger must be release unharmed. Because they don’t grow to epic proportions, 20 lb. outfits will certainly suffice when targeting both of these notorious nibblers. While braided line is the ultimate bottom fishing weapon, if you fish on a drift boat braid is far more difficult to manage if a tangle occurs. If you are on your own boat, super-lines are the only choice.

When it comes to hook selection I prefer circle-hooks to J-hooks. The primary reason for this is due to the fact that circle-hooks provide a solid hookset in the corner of the mouth—not to mention the fact that circle-hooks are required when fishing most of the state’s live and artificial structures with natural bait. There are numerous brands and styles of circle-hooks on the market, however in my opinion Mustad’s Demon Perfect Circle is the ideal hook. Contrary to popular belief, quite a few circle-hooks still gut hook fish due to their imperfect designs. In fact, over the years I’ve removed dozens of circle-hooks from the bellies of various fish on the fillet table.

When the bite slows for larger species and I’m specifically targeting porgy and triggerfish, I go with a 1 or 1/0. You may be under the impression that a hook of this size is too small, but triggers in particular have very small mouths. In addition, when triggerfish strike they don’t hit on the run like grouper and snapper. Instead, they nibble at your bait with their beak-like dentures. Too large a hook and you’ll have no chance.

While once referred to as trash fish, it actually takes a bit of skill and patience to reach consistent success with triggerfish and porgy. A variety of rigs will get you connected, although a proven producer is a throwback to the old northern porgy and sea bass dropper loop rig. If you are on your own boat or can fish at either corner of the stern, this rig is top notch. Forced to fish midship with a ripping current and don’t even think about it.

Big baits equal big fish, right? Unfortunately this is not always the case. Especially when big critters aren’t available. You could have the most appetizing ballyhoo plug rigged on a razor sharp 5/0, but without any mutton snapper around you’ll go home with nothing more than the smell of skunk. Instead, take a whole sardine or ballyhoo (preferably fresh) and slice it into three or more small pieces about the size of a quarter. This will ensure most of your hook can be embedded inside the bait while keeping the point visible. It will also be in your best interest to bring along a box of frozen squid. If you choose to fish squid you’ll need to prepare it the way triggers and porgy like it best. Start by removing the head and tentacles from the squid. Lay the mantle flat on a cutting board and slice it open from top to bottom. Now remove the guts so all you are left with is a clean piece of meat. Form strips, and then cut each strip into two or three baits. You are now ready to fish, but remember that triggerfish and porgy are dainty nibblers so it may take a learning curve before you are able to detect their subtle strikes.

Once you have scored your prize it’s time to clean the meat. More important than ever, a razor sharp knife is essential when filleting triggerfish and porgy—both of which have leather-like skin. Unless you literally burn the fillets to a crisp, there’s absolutely no way to mess up the cooking process. Good luck!

Dropper Loop Rig

Start with 5 feet of 30 lb. fluorocarbon. Tie in two dropper loops and attach a 4 to 6 oz. bank sinker to the bottom of the rig. Dropper loops should be approximately 18 inches apart to prevent fouling. Snell your selected hooks to foot-long lengths of the same 30 lb. leader. Finish with a perfection loop or surgeons knot and form a loop-to-loop connection on the dropper rig. While you could certainly attach the hooks directly to the loops, the extra length enables your offerings to flutter more freely as they ride the current. If you aren’t on your own boat or don’t have corner access, do not despair. By fishing a single hook on a shorter length of leader you can avoid catastrophic tangles and still get connected.