by Elliott Stark
When Matt Mathews called to ask me if I wanted fish with he and his wife Loren off of Islamorada out of Bud n Mary’s Marina, my answer was immediate, “Let’s do it”. It had been nearly two years since we had fished together on the Statesboro Blues, his 27 foot Boston Whaler. As we caught up and talked stories of sea creatures previously pulled from beneath floating pallets, I told him about the lure I recently purchased which had proven effective on a recent Cobia trip—the Hogy.
I met Matt and Loren at the dock around 8:00 in the morning and we made preparations for the day of fishing. On the ride out, as we tied on the usual islanders rigged with ballyhoo for dolphin and the tuna feathers for blackfin trolling, we Texas rigged an unweighted 10” bone Hogy with six feet of thirty pound mono leader onto one of Matt’s 12 pound spinning outfits. After loading up on cigar minnows, we headed offshore. The plan was to find some springtime dolphin under birds, a break, or weedline on our way to the one of the humps offshore. After trolling through a couple fishy looking spots without finding dolphin, we pointed the bow toward the Islamorada Hump.
Once there, we soon found birds over schools of small blackfin. We put the feathers up in the riggers and were soon hooked up. We caught a few footballs, which despite being cantankerous for their size were not the quarry the conventional 20 pound trolling gear was made to handle. After boating another of Loren’s blackfin, tuna began busting the surface near the boat. As Matt was unhooking the fish, we looked at the Hogy and both nodded.
I slung the Hogy on top of some water churned up by hungry tuna. I twitched the Hogy just under the surface in the same fashion that enticed a cobia two weeks earlier to eat it twice. As Matt exclaimed how good the lure swam in the water, something happened. I have caught plenty of fish on top water and seen a fish or two take a bait, but the ferocity with which the fish attacked the Hogy shocked me. The tuna knocked the piss out of it. The Hogy disappeared in a splash so violent as to make me believe that someone had thrown a large cat into the ocean on top of it. I was so amazed, in fact, by the spectacle of the hit that I forgot to reel tight on the fish. Instead I looked over at Matt to see if he had seen what I just witnessed. His wide-eyed expression matched my slack-jawed, gaping mouth, which I imagine had just uttered a string of profanity not meant for company half as esteemed as Miss Loren. Whereas the first fish escaped by rendering me temporarily invalid, the next cast produced a similar accosting of the Hogy followed by the squeal of drag. The Hogy’s assailant made his pedigree proud on the light spinning gear. Getting the tuna to the boat, we were hooked and Matt was a Hogy convert. We tied on a couple more and spent the day slinging Hogies, catching blackfin on the Hump, and having a blast.
We were using 10 inch original bone Hogy’s Texas rigged on 7/0 Owner Oversize hooks. These larger, long shanked jig hooks provide enough penetration down the length of the body of the Hogy to fish a single hook, rather than a double hook rig. This can make things a bit less chaotic for times when you have multiple hookups and are trying to unhook fish in a hurry without the worry of stray hooks flailing about on the deck. The single hook also kept most of the fish from swallowing the bait and becoming gut or gill hooked. This result, along with employing heavier tackle, would produce lively baits to bridle rig for the big wahoo, sharks, and marlin (which can be targeted in the Keys during summer months) which follow the schools of tuna. It is not an uncommon occurrence while fishing for blackfin to have the fight, and fish themselves, truncated by something big and toothy. In fact one of the fish we caught carried the telltale scrape of a close call with the business end of a billfish.
Loren, Matt, and I were using Penn 5500 spinning reels attached to light action 6’ Ocean Master spinning rods. The reels were spooled 12 pound mono. Though sometimes over stated, the blackfin are known to be weary of leaders and swivels. For this reason, we used six feet of 30 pound triple fish leader attached directly to the main line using a surgeon’s loop. We tied the hook to the leader using uni knots. With these light spinning outfits, we were able to cast the Hogy’s a long way without having to attach additional weight. This characteristic imparts versatility. The lure slowly sinks without the addition of weight, meaning that the angler can keep the lure in the upper part of the water column or on the surface making strikes a visual affair. The retrieve that induced the tuna to blow up the Hogy was a subsurface walk-the-dog type action with intermittent bursts of higher speed. Pointing the rod tip toward the water and jerking the rod toward the boat in alternate directions, causes the bait to twitch from zig-zag from side to side as it makes it way boatward. Varying the speed of the retrieve with pauses and periods of faster reeling to simulate a frantic fish trying to escape from the jaws of death, drove the blackfin wild for Loren, Matt, and myself.
If targeting blackfin in South Florida or the Keys, the use of the Hogy provides a great alternative to trolling. The fish tend to stay up better with overcast conditions. Without cloud cover, blackfin are known to remain deep during bright hours of the day surfacing only during corpulescent periods. South Florida experiences a spring run of larger, 20 to 30 pound blackfin during the mid to late spring. But just as blackfin of some size can be specifically targeted, for such trips it is always a good idea to keep wire rigs handy for wahoo encounters and keep a Hogy or live bait rigged on heavier spinning tackle ready for the weedlines and floating debris that can bring with them dolphin, cobia, triple tail, and more. The great thing about the Hogy, especially when Texas rigged, is that it can be cast into about anything without becoming weeded up and damn near everything that swims will eat it.
Upon returning to the dock I gave Matt a pack of Hogy lures. This scenario had played itself out previously, when seeing how well they worked, I had given another buddy a pack after cobia fishing. Talking to Matt’s buddy, a charter captain docked next to us preparing for the next day’s trip, we recounted the day’s action. We told him of the lure’s durability and the savagery of the hits invoked from blackfin and cobia. Upon inspection of the lure, he too wanted a pack. I need to bring more Hogies…