By Captain Ross Gallagher
It was a brisk sunrise as we pulled the lines from the dock. Puffs of diesel smoke drifted into the early rays of the sun. We were in the middle of one of the longest cold snaps in the past hundred years. It was mid January in Southwest, Florida. This time of year the beaches would be packed with northern visitors, trying to take a week or two and warm up in the sun, and make their friends back home just a little bit jealous.
Thirty five miles from the dock we hit our first spot, a section of exposed limestone bottom in the midst of a sandy desert. Small depressions in the lime stone have been washed clear of sediment, you may hear this referred to as swiss cheese bottom. The bits of exposed lime stone allow various corals and tunicates a place anchor themselves, creating an oasis for ocean life.
Before the anchor had settled onto the bottom, I already had my three ounce black jigging Hogy hopping it’s way across the bottom. Mentally, I watched that large piece of undulating plastic bounce across the bottom, pausing at moments to let the bait settle. Then, with a quick snap of the rod tip, have it wiggling again across the bottom. It didn’t take long to connect of the first fish, with a solid thump on the end of my line, I set firmly into hard pulling grouper. The key to landing this species happens within the first fifteen feet from the bottom. In this short sequence, you have only moments to turn the head of your fish, preventing it from returning into its hole. I was able to keep its head up, and enjoyed the hard pulls and bulldog head shakes as a beautiful twelve pound red grouper came to the surface.
I was able to repeat this scenario several more times over the next hour. I can’t think of one other technique in fishing that is as exciting to me as jigging offshore. As you embrace this style of fishing, it becomes more and more exciting. You begin to picture your bait as it moves through out the water, feeling its way across the bottom, changing the speed and direction of your retrieve until that rewarding heavy thump finds it way to the end of your line.
When it was time for lunch, we made our way to a sunken shrimp boat and anchored up for a bite. As the other guys sat down for a soda and sandwich, I reached for my Hogy and began fishing the mid water column above the wreck. This structure is notorious for holding amberjack and cobia.
I let the bait drop to the bottom, then would work it vertically, reeling up the slack quickly as I hid the mid depths of the water. When the bait was about halfway off the bottom, I would quickly reel the jig, while snapping the rod tip. This creates a very erratic presentation, mimicking a fleeing baitfish. It did not take long to connect onto a solid solid fish working the bait this way. After several big head shakes and hard pulling circles around the boat, a solid twenty pound amberjack got a picture before its release. I adjusted the bait on the jig head, and within a minute was hooked up again on a similar sized amberjack. I’d like you to know that during this period, the guys having lunch are soaking live baits right under the boat with out a bite. After landing a few more amberjack on the hogy, we make a move to finish our our day.
The last spot is a small section of a twenty mile long ledge that runs along a contour line off our coast. We will commonly refer to this as the 240 ledges, locally it is a popular and productive area to target bottom dwelling species. When fishing live bottom or limestone areas, the hogy flounder can be extremely effective. Flounder are quite common near sandy bottom areas along the entire florida coast, and are a favorite of large grouper, snapper, and cobia. When presenting the hogy flounder, make sure to slow your presentation down, letting the settle frequently on the bottom, using shorter shakes on the rod, you can effectively skate the flounder across the bottom, creating puffs of sand attracting the attention of big bottom fish. For shallow water application, up to eighty feet or so, the two or four ounce darter head creates a very effective presentation. When depth or current wont allow the use of the darter heads, the hogy drop shot rig lets you adjust the amount of weight needed by the use of a snap. Simply attach the appropriate sized weight to the rig, and your ready to fish. When using the drop shot rig, try shaking the bait, using the rod tip to send sharp twitches to the bait while the weight is on the bottom. This quivering motion can catch the most finicky of fish.
A technique to remember when jigging it to try fan casting the jigs. This effectively covers the entire area behind the boat and the area you are fishing. While most bottom fishing requires a strictly vertical presentation, when fishing the jigging hogy you are able to cover the entire area by casting your bait, letting it sink to the bottom and retrieving. This can effectively triple the coverage of fishing area.
I have found that many days jigging while at anchor or drifting can be as or more successful than fishing with live or dead bait. When jigging, you are in control of the presentation, you can speed up or slow down, work a specific depth range, and even target specific species by the method of jigging you choose. Not to mention the heart pumping excitement of feeling your bait being crushed by an aggressive gamefish! Make sure to pack plenty jigging hogy’ s into your offshore fishing arsenal.