Every year at the end of December Jacob Brown and I try to do a 40 break overnight trip. However, this would would have been the third year in a row that the weather was not on our side making the trip impossible.
Despite that we decided there was a small window on Monday after Christmas and that we would do a shallow trip to 30-50’ of water for Gags and Hogfish. This small window happened to be right after one of the coldest fronts and hard freezes we’ve had in years.
I woke up at 4:45 and made the one hour drive up to Crystal River. When we departed from the dock, the sun was still down and it was a frigid 31 degrees.
We made a short run and begin looking for Jacob's pinfish traps that had been blown around due to the heavy winds. We located and pulled some of the traps and loaded up about 150 baits and began heading offshore. The ride was extremely cold and I was thankful for the 4 four layers of warm clothes I had on.
Pulling up to the first spot I wasn’t sure how the bite would be with the extremely low water temperature. However, it didn’t take long to forget about the cold because the bite was red hot. Jacob threw a handful of chummers behind the boat and we pitched a couple baits with hooks in the mix. It didn’t take 30 seconds for the first two hookups with one being a keeper Gag grouper right off the rip. A couple of the guys began casting swimbaits behind the boat as well and it literally turned into mayhem. It was as fast as you could get a bait or swimbait in the water you were hooked up almost instantly. I hadn’t done any slow pitch jigging as shallow as 30’ before so I grabbed my set up and rigged up a 50g Jygpro Deep. Before I could even make it to the bottom I was hooked up. I ended up catching 5 gags on 5 drops, all pretty much instantly. It was an all out Gag grouper feeding frenzy, it was crazy. I decided to join the group and tied a swimbait on and again it was every single cast. We caught probably around 60 Gags total and over 20 keeper gags all in the first hour without moving. Most of which came on swimbaits, jigs, and other artificial lures.
Limited out on Gags and then some, we decided to make a move and go look for some Hogfish. I started off fishing bait just to make sure there were hogs in the area. Once a few of the other guys and I pulled up some hogs, I decided I was going to dedicate the rest of the day to micro jigging. The main goal was to catch any new species for me on jig, but with a possibility of catching a hog on the jig.
I decided to fish the new Jygpro Wyld in 20g on a Temple Reef Mythos 30-80g rod and a Shimano Twin Power 4k.
Immediately I began to hook up almost every drop, catching multiple species. Gag grouper including some respectable keepers, tons of grunts, porgies, lizardfish, mangs, and then finally a flounder, which was a new species for me.
Jacob was explaining how the hogs won’t really feed any higher than just a couple of inches off the bottom. Then he explained that he will make his weight hit the bottom from time to time to make the sand poof up in an attempt to “call” the hogs over.
I decided to take a new approach. I begin only lifting the jig 8-12” from the bottom and on every drop would allow the jig to make contact with the bottom to create that “sand poof”. I also would allow the jig to sit on the bottom for a couple seconds before making another tiny pitch and just continued that method over and over again. Again I caught gags, a grunt, and even another flounder.
At this point we were through a good majority of the day and I have watched the bait guys pull up probably 30 hogs. Just then I finally got the bite that felt like the right one. I began telling everyone that I thought that was it. Jacob came over and watched with high hopes. Once we started to see color Jacob yelled "it’s a hog". I was stoked. Not only was it a hog, but it was a pretty nice keeper male hog at that.
We continued to fish for another hour or two boating a handful of more fish, but were unable to get another hog on the jig.
All in all it was an incredible day of fishing with tight lines the entire time. Big thanks to my buddy Jacob Brown for the invite. If you’re interested in this type of action, Jacob runs a 37 Freeman for the Hang em’ High charter fleet out of Crystal River, Florida.