By Capt. Quinlyn Haddon
December on Florida’s Gulf Coast presents unique opportunities to nearshore fishermen, as autumn cold fronts push many species closer to shore.
Nearshore fishing is optimal right now, which is great news as weather may prohibit offshore trips. Blackfin tuna will start showing up closer to land than any other time of the year, tripletail will be stacked on crab trap buoys that pepper the beaches, and the hogfish bite is becoming extremely reliable.
Crab trap buoys have been soaking along the beaches since October. They have become residences for one of the most interesting fish in the Gulf. Tripletail are visible as dark to golden blobs hanging just below the buoys. While cruising set traps, you can get relatively close without spooking these fish. Be ready with shrimp or greenbacks, and take your time casting; you may only have one shot at it.
Once a tripletail notices the hook in your bait, it is not likely to go after it again. If you miss the first shot, make the next cast with a different type of bait. If that also fails, it is time to move on to the next trap and the next fish.
Tripletail might also favor different depths on a given day. If you see one, continue along that same line of buoys. Alternatively, if you aren’t finding any, try scooting out to a line of traps in deeper water.
Farther offshore, the hogfish are getting fired up. Hogfish fishing grounds can be difficult to locate and might not appear as anything special on your bottom machine. An experienced captain makes finding them a lot easier. If you choose to go it alone, the following tips might help.
Hogball jigs are essentially weighted balls with a tiny chain leading to a hook. This is a great tool for catching hogfish that can be replicated with other rigs. The idea is to have the bait lying on the bottom for these scavengers to find.
Shrimp is key to catching hogs, and you can be equally successful with giant live ones or small, stinky defrosted ones. If you choose not to use a hogball, a standard setup with a jighead or a small weight with a short leader will work. The bait should sit on bottom with a little slack. The slack gives hogfish a chance to get the hook in their ridiculous mouths. The bite-to-hookup ratio with hogfish isn’t great, so be patient and keep sending down shrimp.
You’ll want a landing net when targeting hogfish, as they often come unbuttoned at the surface. They also vary in size, and a net ensures the giant ones get into the boat while the undersized ones are handled gently for release.
Capt. Haddon fishes with Reel Lucky Fishing Charters out of St. Petersburg, Fla. Call or text Capt. Joseph Dephillips to book a charter at (727) 557-7829. Contact Capt. Haddon at QuinlynHaddon@gmail.com and check out catch photos at Instagram@CaptainQuinlyn.