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A day of quality, not quantity

The author holds up the red snapper he caught on a recent fishing trip in Florida
The author holds up the red snapper he caught on a recent fishing trip in Florida Pat Morris

I have been fishing since I was four or five years old. I’ve fished in saltwater, freshwater and something in between. I’ve fished from small boats and large, from banks and the middle of streams. I’m certainly no expert, but I might know a little bit about fishing.

That said, until last week I had never heard of a pigfish. I’ve caught catfish, dogfish and sea robins. I’ve caught blackfish, whitefish, black crappies and white crappies, bluefish, bluegills, pumpkinseeds, red snappers, red eyes, gray snappers, brown trout, goldfish (carp), yellow bellies, yellow and white perch, red-eared sunfish and rainbow trout … and I’ve even been bitten by horse flies. But I never heard of a pigfish.

So imagine what a surprise I had when my wife, Pat, reeled up a fish that I couldn’t identify when we were fishing on the party boat Sea Spirit out of Ponce Inlet.

I thought it looked a little like a small porgy, a fish I caught by the thousands in my youth. But not quite.

So when one of the mates passed by along the rail, I asked, “What is this fish?” He picked up the little white/silver fish, pulled the hook out of its mouth, tossed it back into the water and scurried away … replying over his shoulder, “It’s a pigfish.”

A what?

“A pigfish.”

On that sunny, 80-degree day last month Pat caught three fish and I caught just two. All were released.

“Great,” she said. “I can tell everyone I went fishing today and caught two grunts and a pigfish.”

A grunt is a pesky, small light bluish-gray fish caught all along the Florida coast. One angler said if you catch grunts, you might catch a pigfish. (I checked later and found out you don’t eat pigfish, but they make excellent bait when fishing for larger fish.)

Although I only caught two fish, I dealt in quality, not quantity. In fact I got into a fierce fight soon after the boat made its first stop about seven miles off shore in some 60 feet of water.

Whatever it was on the other end of my line was quite a fighter. The rod tip was bent way over and at times I could not turn the reel’s handle.

One of the mates, a likable young chap named Jason, kept cheering me on. You know, 60 feet is a long way up when you have Moby Dick on the other end. When it finally broke the surface, it was a large red snapper, about 4-5 pounds, Jason estimated.

“Nice fish,” he said, “but this one gets to live … they’re out of season.”

So we snapped a couple of pictures and he lowered the big fighting fish back into the water.

My other catch that day was a small sea bass, too small to keep. I used to catch sea bass when I was a kid. We always threw them back, considering them as trash fish. You can imagine my surprise when I sat down in a restaurant as an adult and found out the catch of the day was sea bass. A real delicacy.

It wasn’t the most productive day I’ve had on the water, since I only caught two fish … but at least they weren’t two grunts and a pigfish.