(Author’s note: This story first appeared in Saltwater Texas magazine)
Most folks who follow wildlife issues on any scale know that the state of Texas is infested with feral hogs. These creatures are mostly descendants of domestic pigs that either escaped or were purposely released in the “wild”, which was once a common practice in rural Texas. Some have bred with actual wild European hogs escaped from private hunting lands, and others have crossed with more recently escaped domestic pigs, but it is well documented that a domestic hog released in the woods will “revert” to a much more wild state in a few generations, with longer hair and tusks, a straight tail instead of a curly one, and a straightened snout. These pigs that have undergone reverse evolution will eat just about anything, and have invaded our woods, plains, deserts, parks and even city subdivisions. They can also be very aggressive.
Recently, an attack was reported of two feral hogs going after a man who was flounder gigging in shallow water behind San Luis Pass. While some might think this is a good way to cut down on the impact of giggers on the flounder population, I see a more serious situation developing. The man attacked reported the hogs came after him repeatedly while he valiantly tried to fend them off with his gig. He says they knocked him down a couple of times, and actually cut and bit him before he was finally able to stab them both to death. This story sort of tops those by the he-men who stab pigs with knives – while two “catch dogs” have it immobilized – huh?
If feral hogs have indeed invaded our shallow bays, where will they stop? With their proven ability to adapt to the habitat available to them, developing strong swimming skills – maybe even webbed hooves and paddle-like tails– would not be out of the question, and those who throw fish, shrimp and crab scraps in the woods probably already know these swine have a taste for seafood. If they move into deeper portions of the bays, possibly even the surf and venture any distance offshore, hogs could be an added burden on an already strained eco-system. They also like to roll in petroleum products, possibly to ward off pests like fleas and ticks, so an oil spill might not deter them, in fact, it could have an opposite effect.
In an effort to stay on top of such developments, and also because the combination of the Louisiana oil release and the recently announced even shorter red snapper season has pretty much cancelled the summer charter fishing season, my able first mate and deckhand, Jack “Six-Pack” Pierce, and I have decided to be the pioneers in hog fishing (not to be confused with “fish hogging”). Six Pack figures, how hard can it be, but I suspect just hard enough that only we two are uniquely qualified to develop the fishery to it’s full potential.
Attracting the hogs, should they actually go aquatic, should be no real big problem. I’m not sure if deer corn floats that well, but anything normally used for chum for shark fishing should appeal to them – the smellier the better. Baits should be sized to the hogs being targeted, again like shark fishing, and anything bloody should work. This will probably be surface fishing, as it might be some time before the hogs learn to swim and dive underwater very well. Wire leaders will be a must, as will strong circle hooks. Since feral hogs can weigh 300 – 400 pounds – heavier, on the internet – big game tackle will be necessary. Luckily, I still have all my heavy shark gear, including the fighting chair and bucket harness, and a really good stand-up harness. I suspect I’ll have to use my large billfish bag to keep the “catch” iced, as well as the block and tackle we used to pull big tuna aboard to boat the beasts. Large flying gaffs – the ones hardly anybody actually uses anymore, since most big game fishing has gone to catch and release – will be an absolute must for securing the hog at boat side, as well as a heavy caliber weapon to subdue it. Tail ropes might not be a wise alternative to the big gaff hook. I am focusing on boat “hogging” here because a wade fisherman or surf angler could be charged by a hooked hog, much as the hapless flounder gigger says he was. If your boat is too small to safely hoist a hog aboard, by all means tie it off and drag it to shore. Most feral hogs I’ve had dealings with could certainly use the wash down a tow in salt water will provide.
If feral hogs are allowed to successfully add our state’s salt waters to their ever- increasing domain, the effects can be expected to be even worse than the damage they can cause on land. I can envision rooted up oyster reefs, wholesale devastation of crabs – even those in traps – and even hard head catfish would not be immune to their constant hunger. Do we want to run the risk of the protected dunes being destroyed and the beaches dotted with stretches of potholes caused by swine digging for sand crabs? I think not, and I, for one, do not wish to see feral hogs “surfing” in on green breakers in the fall, instead of schools of big mullet.
On the plus side, however – and there is nearly always a plus side to every situation in nature, unlike with human elections – the state of Texas considers feral hogs to be an exotic species, with no limits as far as tactics that can be used (at least, on private land), no closed seasons, and no size or possession limits. A hunting license is required, but that might be changed to a hunting OR fishing license in the future. Feral hogs are very good eating, with no growth hormones or other additives permeating the meat. Boars with large “cutters” are impressive trophies, and would certainly trump the 9 pound speckled trout your braggart neighbor has hanging on his wall.
I don’t foresee hog fishing tournaments, or a “professional” hog fishing circuit, but who knows? I did have a dream the other night in which Roy Crabtree – of the NMFS and the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council was telling a group of concerned hog fishermen that the season for aquatic swine would be closing early in federal waters due to their thoughtless overfishing the year before, but that is just sort of a variation on a recurring nightmare I have. In retrospect, hog fishing is probably not for everyone, and the risks involved may make it advisable to try it only with the help of experienced professionals – like Six Pack and myself.