Hogfish are generally regarded as one of the more difficult species of bottomfish to catch on rod and reel, so when Summerville attorney Wes Covington thought he was in a fight with a big grouper, he was surprised to hear his friends shout "It's a hogfish!"

It wasn't just any hogfish; Covington's 21-pound, 15-ounce beast, caught Sept. 11 out of Charleston, is the new pending state record - and world record - hogfish.

Three friends, Joseph Smith, Tim White, and Pete Anderson joined Covington aboard his 21-foot Mako; they were fishing in about 180 feet of water. It's possible that Anderson missed the catch of a lifetime, having his line broken while fighting a fish. As Anderson was re-tying, Covington dropped a bait into the same spot, and after a few miscues, hooked his big fish.

"I felt this weird bite, something abnormal, and I could not hook whatever fish was biting," Covington said. "I tried a couple of different things and made four different drops. I could not hook it. Finally, I did something I never do - I barely hooked the bait, and without revealing too many details, I hooked the fish."

Armed with natural bait, a lightweight jigging combo did the heavy lifting for Covington.

"I thought for sure it was a giant grouper. It's the hardest fighting fish I've ever caught," he said. "The fish got more powerful with each run, and I had to increase the drag power on the reel to stop the fish throughout the fight."

With the fish on the surface, Smith placed a gloved hand inside its gill covers and hoisted it aboard.

Covington freely admits some luck was involved.

"A lot of things went perfect. There's no other explanation," he said.

Hogfish are a common target for spearfishermen, but because of the shape, size, and hardness of their mouths, they are rarely caught - or even targeted - by rod-and-reel anglers.

It takes a while for state and world records to be finalized, but the paperwork filing has already begun. Amy Dukes, a biologist with South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, said Covington's fish is expected to unseat the current state record of 20 pounds, 8 ounces, which has stood for more than 24 years.

Also, Jack Vitek, world-record coordinator for the International Game Fish Association, said the same thing concerning the existing world record, a 21-pound, 6-ounce fish that was caught at the popular Frying Pan Tower off the coast of North Carolina in 2005.

While this record hogfish put up a tough fight against Covington, the angler has a different challenge now.

"I'm trying to get a taxidermist to make a replica," he said, adding that because hogfish are so rarely caught, most taxidermists don't have molds for them.

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