Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Feature Stories

Hogfish from Matlacha Pass

Hogfish from Matlacha Pass

Hogfish (also called Hog Snapper) is a well-kept secret, the "Cadillac" of the local fresh-fish scene, a true South-Florida delicacy.  It is considered by many serious seafood aficionados to be one of the tastiest of all reef fish. 

Hogfish is highly-prized for its firm, alabaster flesh which flakes apart nicely.  The flavor is mild with subtle sweet undertones.  Although many purists would maintain it should only be prepared pan-seared with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, Hogfish is a very versatile fish and works well baked, grilled, marinated, or smothered in a tasty sauce.

Whether you're a tourist visiting Southwest Florida, or a year-round resident who loves great food - Hogfish is a must-find if you're looking to experience the pristine flavor of our native seafood.  This is a meal worth seeking out for the memory of it alone....and seek it out you must, as Hogfish is also one of the hardest dishes to locate on local menus and at local seafood markets.  You won't find it at your local Publix Grocery Store or at your favorite chain restaurant.  When restaurants and fish markets do feature Hogfish, they tend to sell out quickly.  But if you do your homework and ask around, in the end you'll locate one of the few local hot spots which have a steady supply of this glorious fish.  Either that or you could take up the hobby of spearfishing.

Today I'll share a local secret with you...Andy's Island Seafood in Matlacha has a semi-sporadic supply of Hogfish.

Andy's Island Seafood in Matlacha

The other great thing about visiting Andy's Island Seafood is the journey to Matlacha itself.  I generally visit mid-morning and take the opportunity to slow down and enjoy my Southwest Florida lifestyle while I'm there.

Andy's Island Seafood is one of the best of our local seafood stores.  What sets Andy’s apart from other fish markets is the clean, bright store that doesn’t smell like fish because they sell the freshest (non-threatened) fish you'll find anywhere.  The staff is always personable.  If you don't see what you want, just ask for it...they may have it in the back.

Pine Island clams.  Stone Crab.  Pompano.  Tripletail.  Grouper.  Snapper.  Mahi Mahi.  Oysters.  Crab Cakes.  Conch.  Salmon.  Tuna.  Shrimp.  Scallops.  Crabmeat.  Octopus.  Alligator Tail.  Andy's Island Seafood has it all.

On my recent visit, I didn't see any Hogfish.  I asked if they had any, and several beautiful specimens were procured from their back room.  Andy's Island Seafood will also fillet whatever fish you purchase (with or without the skin) at no additional charge.  I had them filet my Hogfish, and the two fish I purchased were packed up in the form of four perfect fillets ready for quick and hassle-free cooking at home.

I'm one of those forward-thinking Floridians who keeps a cooler filled with ice in my trunk....especially when I'm heading to the fish store in Matlacha.  That way, I can stow my purchase in the car and spend some time playing tourist amidst the water and fresh air.  Places like this one are one of the benefits of living in the sun-drenched playground we call home and we should never stop enjoying all they have to offer.

Andy's Island Seafood is conveniently located at the east end of the bridge over Matlacha Pass.  This is hallowed ground to fishermen in the know.  Matlacha pass has dual tidal flow, from the north and the south.  This moving water creates the currents responsible for the legendary fishing reputation of the local area.  The Matlacha Pass Bridge was given the nickname "the Fishingest Bridge in the World" by army troops stationed at Fort Myers' Page Field during World War II who fished there on their days off.  There's nary a date or hour of day during which anglers cannot be seen at the railing with their rods in hand and hope on their faces.  It can get busy.  During tarpon season the place becomes a veritable carnival.

Bridge over Matlacha Pass

Today, I decide to walk across the "Fishingest Bridge in the World" before I head home. 

The atmosphere of Matlacha hearkens to the days when small fishing villages were all that populated the Southwest coast of Florida.  It's got a certain seafaring charm.  This is a place of boats, and sun, and shoreline, and art.  This is condensed Old Florida, not a theme park replica or a high-priced new development.  Places like these are few and far between, endangered experiences quickly going extinct.  This whole stretch of road is populated with small, family-owned businesses.  If you're looking for the redundant corporate chains which choke the roadsides of most of America, then you've come to the wrong place.  This is a place characterized by colorful diversity.  Here you'll see tourist families looking for an authentic Florida experience, rednecks in pickup trucks, well-heeled recreational fishing enthusiasts, scraggly artists, and blue-collar workers.

The Matlacha Pass Bridge has had more than it's own fifteen minutes of fame.  Around 1925, Lee County began dredging shell fill from the oyster beds of Matlacha Pass for use in the construction of a road they were building to connect the mainland to Pine Island.  The abundance of the shell fill they dredged created a mass of land heretofore not existing on any maps.  A wooden swing bridge was put in place across Matlacha Pass in 1927.

Shortly thereafter, the Great Depression began and a group of squatters moved onto the excess shell fill.  They didn't have much, but the excellent fishing provided food and made this small parcel of land an attractive option to homelessness.  The squatters began in tents and cars, eventually building shacks, shanties, and stilt houses.  Over time they developed a full scale fishing industry on this unclaimed land.  At one point there was a showdown with the local government and the squatters emerged victorious.  The land was deeded to them by the government through homestead rights.  Thus the legendary fishing village of Matlacha was born.  This entire drama is documented in Richard Powell's novel, "Pioneer, Go Home!" (1959).  The novel then became an Elvis Presley movie called "Follow That Dream" (1962).

The wooden swing bridge over Matlacha Pass was replaced with the present day concrete draw-bridge in 1969.  Plans to replace the existing bridge with an identical one because of it's age are purportedly under way.

Detail of Matlacha Pass Bridge

At the base of the bridge is the Bridge Water Inn.  This remarkably quirky hotel is as unique as they come.  It's built on a pier and all the rooms are located directly over Matlacha Pass water.  A fisherman's fond dream, you can walk out of your room onto the deck and drop a line into some of the best fishing waters Florida has available.

Bridge Water Inn

Before you get onto the bridge, you'll surely notice the bright red "Island Time Zone Begins Here" sign.  It's a concept which can be hard to grasp for those not from the area.  Loosely translated it means, "Leave your rush behind."  If you came here to hurry, the only person you'll end up frustrating is yourself.  We don't mind.

Island Time Zone

There's still one short stretch where fishing's not allowed.  The Matlacha Pass Bridge is a working drawbridge over a well traveled waterway, so the highest point of the bridge is posted as off-limits.

No Fishing

The salt air and tropical sights will put you in an islandy mood.  The water is deep blue.  Dolphins are a common site.  These are scenes you've never seen outside of Jimmy Buffet songs.

Shipwreck in Matlacha Pass

Even the ugly sea debris has a strange beauty to it.

Saltwater Junkyard

The lodging options are a colorful lot.  No Hilton Hotels here.  These are genuine Pine Island digs.  Want an extended stay, perhaps you could rent a mobile home at the Sea Isle Resort?

Sea Isle Resort in Matlacha

At the other end of the bridge is the presently-defunct Michaela's Snook Inn.

Michaela's Snook Inn, Matlacha

This decaying building is adorned with the flavor of pastel kitsch which defines the look of Matlacha.

Snook Inn Detail

In Matlacha it can be hard to tell where the art ends and real life begins.

Another Snook Inn Detail

A couple small gift shops dot the roadside as well.  These aren't the glittering and neon trinket superstores of most modern destinations.  These are just as salty and homespun as the rest of Matlacha.  Don't be surpised if you find some smoked mullet spread aside the key chain or t-shirts for sale.

Pine Bay Gift Shop, Matlacha

Matlacha is a magical place.  It's a walkable neighborhood with history and an abundance of authentic Florida charm.  This is as close as you'll get to the Old-Florida experience without paying an admission fee.  And it's the only place to go if you want the freshest fish available.

Allow me to share my Hogfish recipe with you:

Pan Seared Hogfish with a Pineapple Chili Lime Sauce

Pan-Seared Hogfish with a Pineapple Chili Lime Sauce

This is a great way to serve Hogfish. It's part tropical and part southern.  The sauce is almost more of a warm tropical salsa in texture.  The bite of the chile powder, crushed red pepper and cajun spice are a natural fit for the lime and pineapple acidity.

Cooking fish can seem complicated to someone with no prior experience.  This recipe makes it easy-as-ever with a non-stick skillet.

Plan on 20+ minutes to reduce the sauce over low temperatures.  Once you begin cooking the fish, it's done in just a few minutes. 


4 - 6 to 7 oz. Hogfish fillets (skin off)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
1/4 red bell pepper, diced
1/4 green bell pepper, diced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 large clove garlic, diced
Juice from half a lime
8 oz. can of Dole Pineapple Tidbits
1 tablespoon mild sweet chili sauce (Asian product)
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon chile powder
4 Tablespoons butter (2 for fish, 2 for sauce)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tablespoon seasoned salt or Cajun spice
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper


Make the sauce
1.  In a small saucepan, warm olive oil over medium heat.
2.  Saute onion, bell pepper and bell pepper for 4-6 minutes, then add garlic.
3.  Saute garlic with onion mixture for another 30 seconds.
4.  Add fresh squeezed lime juice, pineapple tidbits (with liquid), sweet chili sauce, brown sugar, and chili powder to onion mixture.  Stir well.
5.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, for 15+ minutes, until pineapple has broken down and liquid is reduced to a syrup.  Be careful not to burn during last few minutes.
6.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of butter, until melted.  Reduce heat to low.

Cook the fish

1.  Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat.
1.  Season the Hogfish fillets with kosher salt and black pepper.
2.  Mix seasoned salt or Cajun spice in with flour.
3.  Dredge Hogfish fillets in seasoned flour.
5.  Once butter in pan is melted and sizzling, add Hogfish fillets to pan.
6.  Cook 2-4 minutes on each side, or until fish is cooked through.
7.  Plate fish and scoop Pineapple Chili Lime Sauce over fillets.  Garnish with slice of lime.

--writing and photography by Eric Taubert

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