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Hogfish, Hogwash & Manatees! Hook, Line & Dinner's Ben Sargent Fishes Around the Keys

Ben Sargent, best known as the Brooklyn Chowder Surfer and the chef and fisherman who ran a successful underground lobster roll business from his Brooklyn basement apartment, is now the star of his own Cooking Channel show, Hook, Line & Dinner, airing Thursdays at 8 p.m. and on March 8 with Sargent's trip to the Keys, where he goes, along with local chefs, on a quest for kingfish, mackerel, lionfish and hogfish, among others. Sargent had a life changing experience, he says, and recalls much of it for us in this exclusive account.

As the host of the new show Hook, Line & Dinner, I am often targeting fish “we can all feel good about eating.” What I mean by that is, sustainable or even better?invasive species that need to be eaten. However, as luck would have it?whenever I go to a body of water that is known to have not only an abundance of, but an infestation of a certain species of fish?And I can’t catch one! In the case of snakehead in Maryland, the scientist claim it is going to take over the world. "It eats everything in its path! "?Well, It took me weeks and weeks and fishing multiple states to finally get one. Fine, that happens but what if you are the host of a fishing show!!! You could say the seasons had a lot to do with it?but as an experienced angler, I’m going to tell you I just have bad luck. In the case of the lionfish? another invasive species supposedly taking over the world? I could barley spear one! Why? Don’t ask me. To add further to my embarrassment?The fish does not even swim away after being shot at! (Oh, yeah?We were spear fishing. Not shooting at fish with revolvers) Anyway, by the time I had a chance to recover the spear and reload, the silly fish was still sitting right where I left off, just taunting me, looking at me, and making little circular motions with its fins. Apart from its sting being toxic, potentially deadly and having a costly effect on the environment, I was actually feeling kinda bad for the little fish just sitting there waiting for me to reload my giant overpowered spear to take yet another shot at it!

Well, wouldn’t you know it?Same thing happened with hogfish in The Keys! “Oh,” said Bobby, the owner of Hogfish Bar & Grill, “there’s not much to it?They don’t spook easily and ya just kinda get down along side of em and shoot.” Sounds easy right? I’m thinking you don’t know my luck lately. I'm the only guy who can't catch an invasive species which are EVERYWHERE! Then he has to follow this up by telling me “they REALLY are everywhere because the are not ever targeted commercially.” Well, my first excuse is that it was very windy and very hard to see underneath the water that day. Second, there were no hogfish! I didn’t see one both times I went out?We tried many miles out to sea?nothing. We tried close to the harbor and out of the wind?Nothing. We tried everything and everywhere we could think of and yet again, this plentiful fish was nowhere to be seen. When I did see a flash of pink?I would dive to the bottom fighting against my own wetsuit buoyancy and no weight belt and soon enough I was out of air (we were snorkeling not diving) Soon I was making a B-line to the surface to take my last breath! I honestly do believe I must bring some bad luck onto these boats?but right here is where my luck actually changed!

For somewhat of a city boy coming to Key West, ( I live in Brooklyn) when a manatee comes up out of the depths of the water and rolls himself over for you to scratch his tummy?Well, you are a very happy (very surprised) city slicker. Very! My eyes must have popped out of the sockets. Those things are huge! (Not my eyes? the manatee!) I’m rooting around in the rocks looking for this "hogfish," and all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I see something the size of a small whale! And it's alive and swimming right at me. When I collect my thoughts and my breathing, I'm thinking he is just going to pass by me right? But he comes right up to me! That’s a big animal if you are just expecting, or should I say praying for, hogfish. Anyway, real slow, he turns himself over and he has this funny smile on his face! So I start with some nervousness reach out and start scratching his tummy because I think that’s what he wants?And it’s just what he wants and he doesn’t want me to stop?He just stays there upside down grinning with cute little whiskers and that little back eye looking up at me. “Why are you slowing down?Keep scratching. I like it”. Anyway, I had to stop and some point. It was going on forever and my had was getting tired. And just like that... with a few pumps of his funny tail he was on his way. I had forgotten all about hogfish at that point. A life changing moment for sure! Amazing! I will not tell you how the story ends?with the darn "hogfish." You will have to see for yourself!!!! Tune in Thursdays at 8pm on Cooking Channel. Thank You Key West!---Ben Sargent [EaterWire]
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