Hogy Sand Eel
Just over six years ago, Captain Mike Hogan was transitioning from a hopeful, one-man lure-producing operation, spreading the gospel while melting plastics in a microwave in his basement, to the owner-operator of a rapidly growing lure company. A lifetime fishing addict, he grew up and worked his way through school while serving as a mate on charter boats. Over time he became an expert fishing guide and charter captain himself. As the inventor and owner of Hogy Lure Company, you might say that he’s certainly in the right business. And while he feels fortunate to be living his dream, he also admits that a great way to fish less is to own a fishing lure company.
“I’m just as addicted to fishing as I was when I was six years old,” said Hogan, smiling. “But at this point, I’m more addicted to my business than I am fishing,” he laughed. “But the upside is that I feel like I’m fishing every time I get a picture back from somebody.” Hogan listed a number of charter captains, guides, and even casual weekend anglers from different parts of the country and throughout the world that send him photos of outstanding catches made with his invention. “So while I fish less, it’s still pretty fascinating. I’m getting pictures of barramundi from Australia, I’m getting ling cod from Alaska, I’m getting tuna from, well, everywhere. So it’s pretty cool.”
Hogy’s latest creation is the Hogy Sand Eel. It just may be one of the best artificial imitations of a live sand eel, or similar small baitfish, made today. With an incredibly realistic look and feel, these supple baits are a premium product. “Unlike the Hogy originals, which are hand poured, we’ve outsourced the production on these,” explained Hogan. “These baits are injection molded, the paint is airbrushed, and each eye is glued in by hand. So these sand eels—if you’re talking like liquor shelves—these would be the tippity-top-shelf bait. I mean, they’re not the cheapest bait in the world, but the detail is just incredible.”
To label this soft-plastic bait as a “sand eel” is a little misleading in that it can actually serve as the perfect imitation of just about any small, thin baitfish in the world, whether it is a sand eel, smelt, anchovy, silverside, mummichog, or other similar forage fish. “We have a whole variety of different colors, so guys have been using them for trout, for salmon, for largemouth bass,” said Hogan. “While you can call these a sand eel in New England—everybody wants to imitate a sand eel in New England—we can dye them red and they look like a worm in a worm hatch. So you can really dial in to what you are trying to imitate depending on how you rig it and the actual color of the bait.”
Hogy Sand Eels are available in two sizes, 4.6 inches and 7 inches. They come in 10 realistic color combinations, including glass minnow, anchovy, red worm (ideal for finicky striped bass during a worm hatch), and sand eel, just to name a few. Hogy Sand Eels are injection molded using a soft plastic that is entirely different from the original Hogy. The baits are pliable and supple, producing a very natural action in the water. The detail of the bait is striking, with distinctive ingrained features molded into the bait and a surface sheen that makes it look true to life, as if it had just been lifted right out of the water. The unique “rib lines” built into the design cause the baits to swim, dart and descend enticingly. “Those little fin shapes down the side, when you work it in the water, it just has a beautiful recoil, the way it grabs the water,” said Hogan. “The action is just unbelievable.”
With a number of rigging options, the Hogy Sand Eel can be used effectively in a variety of conditions in both saltwater and freshwater. “I’ve always said, lures are one of two things: they are either an attractor or an imitator,” said Hogan. “And I don’t have to tell you what these are,” he laughed. “So there are other sand eels on the market, but what we like about ours is they adapt into the Hogy system, where we have all the rigging: we have the circle hook, the swim-bait hook, swimming tins, jig heads, the whole nine yards. So this way you can rig it any way you want.”
The Hogy rigging system is an effective approach to countless possibilities and conditions: deep water, shallow water, topwater, calm, current, trolling, dead drifting, and more. Combined with the Hogy Sand Eels, they can be also used with any number of techniques: casting and retrieving, dead-drifting/dead-sticking, vertical jigging, drop-shotting, and even ice fishing. The baits are deadly when used as a teaser behind a trolling head (such as the Hogy Green Machine) for finicky tuna keyed-in on sand eels.
“Now in the tackle industry there’s a big trend toward pre-rigged stuff,” explained Hogan. “We sort of take the opposite approach at Hogy. We don’t want pre-rigs. We want to have the perfect rigging to go with the perfect bait for the perfect situation.”
Hogan says his favorite way to use the Hogy Sand Eel is with a circle hook. By employing a soft circle hook with a bait-screw keeper, the hook (most often) imbeds in the corner of the fish’s mouth, which is better for a healthy catch-and-release and helps preserve the bait. “When you hook a fish, the soft baits get torn up not from the mouth, not from their teeth, but from the friction of the bait getting forced up the hook shaft,” said Hogan. “But with the soft circle, the eye of the bait-screw keeper slides up the hook shaft, preserving the bait.”
When connecting un-weighted and lightly weighted soft plastics to line or leader, Hogan recommends tying loop knots. “That way the bait won’t be constricted by the knot and it will have a greater ability to swing, dance, and dart uninhibited,” he explained. “This is particularly important with lighter soft baits such as our sand eels or when you are using heavier leader. The lighter the lure relative to the leader, the more it will be impacted by a clinching-style knot.”
Evolving from a local, one-man-one-lure operation to today’s glossy 24-page Hogy product catalog and interactive website says a lot about Hogan’s hard work and diligence over the last several years—not to mention marketing savvy. “It’s so funny, it all just happened. But the one thing I kept saying to myself was, ‘if only I could get manufacturing under wraps, I’ll be able to work less. Or if only I can get my marketing under wraps I’ll work less. Or if only I can get my packaging under wraps, I’ll work less.’ But it’s still just as crazy as when I was making them myself,” he laughed. “At least I’m not having all-nighters making lures in my basement.”
Hogys are available in over 200 retail stores in the U.S. They are now expanding to Europe and beyond. “We’re in maybe a couple-dozen European-based tackle shops at this point,” he said. “We’re talking to distributers in New Zealand, Australia, and a few in Latin America right now. We’re in every Dicks [sporting goods] down the East Coast. We’re in Bass Pro and Cabela’s, in both of their catalogs. And we have our e-commerce platform. We ship to countries I’ve never even heard of,” he laughed.
Even with all these objectives met, Hogan still feels a nagging drive to push forward and continue to spread the Hogy product line. “While I’m very proud to say we’re in 200 stores, I still think about the other 800 stores we’re not in,” he laughed. “And that’s what haunts me more than anything.”