Vol 7 No. 28 - April 4, 2007

Fishing with Captain Randall Fowler

Chad Pahud poses with his 30-pound kingfish
Chad Pahud poses with his 30-pound kingfish

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Spring is here; I know it. The fish have given me a clear signal. My tangerine tree has burst into new growth, and blooms will be appearing any day. Over the weekend I heard the first whippoorwill trilling in the pre-dawn darkness, and the gold trees are painting the neighborhood in swaths of yellow. These are sure signs of spring and they are welcome harbingers to local anglers. They’ll keep an eye on the Gulf, looking for a white flurry of wheeling, diving sea birds as they feast on schools of bait that mass off the beaches in a primordial ritual of renewal. Anglers know from experience that schools of bonito, Spanish mackerel, cobia and kingfish won’t be far behind.

Knowledgeable guides know when to start looking by monitoring water temperatures, and they reap the benefits of an early spring bonanza. Captain Randall Fowler was the first to alert me last week that he was having some banner days on kingfish just off the area beaches. He was leading half day charters to double digit catches of kings up to 20 pounds. He invited me to go offshore the next day with his morning charter as the chief photographer.

As luck would have it, the day dawned bright but extremely windy. Fowler wisely chose to avoid a miserable trip offshore (where he had been finding kings) and instead fished an area in the lee of Anna Maria Island that afforded a comfortable morning of fishing.

Over the years, I’ve come to admire guides for their ability to change with capricious weather, a trait that Fowler displayed intuitively. Not only did he set the charter up in an area where they could enjoy the fishing, but he also had the patience to stay the course as other guide boats left the area. The reward for his clients, Brian Pahud and his son, Chad, was the fish of a lifetime. Chad hooked, fought and landed a 30- pound kingfish on light spinning tackle. The fish exploded on a baitfish near the surface, and made several sizzling runs as well as a number of head shaking trips to the surface before he was landed by Fowler. The anglers had several other hits from kings and hooked another large fish, but unfortunately the hook pulled. For the final hour of the charter, Fowler made a move to an artificial reef off Longboat Key, where the remainder of the morning was spent hooked up to Spanish mackerel, grey trout and bluefish.

King mackerel are one of the premier targets for west coast anglers during the spring run. When water temperatures hit the low 70s, kings generally appear in the deeper Gulf waters, moving closer to the beaches as the water warms to the mid-70s. Kingfish are very aggressive, and while guides like Fowler target kings with live bait, they will hit a wide variety of plugs, spoons, feathered jigs and flies.

Up until the mid-80s, kings were regularly targeted with 30- to 40-pound outfits, but Fowler uses light tackle tailored to maximize the success rate and the fun. While a 20-pound outfit is more than adequate, even for big kings, Fowler will often use tackle as light as 10-pound class. In the open Gulf, kings are seldom lost to structure, so the most important consideration is rigging. Kingfish hit hard and make long runs, so a smooth drag and protection from their razor sharp teeth are paramount.

Fowler uses a short strand (8-12 inches) of wire when the kings aren’t leader shy, but is prepared to substitute long-shank hooks on days when bright skies and clear water make the kings wary.

Fowler locates kingfish primarily around patch reefs, ledges and wrecks in the Gulf. He also keeps an eye out for breaking fish, birds and bait. The most effective way to concentrate and catch kings is by chumming with dead and live bait, which is Fowler’s preferred method.

The utmost care should be taken when releasing these toothy predators. If he doesn’t plan on keeping one, Fowler releases it while it’s still in the water. If he does land a king for a picture, he acts fast, removing the hook with pliers and then launching it head first into the water after the photograph.

Captain Randall Fowler can be reached at (941) 238-8925 or visit his web sit at www.unclemudfish.us. April is prime time for kings. Rig light and enjoy one of the Gulf Coast’s finest angling adversaries, the King of Spring!

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