Kings of spring
rusty chinnis | suN
Captain Scott Moore led Devoney Burgess to this
large king last fall off Longboat Key
Kingfish are harbingers of spring and provide electrifying action to anglers off Florida’s west coast. While they may appear earlier, generally when the water temperature reaches 70 degrees, they migrate into inshore water in search of baitfish. Kingfish are very aggressive and will hit a wide variety of live baits, plugs, spoons, feathered jigs and flies.
In the past, kings were pursued with heavy tackle, but light tackle has become much more popular. Lighter tackle will yield more action and is a lot more challenging and fun. A 20-pound outfit is more than adequate, and many anglers pursue kings with gear as light as 8-pound.
In the open Gulf, with the exception of crab trap markers, kings are seldom lost to structure, so the most important consideration is rigging. Kingfish hit hard and make long runs. Aside from the need for a smooth drag the major consideration is a sharp hook and protection from their razor sharp teeth.
Anglers fishing for kings generally employ an 8- to 12-inch strand of wire. Fly fishermen and those who use live bait can also use wire or substitute extra-long shank hooks and monofilament leader. You’ll get more hits with mono leaders and more cut-offs. I prefer the action and only use wire in low light situations – on cloudy days, early mornings and late afternoons. The best wire is the type that ties easily like American Fishing Tackle’s stainless steel that is constructed with seven-strand construction. These wires areeasier to work with, kink less and can be tied like monofilament.
The best way to locate kingfish is to find the schools of baitfish they pursue. Structure in the Gulf (wrecks, patch reefs, ledges), and as the waters warm, the edges of the local passes are prime areas. A loran and fish-finder are great assets in the search, but anglers who don't have this equipment can target kings by locating baitfish and breaking fish, which usually have a contingent of pelicans and terns overhead. While live baiting usually takes the largest fish, trolled plugs, spoons, feathers, and flies are all effective.
The most effective way to attract kings is by deploying a chum bag and then chumming with dead and live bait. Position your boat near structure, live bottom, baitfish schools or feeding birds. After a chum line has been established, begin adding pieces of cut bait and finally a few live shiners to the water. Slow trolling ladyfish and blue runners can also be effective if shiners are scarce.
If you prefer not to chum, locate schools of bait fish on the surface and work the edges by drifting or with the aid of a trolling motor. A quiet approach will avoid spooking the baitfish, kingfish and other predators that may be patrolling the area. Cast to the edges of the school where kingfish patrol looking for wounded prey.
While the fall is traditionally a better season to target kings, some big fish lurk in the waters off our coast in the spring. Captain Scott Moore reports that most of the action so far this season has been in 50 feet of water, as the weather changes have kept the bait offshore. That could all change as the water warms. An exciting way to target kings is with top water plugs and flies. There is nothing quite like a big king trashing a plug or fly on the surface. The bigger and nosier the fly, or plug, the better. Whether you seek out kingfish on flies, live bait or trolling, you’re in for some of the most exciting action to be found off our coast. Rig light, protect from the kings’ sharp teeth and hold on!