By Capt. Sergio Atanes
The large school of baitfish made a dash to one side, barely avoiding the gleaming teeth of a large king mackerel. The fish turned, and this time hit his target with deadly precision.
My bait was the first to hit the water, Rolando was a second behind, and we both spotted the silver flash of an accelerating king mackerel. In a split second the water exploded, and the large predator rocketed into the sky with hapless bait clinched in its gleaming teeth. This is what fishing for kingfish is all about, the run the fight and the glory if you get the chance to land the big one.
The longer days of spring and warmer waters bring the schools of baitfish to the shallow Gulf waters. When water temperatures start to increase to 72-degrees, king mackerel start their northern migration, stopping to feed on the schools of sardines and cigar minnows along the coastline of Florida. Kings are caught each year from many Gulf piers and extend to twenty miles from shore, which puts them within range of the average angler.
Rolando prefers to use heavy tackle that insures more boated fish; 40-pound coffee colored wire, black swivel, long shank 3/0 hook tied to 40-pound 4-foot-long fluorocarbon leader with 45-pound braided line on a conventional reel, and a 7-foot medium heavy rod. My preference is a medium spinning outfit, including 20-pound braided line and a number 10-barrel black swivel tied to 40-pound fluorocarbon leader with a stinger rig. Although Rolando and I have our own preferences in the type of tackle to use, we both agree on two types of fishing methods that work well: drifting and anchoring.
Many anglers prefer trolling for kingfish I am one of those who love to watch the fish strike and make that long first run, especially early calm morning when the water look like a calm peaceful lake. Trolling allows you to cover more areas but I rather sit and chum, one side note I have caught many a permit while anchored waiting for the kingfish to arrive.
Many ledges and artificial reefs can be found on Florida’s west coast, especially between Tarpon Springs and Boca Grande. If you decide to drop anchor, make sure you are up current from any ledges or reefs to prevent getting snagged. Getting too close to these areas can cause you to lose not only your rigging, but also your fish. By cutting some bait into small pieces and allowing it to drift with the current, king mackerel will quickly pick up the scent and zero in on the bait. When drifting, first find a school of baitfish and start your drift up-tide from the school while free lining your bait on the outer edges of the school. Repeat the process when the school is out of casting range. Using live bait, whether drifting or anchoring, it will increase your chances of boating a king mackerel.
Live bait can be easily caught on the grass flats, along the edges of the channels, or around channel markers. A 10-foot bait net is best for the shallow waters and a 12-foot larger mesh net is recommended for deeper waters.
Baitwells are a necessity; sardines require a large volume of moving water and oxygen to stay healthy. I recommend adding an aeration system to insure lively baits. Several add-on systems are available for either bridge anglers or boats without baitwells.
King mackerel are fast swimmers that need a constant supply of oxygen to stay alive. Even a short period out of water can be fatal. It is important to be ready with gloves and pliers for a quick release. King mackerel have a 24” fork size minimum and a 3-bag limit per day in Gulf waters. Keep only what you can eat and release the rest for another day.
MK-C-701MH Okuma 7’ Rod
KDS-463P Okuma Komodos SS Reel
FINS 40G 45-pound braided line
SRT-Elite SRTE-S-761H 7’6” rod
Z-40S Okuma Azores reel
FINS Windtamer 20-pound braided line
Capt. Sergio with a 30-pound king fish
Capt. Sergio with a 60-pound kingfish
Miss Susan with a nice keeper
Cut bait for chumming