After a visit to Florida’s East Central coast, BD’s Rodney Marquez created this overview video on the techniques used to live bait for king mackerel, commonly known as kingfish.
Slow trolling a variety of live baits over offshore structures and contours is standard procedure for anglers chasing the hard-hitting kingfish. The summer also finds the kingfish following clean water and large bait pods into coastal areas where both tournament and casual anglers chase these fun-to-catch fish.
Part of what makes them so fun is the fact that the king is a ferocious predator and often the strikes are very close to the boat if not airborne. A blazing run upon being hooked is followed by sporadic short bursts of speed. Soft-tipped rods are common to act as a shock absorber against pulled hooks which are common when using the small trebles preferred in this fishery. The #4 or #6 trebles, in a tandem stinger rig are often fished on single strand stainless wire or light braided wire leaders. Light drag pressures are a must and therefore any reel in the 20# class range with a quick gear ratio is perfect for kingfishing, but you need to have plenty of line capacity as the Florida State record for kingfish is 90-pounds.
“A wide variety of live bait is used for kingfish, but the “pogie” is probably the most widely used in this area,” said Capt. Scott Goodwin. “They are cast netted along the beaches and inner harbors during the warmer months and then taken offshore to be slow trolled over rock ledges and wrecks. It’s a balancing act to carry as many as you might need for the day offshore, but not so many as to kill them all by overloading the bait tank. A strong flow of incoming seawater is crucial and in the heat of summer, the balance is delicate.”
Kingfish are great to eat when cooked really fresh, and after that, they are often put in the smoker and turned into smoked kingfish dip which is extremely popular. Once smoked, the kingfish can be frozen for a long time but without the smoking process, frozen kingfish can be pretty fishy.
“I use a #5 single strand leader with a haywire twist to #4, 4x trebles most of the time,” says Capt. Scott. “If the kings are chewing, we will use a tiny snap swivel to a haywired loop in a 4-foot wire leader. If the fish are being picky, we shorten the wire leader to 18-inches and tie it directly to 40# wind on leader of mono using an Albright knot. This is a stealthier presentation and can hold up well because we are only using light drag settings anyway. Typically, we will fish three lines; a short right behind the boat, a medium and one long. It helps to have extra rods rigged up so you can swap outfits after a bite or fish and get your bait right back in the water while you are on the fish.”