Break out those stinger rigs, because it's kingfish time. King mackerel are being caught at the Redington Long Pier, and they're also starting to show at the Skyway fishing piers.
Some experienced pier anglers use relatively complicated methods involving two rods and reels, but that's not to say you can't catch kings with conventional methods.
Unlike fishing from a boat, pier anglers need to use heavier tackle because they can't chase a fish. And they have to be able to steer a fish away from line-cutting pilings, rocks and other debris.
Typically, 15- to 20-pound monofilament line is sufficient for kings, but from a fixed structure, 25-pound mono is better. The added strength gives the angler a little more muscle. Thirty-pound line gets a little heavy, and it easily can be seen by fish in clear water.
Avoid braided lines for kings, because they don't stretch. Foul-hooking a fish somewhere other than in its mouth is common because of the leaders and extra hooks often used. Sometimes a fish is hooked only by a thin piece of skin or tissue, and the stretch with monofilament can help prevent the hook from pulling out.
Conventional rotating reels have more line capacity and stronger drag systems than most spinning reels, making them better for kingfish. Whether the reel has a level wind or not isn't as important as holding at least 300 yards of line and using a smooth drag. They don't call big kingfish "smokers" because they're good on the grill: Kings in the 30-pound range will run 100 yards without a problem, burning the drag as they go.
The rod isn't as critical as the reel, and a 7-foot, medium-heavy rod matched to the reel will do the job. Eight-footers can help if the fish runs beneath the pier.
Kings are slashers, violently attacking prey from behind. They then circle back to pick up the the pieces. Sometimes they cut the bait in two, leaving anglers with the just head of their bait dangling from the hook. This is where a trailer or stinger hook comes into play.
The stinger rig uses a standard J-hook to hold the bait and a small treble hook that trails along. A good way to rig one is with a No. 6 single-strand, coffee-colored wire, and the rig has two sections. The front section is about 20 inches with a 50-pound swivel attached to one end and a No. 4 live-bait hook at the other end. The rear section, called the trailer, stretches from the live-bait hook to the treble hook, sometimes two treble hooks depending on the size of the bait.
The idea is to have the trailer ride just behind the dorsal fin of the bait. A 4- to 5-inch piece of the same wire used for the front section is connected to a No. 4 or 6 treble hook. Some anglers attach the trailer to the eye of the J-hook, and some fix it to the shank of the J-hook. Just make sure the two sections are tied correctly with a Haywire twist knot.
Good tackle shops carry rigs that sell for a few bucks, and they are worth the money for novices.
When kings are biting, they're not too picky. Scaled sardines, Spanish sardines, threadfin herring, cigar minnows, mullet, ladyfish, Spanish mackerel and shad are great baits. But sometimes they prefer a ladyfish and leave everything else alone, or on another given day they like sardines. It's a good idea is to have a variety of baits caught fresh with a Sabiki rig.
Because most conventional reels are hard to cast, the best way to get your bait away from the pier is to use a cork or bobber to float with the tide. Tie the bobber directly above the leader so the bait stays close to the surface.
Landing a king by yourself from a pier is no easy task. A circle or hoop net is the best way to get a fish over the pier's rail. Get some help when landing a fish, because you'll need it.