Invite a king over to dinner

The arriving kingfish have quite a menu to choose from, so make your slow-trolled live bait stand out.

Published October 21, 2006

Salesmen often boast that they can sell ice cubes to Eskimos. This statement of persuasive power hinges on the notion that Alaskan natives have plenty of chillability. To close the sale, one must make his brand of ice cubes more attractive than others.

In the fishing arena, this postulate applies to slow-trolling live bait for kingfish. Voracious predators, king mackerel hunt where they're likely to find large quantities of prey. So, why would kings chose to strike your bait when so much food is available?

Well, if you simply grab a baitfish from your live well and chuck it into the middle of a bait pod hovering over a reef, then the odds aren't favorable that your little minnow will be selected from the buffet.

But that's not how it's done.

Rather, the art of slow-trolling live bait depends on standing out, not blending in. You want to make your offering look natural, but vulnerable.

Accomplish the first by using indigenous forage species. Along the Nature Coast, the top choices are Spanish sardines, blue runners, cigar minnows, pilchards and mullet. Anglers gather the latter two close to shore in cast nets, while the other three are usually caught by jigging gold-hook Sabiki rigs over bottom structure in deeper water.

For the vulnerable part, troll baitfish as slowly as your boat will idle over rock piles, reefs and anywhere baitfish gather. Pull them a few yards outside any visible bait schools so they look like easy targets.

Rig it up right

Kings come equipped with a mouthful of formidable dental equipment that they use to slash through bait schools, clip their meals in half and gobble the falling pieces. For anglers using only a single nose hook, this means a lot of short strikes in which the king cuts off your bait right behind the hook.

Prevent such thefts by trolling each bait on a "stinger" rig. Here, a 2/0 lead hook trails a piece of No. 3 or 4 wire with a No. 4 or 6 treble hook at the end. By placing a hook at both ends of the baitfish, you ensure that something grabs any attacker.

Larger baits, such as mullet and big blue runners, may require additional stinger segments to cover their entire length. One segment every 3-4 inches is about right.

Dress it up nice

When water clarity is low, you may need some little difference, maybe a flash of color or an odd sound to catch the king's attention.

A common attractant called a "duster" comprises a metal head with a rubber and Mylar skirt, which slips over your leader, rests near the bait's head and pulsates in the water when trolled. Rubber squid skirts do the same but with a larger profile. Spinner blades and rattling attachments also help.

Another visual strategy involves trolling two baits in tandem. Known as the "double-trouble rig," this arrangement is a good bet for enticing big kingfish looking for the quickest path to a full stomach. Dressing double rigs with dusters further enhances the appeal.

Make it smell

It's important to note that the plumpest bait trolled on the most immaculate rig will get lonely if no kingfish sees it. Many times, the kings are hunting nearby, but they just haven't looked in your direction.

Good thing for anglers that kings follow their noses. If they smell a potential meal, they'll check it out. Leverage this behavior by chumming with chopped baitfish chunks, menhaden oil and frozen chum blocks hung just below the surface in mesh bags. Don't forget to shake the chum bag. Warm water and wave action will gradually melt the block so its contents will disperse. To let go periodic bursts of scent, give the rope several hard tugs to rattle loose a cloud of chum particles.

Hang your chum bag from a forward cleat, as this allows the chum particles to drift under the boat and into the prop wash where the scent gets pushed even deeper and farther.

Catch 'em up

When a kingfish strikes, the stinger rig typically does all the hooking for you, so there's no need to jerk the rod. Just keep the tip high, let the fish make several long runs and then work it to the boat with smooth, even pressure.

Tired kings usually make progressively narrowing circles under the boat. The angler can help the gaffer by steadily gathering line and guiding the fish to the surface on each pass.

Some like to gaff kings in the head for a quick submission, but reaching this close to the fishing line can mean a break-off. Conversely, gaffing a fish near the tail gets his motor out of the water, this is also a thinner, bony section where gaffs often glance off the skin.

Your best bet is to aim for the mid-back region, just behind the dorsal fin. You'll sacrifice some edible meat, but you'll have a broad, thick target. And once you stick a gaff in a king's back, he'll rarely wiggle off.

Now, when you boat a kingfish, the excitement is far from finished. Those teeth that ravage baitfish will also do a nasty number on any finger that gets too close.

For safety, wear heavy gloves when gripping a kingfish anywhere near the mouth. And for removing hooks, use needle-nose pliers or a long-handle hook plucker.

David A. Brown covers the Nature Coast area and can be reached at tightlinecomm@aol.com.