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Tune your trolling setups for fall kings

Published November 4, 2006


Most of the talk on the docks lately has been about kingfish. The fall run of these jumbo-sized members of the mackerel family is now in full swing. The occasional sightings of the past two weeks have now become a tidal wave of positive reports from 3 to 30 miles offshore. There are many methods used to target kings. A few of the most popular:

Trolling artificial baits

Trolling spoons for kingfish is one of oldest, easiest, and most effective techniques used today. Since the '50s, anglers have dragged shiny metal spoons, in a variety of shapes and sizes, behind the boat to simulate the minnows that kings feed upon. Since there is no need to catch live bait, trollers can have lines in the water not long after leaving the dock. This makes it a popular method for many of the six-person charter boats. Normally, four lines are set out in the boat's wake. Two are fished near the surface, one with a 4-ounce cigar-shaped swivel sinker, a 20-foot leader of 80-pound test monofilament and the lure. The other will have the same setup with an 8-ounce sinker to make it run slightly deeper than the other.

The remaining two lines are rigged with planers. These metal devices "plane" against the flow of water causing them to dive deep. Spoons or plugs are rigged on long leaders and tied to a swivel connected to the back of the planer. A trip mechanism allows it to dive deep but release when a fish strikes. Once the planer is tripped, its surface area is turned in line with the main line, eliminating drag and allowing the fish to be fought freely. Most veteran captains use two different-sized planers in their spread a No. 3 and No. 4 model. No. 3 planers will dive to about 25 feet while No. 4's will get down to 40 feet or more.

Having the entire water column covered with lures is helpful when prospecting for schools of kings. Often the fish will be holding far below the surface and would be difficult to find by simply trolling the surface.

Slow trolling live baits

In the past 15 years, slow trolling large live baits has become the preferred method for tournament kingfish anglers. In some cases it does not produce as many kings as trolling artificials, but it does produce a higher percentage of big ones. Kingfish over 25 pounds often ignore lures but will pounce upon a big, lively blue runner, threadfin herring or mullet. Just seeing a king launch from the water in pursuit of a live baitfish is exciting.

The downside to this method is gathering the bait. Gathering blue runners or any other live baits can be difficult to do consistently. Here today, gone tomorrow is a common theme. The day before a big tournament the bait is usually easy to catch and plentiful. The next morning, when the big money is on the line, they often disappear.

The basic slow trolling rig consists of a set of 20-pound class rods, high-speed reels, and wire leaders. Tournament fishermen usually use four of these setups. Two baits are pulled on the surface and two more will be fished deep on downriggers.

The biggest difference between using lures and live bait is trolling speed. Lure draggers usually troll at 5 to 7 knots while live baiters move as slow as possible while maintaining forward momentum. Pulling live baits too fast will cause them to skip, spin and look unnatural.

Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. Call 727 944-3474 or e-mail

[Last modified November 4, 2006, 07:49:30]

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