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Find kings below by watching the sky

By ED WALKER
Published April 21, 2007


The biggest news in Nature Coast fishing this week has been the strong run of kingfish that has taken place offshore. From 5 to 25 miles out, the action has been great.

As is usually the case, the smaller, "schoolie" fish are in big schools, and the "smokers" have been more solitary. For light-tackle fun, it is hard to beat a school of kings. Once located, they can be chummed into a frenzy and caught on just about anything you cast to them. Spinning rods or baitcasting gear in the 10- to 12-pound class are perfect, and flycasters can join in as well.

When fly-fishing for kings, having a combination of live and dead chummers is helpful. Wounded live baits wander around, eventually finding the kings and inspiring them to feed. A steady trickle of dead baitfish will then drawn them right up to the back of the boat. One helpful hint for flyrodders is to use a white and silver fly that is shiny, but don't move it fast. If the fish are eating dead chum, we hook more fish while the fly is sinking than we do stripping it in quickly.

When looking for kings in open water, there are a few indicators that may give away their location. The best is jumping fish. If you see more than one kingfish leap from the water, you are definitely in the right place. When they're not that easy to see, watch for birds. While terns and pelicans can be helpful, nothing says "fish here" better than gannets. They can dive to depths of more than 20 feet and feed on the deep bait pods that other birds cannot reach. During the spring and fall, if you find gannets high-diving offshore, there is a good chance you'll find kingfish there.

Wrecks in 45 to 60 feet of water are good spots to check for kings. Those with the highest vertical relief attract the bait that draws the kings.

When looking for trophy kings, target areas of hard bottom and ledges, similar to the ones where you might fish for grouper, whether you see bait there or not. The big boys will eat just about anything and are not as dependent on shoals of minnows to survive.

In the Florida State Freediving Championship last week, we anchored over a patch of rocky bottom in 40 feet of water off New Port Richey and deployed a steady chum line of dead sardines and chum blocks. After landing a nice gag grouper, I drifted back behind the boat and began the breathing techniques required to dive to the bottom in these depths. As I tried to relax and slow my heart rate I looked down to see a 4-foot kingfish swim into the chum and begin to eat the small pieces of fish drifting by. I took a deep breath and slowly eased down to his level, in the 30-foot range. He began to move away from me, but I managed to close the gap and get within range. When he turned slightly broadside to me I lined up the shot and pulled the trigger - and missed completely. The 35 to 40 pound beast then departed the scene for good, leaving me with a terrible "big one that got away" story.

We did end up with a good catch for the day with respectable stringers of grouper, hogfish, mangrove, snapper, and cobia, but the missed kingfish opportunity still haunts me. The winning crew for the third year in a row, was Team Pescasub with Brad Kenyon at the helm and Kyle Kenyon, Jose Santiero, Michelle Lechuga diving.

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