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Premier baits aplenty for catching kingfish

By Jay Mastry
Published May 18, 2007


This weekend's kingfish tournament out of Clearwater is the last of the Southern Kingfish Association's sanctioned events in the area for its spring run. While the leaderboard likely will be filled with 30-pounders, it's not getting any easier to find one.

With water temperature in the 80s, about 10 degrees warmer than they prefer, large numbers of kingfish have pushed to the north seeking a more tolerable climate. The abundance of bait in the area, however, will keep enough lingering around to give anglers a sporting chance.

Tournament action likely will be as widespread as it was during last weekend's tournament. Winners were caught from as far as the Middle Grounds to as close as a quarter mile from the beach off Manatee County, as well as several spots between. There were some caught in 70 feet southwest of the Whistler, some others at the artificial reefs in more than 40 feet, and still others strung out along the Egmont Ships Channel. There was even one caught 8 miles inside the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Premier baits will be instrumental when trying to entice a smoker to chew, and most all of them are now available. Blue runners can be jiggled on gold hook rigs at the buoys lining the Egmont Ships Channel from Markers 9 and 10 all the way out.

Most other structure and offshore reefs are attracting decent numbers, too. Ladyfish can be cast-netted in the dark on dock lights or the light line of bridges leading to the gulf. Kingfish can also be hook and lined on tandem-rigged jigs along the tide rips of passes including Pass-a-Grille, Bunces, Blind Pass and John's Pass.

Packs of bluefish will often travel with ladyfish, and they, too, are a hearty bait. Mullet may be cast-netted in some of the marinas and near the boat ramps including Maximo Park and Gulfport. Mullet will bunch up in some of the residential canals along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Shad have probably been the least consistent of the prized monster baits. A few have popped up in Clearwater Bay and some others inside John's Pass, but it's hit or miss. Listening for them to flip in the dark on calm mornings is an ideal way to locate them. Otherwise, keep an eye out for the distinct flip of their tails on the surface, or for a "flier, " one that jumps completely out of the water.

Sometimes a single flip can reveal a cast-net full underneath them. Few baits, if any, will outperform a Spanish mackerel when looking to arouse the appetite of a huge kingfish - but you need to be ready when they pop up.

Without the benefit of tuna tubes, mackerel don't live well in captivity. They need to be handled quickly. Schools don't often stay on the surface long, so spinners need to be readily available to cast in a moments notice. A kingfish rod needs to be rigged and ready for the quick transfer to get the fragile bait back out in your trolling pattern.

As much as I like monster baits on tournament days, the largest winning kingfish ever caught on my boat so far is a 51.13-pounder caught on a greenback minnow. Go figure.