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For their own good
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By DAVID A. BROWN, Times Correspondent
Published November 3, 2007
It's classic thievery. The felons snatch the goods so quickly and with such skill that their getaway is nearly a foregone conclusion. That's the deal with kingfish. Because these sly predators feed with a rapid, slashing style, they easily cut off big chunks of baitfish fitted with only a single hook. You may see the rod tip twitch, or the reel may click a few times, but that's about all you'll get. Occasionally, anglers reel up their lines for a bait check, only to find they've been robbed by the slickest of thieves - one who made off with a free meal completely undetected.
Catch'em in the act
Enter the stinger rig - the undercover cop of live bait kingfishing.
Pioneered along the North Carolina coast, birthplace of traditional live bait slow-trolling, the standard stinger rig comprises a lead hook set through the nose, mouth or forehead of a baitfish and a treble "stinger" hook connected to the eye of the lead with a 3- to 5-inch piece of trailing wire.
The lead hook holds the baitfish, while the trailing stinger usually ends up snaring the king. Sometimes, the stinger sticks in the king's mouth, but it could grab a check, chin or forehead, depending on how the kingfish hits the bait.
Wire size varies with water clarity and the size of local kingfish. Most prefer going as light as possible to minimize detection, but No. 3-4 is common in North Suncoast waters. Anglers typically use wire one size larger on their trailing segments, as this is where the fish usually bites.
Lead hooks are usually 2/0 short, shank models. Nos. 4-6 is the common range for treble stingers.
Do the twist
Unlike monofilament or flexible titanium leaders, wire requires a different attachment method. Passing a couple inches of leader wire through the eye of a hook, cross the tag end over the standing end to form a small loop that allows the hook to dangle.
Grip the crossover point and form three to four haywire twists with the tag end and standing end. Secure the twists with three to four barrel wraps. Do this by bending the wire's tag end perpendicular and making tight wraps around the standing end. Gripping the latter with pliers provides optimal leverage.
Break off the excess tag end cleanly to avoid sharp burrs that will poke and cut your fingers.
Multiple Stingers: Large live baitfish, like jumbo blue runners, ladyfish and mullet, require rigs with additional stinger segments. Considering the biting power of a kingfish big enough to hit a multi-stinger bait, heavier wire is a good bet.
Standard stinger rigs can be converted into multiple rigs as needed by simply attaching additional trailing segments. Likewise, lengthy rigs are easily shortened by clipping off stinger segments as needed.
Double Trouble: Tweaking the concept of a multiple stinger rig, anglers often run two baitfish staggered on a single rig. This presents a larger, more appealing target to hungry kings.
Starting with a 2/0 nose hook, connect a No. 4 treble with a 4-inch piece of wire and finish by attaching a second stinger segment from the eye of the first treble. The first stinger hook doubles as a nose hook for the second bait.
Experimentation helps determine precise stinger segment spacing so baits run cleanly in a staggered presentation without impeding one another.
Double rigs work best with weaker baits such as menhaden, threadfin herring and scaled sardines. Blue runners and other brawny baits will fight the rig and tangle wires.
Ribbonfish Rig: Also known as Atlantic cutlassfish or silver eel, these slender baits intimidate juvenile kings and tempt mostly bigger fish. Usually deployed on downriggers, ribbons are trolled dead, so a modified rig is needed.
Replacing the standard lead hook, a 1/4-ounce butterbean style jig set through the bait's jaws - bottom to top - balances the bait, gives it a natural nose-down swimming posture and imparts side-to-side action.
From the eye of the jig, rig a multiple-stinger chain with each trailer segment 3-5 inches long. Some spray paint ribbonfish hooks chrome to blend with the bait's shimmery sides, while other believe that red hooks trigger attacks by simulating a bleeding bait.
Zombie Rig: Mimicking the predator-prey relationship, this hybrid rig looks like a live ribbonfish chasing a smaller baitfish. Large predators such as kingfish instinctively attack smaller predators on the feed, so this rig is especially strategic when kings are finicky.
Build a standard ribbonfish rig, but link it to a single stinger rig with a 5- to 7-inch piece of No. 5 wire running from the eye of the front rig's stinger to the eye of the ribbonfish jig. When trolled, the live bait darts erratically in an effort to avoid what it believes to be a live predator. This imparts swimming action to the dead ribbonfish and perpetuates the presentation.
To avoid tangling, deploy a zombie rig by dropping it at boatside and letting the current pull it back into position.
There's more than one way to catch a kingfish. Vary your presentations to see what the fish prefer, and note how the combination of rigs and weather/sea conditions create replicable patterns.