Kingfish Blitz On The Forgotten
Capt. Alex Crawford
March 21, 2009
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report
Have you ever noticed that every year around April, we experience a massive migration of monarch butterflies here on the Gulf Coast. Without fail, concurrently, the Spring migration of smoker king mackerel occurs. It's automatic! And for the die-hard angler who loves to get a real stretch on his string, the Spring kingfish run is almost heaven.
Targeting kingfish is high fun on the high seas. Spring-run smoker kings will burn your drag and entertain your brain. These toothy, water-rockets are just as fast as their cousin, the wahoo. For the sheer love of fishing, getting connected to a speed-burner king is a quintessential experience. It is the fortunate angler who has watched one of these greenish-silver torpedos light up while striking a bait or lure. Kings will strike a surface live bait with such ferocity, they propel themselves 6 feet out of the water, hence the expression, sky-rocket kings. If your definition of big fun is sizzling drags and melted drag washers, now is your spectacular time on the gorgeous Gulf Coast.
Look For 70 Degree Water Temps
When the water temperature reaches 70 degrees in the Spring, king mackerel start their migration east across the Forgotten Coast. In Spring, when water temps reach about 68 degrees, the snake kings begin to show up with the bait offshore, normally around the 3rd week in April. Both in spring and fall, smoker kings show up along the beaches. Sometimes pier fishermen are in the right place and capture these "beachcombers." The Fort Walton Beach fishing pier is an excellent place to try for these "beachcomber kings".
Kings of the same size school together. Smaller fish like Spanish are relegated to a lower level on nature's food chain. Never far from their food source, kings shadow the bait schools that orient to reefs, both artificial and natural. Back in the days before sophisticated sonar, loran and gps technologies, enterprising fishermen would drag lead weights on hand lines to locate rocky, coral and limestone bottoms that would hold bait and predator fish. Today, savvy anglers find natural bottom and find kings and other pelagic species like cobia with their trusty GPS, bottom machines and nautical fish charts.
On the Forgotten Coast out of Apalachicola, several reefs and wrecks are prime king habitats in the Spring. A short list includes Yamaha Reef, Franklin County Reef, L Buoy Reef, Fathom Rock, Roy's Rock, Apalachicola Reef, Empire Mica, Bryson Reef, Sixteen Mile Reef, Bees Rock etc. All of these numbers are accessible to the recreational angler with a fish plan to target Spring kings.
All along the coast from Carrabelle, Apalachicola, Mexico Beach, Panama City, Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, into Mississippi and westward, Spring is the time to catch loads of Kingfish. They are so prolific this time of year that you just must get out there and get after 'em.
Tackle and tactics vary widely, but following are my most successful techniques. Slow-trolling big hardtails on flat lines or downriggers is a proven, successful tournament pattern. Or, the old stand by, pulling dusters ahead of cigar minnows will always produce. With a hookup, always mark the spot with a buoy or on your gps and go back and pick up a few more fish. Trolling large lures on wire leaders is effective at times. My favorites are Stretch 30s, YoZuris, Rebel Jawbreakers and Rapala CD 18s. Blue and white is the confidence color. Bonus fish are groupers that will swim way up in the water column to eat big lures. As you explore these offshore areas, keep an eye out for other pelagic species like cobia and blackfin tuna. Also, yellowfin tuna will orient to offshore structure like oil rigs and underwater seamounts.
Drifting or anchoring on your favorite natural bottom is another technique that produces a good result. Chumming with pogy oil and chunk baiting with cut pogies is a proven tournament winning method employed by kingfish pros. Once the kings move into your chumline, it is like fishing in your own personal aquarium. Just for fun, we break out the bass tackle and throw spinners at individual fish and try not to be pulled overboard or melt the drag washers. Accelerate your heartbeat and arouse your senses.
Tackle for kings is very much a personal choice. Many prefer meat sticks with 4/0 or larger reels. Granted a 30 or 40 pound king will challenge your best skills, even on 30 pound class gear, but lighter tackle makes for a sporty battle. Spring kings are so prolific, losing a few is just in the game, particularly with only a two fish limit. Sometimes personal victories are achieved with catch and release, not the thrill of the kill i.e. catch and fillet.
Stainless steel or haywire twisted piano wire is a necessity for toothy kings. I believe 40 pound test wire or lighter gets more bites, however one runs the risk of breaking off a good fish. For fish going in the box I use 4X strong number 4 treble hooks. Stinger trebles will catch the notorious short-strikers.
Small barrel swivels less than 100 pound will draw more strikes from finicky biters, but, when kings are in an eating mode, anything will get bit. Please always remain vigilant and safe when it comes to unhooking kingfish. Many smart fishermen have learned to use a wooden club or aluminum bat to dispatch a particularly hot fish. The fish's canine incisors occlude together like our teeth and if you get careless handling them, they will put a serious bite on your body parts. It is not fun, promise!
One of the most important things anglers can do to maximize their chances of putting big kings in the box is to have a prearranged gaff plan with the crew. Big kings are commonly lost at the gunwale. They go into their circular death spiral at the boat and are really adept at breaking you off in the prop, the anchor line or with an errant gaff effort. Catching oversized kings is a crew-team effort with everyone knowing his job in the landing process. Review the plan with your crew, wheel man, wire man, gaffer, angler and cheerleaders, all working together for the common objective. All share in the celebration of capturing a quality fish. It's a team endeavor and all share in the glory of landing a really big fish.
The next best thing to the catching celebration is the dinner party celebration. Kings are not for the folks who like their fish mildly flavored. The flesh has an oily and rich texture. Many people prefer to smoke them, especially large specimens. Others like kingfish steaks on the barby. My favorite recipe is called poorman's lobster. Cut the circular dollops out of the steaks and boil them until they float. Pour real highly salted, highly cholesteroled butter over the dollops and serve hot. It really tastes like lobster. Cooking with ice-cold beer really helps enhance the dinner party.
For all of us poor souls who have been bitten by the winter-time cabin fever bug, Spring is the time to bust out and enjoy the salt air and the warm sunshine. Have some fun—go fish!
Till next tide, tight lines and solid hookups,
Captain Alex Crawford
Proud Member Florida Outdoor Writers Association
Proud Member Florida Guides Association
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