Kings of the beach arrive with spring
If you haven’t yet heard, the spring kingfish run is in full swing.
Numerous kingfish are being caught as close as a half mile off the beach all the way out to 7 miles. Most fish are in the 10- to 15-pound range although fish in the 30-pound range are not uncommon.
To hook into the kingfish action, you need to be ready to handle these toothy monsters. The first item to consider is bait. On my charters, we’re using live shiners, live threadfin herring and small blue runners to get the bite. I like to catch a slew of shiners and threadfins to have an ample amount to chum as well as for bait.
Use a powder chum to get the bait to congregate behind the boat, then when you have schooled bait feeding in the chum, throw your cast net out. Once you have enough bait, you’re almost ready to head out and fish.
Next is rigging. When targeting kings, you’ll want to use about 12 inches of hardwire at the end of a fluorocarbon leader before tying on your hook. I use about 3 to 4 feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon leader and then tie on 12 inches of 29-pound hardwire. To the hardwire, I attach a 2/0 long shank hook with a haywire twist.
Once you’re at the spot to target kings, try chumming some live bait behind the boat. Typically the kings will skyrocket out of the water while eating the chummers. Once you see this, it’s time to cast your bait. Generally, in this scenario, your bait shouldn’t be in the water for more than a few minutes. If a king doesn’t bite right away, you may want to reel up and check the bait. The kingfish bite is quick and, if it’s not, you’ve either gotten cut off, or your bait has been slashed in half and is no longer useful. Make sure you always have a lively bait in the water.
Now that you know how to target kingfish, it’s time to get out and catch some. Remember, king mackerel have to be 24 inches to the fork of the tail and you can keep two per person per day.
Good luck and happy hunting.
Jeff Medley at the south bait shop on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Fishing Piers is seeing good numbers of Spanish mackerel being caught on a variety of baits. Pier fishers using live baits, such as threadfin herring or shiners are steadily hooking up macks in the 20-inch range. “They’re even catching them on live shrimp,” says Medley. For artificials, try using silver spoons, Gotcha plugs or small white jigs.
Along with Spanish mackerel, pier fishers are catching a few schoolie kingfish in the mix. Most are being caught on live bait.
Pompano are being caught in the early morning by fishers using Love’s lures pompano jigs. Try dropping your jig directly under the pier until it hits bottom. Then, jig up and down until you get a bite. You can also try using sand fleas or shrimp if you’re not into jigs.
Lastly, pier fishers bottom fishing with cut greenbacks under the pier are catching mangrove snapper. Most are in the 12- to 13-inch range, although Medley says he’s seeing some fish up to 16 inches. He says to use 20-pound fluorocarbon leader with a small live bait hook to get the snapper to bite. Only use enough weight to get your bait to the bottom. Snapper have excellent eyesight, so you want to be stealthy.
Bob Kilb at the Rod & Reel Pier says ladyfish are dominating the bite for fishers using artificials such as jigs, spoons or Gotcha plugs. “Every time you cast a plug or jig, you catch a ladyfish,” says Kilb. “They’re everywhere out here.”
For fishers using lures, Spanish mackerel are being caught sporadically. You just have to weed through the ladyfish to get a bite. You can use live shiners to catch the macks, although with the amount of ladyfish grazing, you may want to stick with artificials.
Sheepshead are still being caught at the pier, although Kilb says the bite is winding down. Now that the fish are thinning out, it’s critical to have the best baits to get the bite. Make sure you have some sand fleas, fiddler crabs, oyster crabs or tubeworms. When the bite slows, you want to have the best bait to increase your chances of getting a hit.
Black drum are frequenting the Rod & Reel Pier, feeding on live shrimp fished around the pilings. Some of these fish are topping 10 pounds, so make sure to have heavy gear. If you don’t control them, they’ll wrap the line around a piling and cut it off.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says fishing this past week was exceptional. Whether you’re working the backcountry, the beaches or the Gulf — fishing is as good as it gets.
Starting in the Gulf, fishers targeting king mackerel are catching as many fish as they want. Anywhere from the artificial reefs, 7 miles out, to just off the beaches, king mackerel are ravaging bait schools. Keyes likes to use hardwire for leader with a No. 4 treble hook for his bait. He then slow trolls around bait schools to get the bite. Keyes is having success with live threadfin for herring, live shiners and even blue runners for bait. Fish in the 10-pound range are the norm, although fish up to 30 pounds are not uncommon.
Fishers targeting pompano are flocking to the beaches of Anna Maria Island. Keyes is hearing daily reports of pompano being caught on sand fleas or pompano jigs. Most fish being caught are just above the minimum size of 11 inches to the fork of the tail.
While targeting pompano with jigs, beach fishers are catching plenty of ladyfish, blue runners and even a few Spanish mackerel as a by-catch. Don’t forget to carry numerous pompano jigs if you plan on spending the morning on the beach. When the macks and ladyfish show up, you’re sure to get cut off and lose a few jigs.
Finally, fishers in the backcountry are having good results on redfish, spotted sea trout and catch-and-release snook. Using live shiners for bait, you can chum the fish you’re targeting to the boat. Once you see a fish boil on a chummer, cast your bait to that area and hang on.
Capt. Sam Kimball of Legend Charters is fishing nearshore structures and targeting kingfish with threadfin herring or live shiners. Kimball likes to use about 12 inches of hardwire connected to a 4/0 long shank hook to target these toothy fish.
After Kimball’s charters have caught numerous kingfish, they’re moving out to depths of 40 feet of water to target porgies and Key West grunts. By putting cut squid on the bottom, Kimball is catching plenty of these tasty fish to bring home for the deep fryer.
Capt. Warren Girle fished offshore this past week for king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and cobia. In depths of 30-40 feet of water, Girle is getting good action on all of these migratory species. For the macks, Girle is using live shiners or threadfin herring to get the bite. As for the cobia, live shrimp fished on the bottom is producing results.
Moving inshore to Sarasota Bay, Girle is targeting redfish. Using his trolling motor to run the shallow flats, Girle is fishing sandy potholes, where free-lined shiners are producing redfish up to 29 inches.
For the spotted seatrout, Girle is fishing slightly deeper grass flats with soft plastics on a jig head. Girle’s preference is the MirrOlure Lil John in golden bream color. Most of the trout are in the 18-20-inch range, although Girle’s clients are reeling in fish up to 25 inches.
Finally, Girle is excited to see some snook on the end of his line. Girle says while targeting reds and trout, he’s hooking up and releasing an occasional snook — the biggest was 26 inches.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is fishing southern Tampa Bay catching a variety of inshore species. Gross’ charters are using live shiners to catch migratory species, such as ladyfish and Spanish mackerel, as well as inshore species like snook, redfish and spotted seatrout.
For the macks, Gross is fishing outside Terra Ceia Bay in depths of 5-7 feet of water. Chumming with live shiners is bringing the macks within a targetable distance. Once a hooked shiner hits the water, it’s game time. He says the average size on the macks is 20 inches to the fork.
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