Doing the Kingfish Troll

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The summer months have been cruel to the day time fisherman. Hot has become a relative term on the water during the past few weeks. But for the Eastern Coast of the United States, hot weather means kingfish. More accurately called a king mackerel, the little ones we call snakes, and the big ones are smokers. These open water bullets can be caught all summer with a method that I just love, the “slow troll”.
Its easy to spot a boat trolling for kings.

They are barely moving at times and at other times moving at a very slow speed. A downrigger is usually visible, along with a couple of freelined rods in the rod holders. Its just a nice, easy, slow troll with the radio or CD playing some favorite music and the Bimini top providing shade.

My last trip for kings was out of Mayport, Florida, and went something like this:

The first thing in the morning, with the sun cracking dawn, we headed out the inlet and immediately went to the beach looking for bait. Just outside the breakers, schools of menhaden shad (we call them pogies) can be found flipping around on top of the water. Several boats were there with us, each one with a bow ornament silhouetted against the dim sky. That ornament happened to be a fisherman with a cast net in his hands looking for bait. Each boat idled around until one them found a school of fish and began throwing their net. Then each of the other boats converged on the school and began throwing their nets.

Once caught, these menhaden must be kept in a super aerated live bait tank, preferably circular in design (keeps the bait from running into the corners).

The best live tanks pump fresh sea water into the tank with an overflow ported over the stern. Menhaden are extremely flimsy and will not live very long in hot, non aerated water.

If you're good, or lucky, or both, it only takes one good cast to have enough bait to last all day. If you're like me, it takes a number of casts, several of them resembling a banana when they hit the water, and a resulting sore back before you have enough bait. Nonetheless we caught enough bait for a good days trolling, about fifty, nine inch long menhaden, and we headed offshore.

One thing you need to know is that kings move in and out with the bait. They can be caught off the beach fishing piers at some times, and they can be 30 miles offshore at others. Every year there are a few kings caught right up in the surf. Today, they kings were reported to be about 15 miles off the beach, running over the artificial reefs and wrecks east of Jacksonville.

We began at “Nine Mile” reef and set our baits out. One bait went on a downrigger about 30 feet below the surface. The other downrigger was rigged at 70 feet, and a lively pogie was on the end of the line. On the surface we put two freelined pogies out, one on each side of the boat. And with the baits out we began our slow troll over the structure we were marking on our recorder.

The rigs we use have a six foot heavy monofilament leader attached to a nine inch wire leader. The wire is there because of the razor sharp teeth on a kingfish. Wired to the 6/0 circle hook is a small treble hook we call a “stinger”. The pogie is hook through the eyes with the circle hook, and the stinger is hooked back by the bait's tail. You would be surprised at the number of short striking kings that are caught on that stinger hook!

The rest is all easy! A little Jimmy Buffett, some munchies, a cold drink or two, and some relaxing conversation pass time until a fish is on. Some days we catch a lot and have little time to relax. Other days we don’t even get a strike, and simply lounge around all day. Today we caught three, two snakes about 7 pounds each and one almost smoker that weighed in at 22 pounds. But I would have been just as happy with one fish. Sometimes just being there is worth the effort!
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