Dead or Alive With the increased interest in king mackerel fishing, mackerel fishermen will need to plan ahead when purchasing both dead and live baits.
Dead baiting king mackerel is certainly the fastest way I know to hook up to a speedy king mackerel. Frozen Spanish sardines or cigar minnows make excellent dead baits for king fishing and when rigged properly, and make for an easy day of king mackerel fishing. Dead kingfish baits can be purchased the day before your planned fishing trip and simply placed in a cooler with ice. No high tech live wells are needed and the worry of keeping kingfish baits alive is simply out the door.
More importantly, you and your fishing partners can forget about running the beaches while chasing baitfish schools down, spending extra hard-earned cash for high dollar fuel for your outboards.
Possibly one of the more successful dead baits for catching king mackerel is the cutlass fish, also referred to as ribbonfish.
Brimmed ribbonfish sell from $2.00 to $6.00 each, when they are available. The cheaper ones typically are net caught ribbonfish, while the more expensive ones are hand caught. Reports are that ribbonfish sales are up this year and king mackerel fishermen are stocking up their freezers. So you might consider making an order now for frozen ribbonfish and stocking them up in your freezer as well, just in case the stocks of frozen ribbonfish are depleted.
When a major kingfish run is in full swing, king mackerel boats may use from 15 to 25 ribbonfish per day, particularly when sharks and barracuda are on a major feed.
With this in mind, very active king mackerel teams may purchase a hundred or more ribbonfish at one time to insure their freezers are filled to the brim and their kingfish hooks don’t go bare.
Don Whitman operates Leaders & Sinkers, a successful bait and tackle shop located in Fernandina Beach, Florida, specializing in kingfish tackle and baits.
“I have had a really hard time keeping ribbonfish in stock,” Don Whitman said. “I have some king mackerel fishermen that will buy all the ribbonfish that I have in stock, I’m talking about hundreds of ribbonfish. So this year, Harvey Cox and I decided to go to Fort Pierce and catch our own ribbonfish.”
Prime inlets for catching ribbonfish include Fort Pierce and Port Canaveral. Port Canaveral is now closed to fishing due to the new home security regulations.
“Harvey and I typically jig at night close to well-lighted Fort Pierce inlet docks,” Don said. “We begin with 20-pound tackle and a series of #4 gold hooks. The drop leaders to the hooks are 6 inches long so that the new hooks can be tied on in a hurry. First, our hooks are baited with a small piece of squid. Once a small ribbonfish is landed, we will take the ribbonfish and cut it up into small squares and use the ribbonfish for bait.”
To avoid the sharp teeth of the ribbonfish, a hooked ribbonfish is held over the cooler and the line cut close to the hook. The ribbonfish is dropped into the brim-filled cooler and a new hook is quickly replaced onto the long drop leader.
“For brim, we first fill the bottom of the cooler with saltwater and ice, then four boxes of kosher salt are added,” Don Whitman explained. “Once the live ribbonfish reaches the brim, the brimming process begins”.
When ribbonfish are brimmed properly, they will last in a freezer for over a year. In fact, during one kingfish season I had purchased too many ribbonfish, and at the beginning of the next kingfish season, twelve months later, the frozen ribbonfish were still in excellent condition. Obviously the ribbonfish that I had purchased the year before were brimmed and frozen properly.
Another key to getting good mileage from your purchase of ribbonfish is putting them in a cooler first thing in the morning and keeping them packed in ice. Special insulated ribbonfish bags are also available at custom saltwater bait and tackle stores and afford for excellent storage for frozen ribbonfish as well. Be sure and pack the insulated bag with ice around the frozen ribbonfish to keep them frozen until it is time to use them.
By storing your frozen ribbonfish properly through your day of king mackerel fishing, you will be able to take the unused rubbonfish and place them back into a freezer. Once again, if the ribbonfish have been brimmed, packed and frozen properly, they should still be frozen at the end of your kingfish day.
I have even taken ribbonfish that I have trolled for a few hours, re-wrapped them, placed them back into the ribbonfish bag with ice, them re-frozen them again. The next day, or even several months later, they are still good and ready to go king mackerel fishing.
Another option includes purchasing live baits at the marina or boat ramp.
During the past few king mackerel seasons, purchasing live baits including blue runners and goggle eyes on land is becoming more and more popular, particularly when fishing in a high-dollar Southern Kingfish Association king mackerel tournament.
Actually, a live one- to two-pound blue runner or goggle eye is more expensive than purchasing ribbonfish. At $5.00 each, ribbonfish would cost $60.00 per dozen. Live blue runners or goggle eyes often cost from $100.00 to $150.00 per dozen!
When your day of king mackerel fishing has ended, the remaining live baits are often so weak that you will need to discard them overboard. Worse yet, if you don’t take proper care of your expensive live baits, they may expire long before you arrive at your favorite kingfish waters.
“Our live blue runners and goggle eyes are specially treated with chemicals to insure that the protective slime has been replenished and all of the bacteria have been killed as well,” Eric Weatherman said. “Once we have jigged the blue runners and goggle eyes up the night before, they are placed in a fairly large live well, which already has the proper chemicals added. Once again major problems surface when baitfish secrete ammonia into the bait well water, here bacteria and ammonia begin to remove the protective slime from the baitfish, eventually weakening them until they die. This is one thing that I don’t need happening after fishing all night and driving long distances to a kingfish tournament site.”
To ensure that your expensive live baits make it through a full day of king mackerel fishing, first launch your boat, and then fill your live well where there is clean water, favorably from a deep channel and not a shallow mud flat that so many tidal marinas are famous for. Also make sure that your live well pump is pumping in good fresh saltwater and not re-circulating the water that is already in the live well.
Now and only now, take a clean five-gallon bucket and purchase your live baits. The problem some king mackerel fishermen make is placing the live baits in their live well first before launching their boat and filling their live well first. The expensive live baits are placed in a live well that has old saltwater, then the re-circulating pump is turned on until the boat is launched.
By mid-morning, most of the expensive live baits are swimming very lethargically in the live well and are too weak to attract a quality king mackerel strike.
Live blue runners can also be jigged up at deep-water reefs, particularly in water depths of 80 to over 100 feet of water.
“Nancy and I will run straight to our favorite kingfish spot, the Elton Bottom, from Jacksonville, Florida,” Jeff Dunbar said. “Our first order of business is to mark a ledge, then deep jig for live blue runners. Here we use 20-pound spinning tackle and #14, feathered sabiki bait catcher rigs. A four-ounce weight is attached to the bottom of the rig to get it down to the bottom in a timely manner.”
“It normally doesn’t take us too long to jig up enough live blue runners to enjoy the early morning kingfish bite!”
Now you have it, kingfish baits “Dead or Alive”!