King mackerel fishing today is popular from the North Carolina coastline to the Texas oilrigs. However many seasoned fishermen believe it all began at John’s Pass and by a man called Gene Turner.
"Today most king mackerel fishing teams have big center console boats with multiple outboards that race to distant kingfish waters at blinding speeds", Chris Turner said. " My dad, Gene Turner, often fished just seventy-five yards from an inlet mouth and caught bunches of kingfish. Where as modern day king mackerel Southern Kingfish Association tournament teams are just looking to catch that one big fish"!
Chris Turner is also a fishing legend along the sandy beaches of southwest Florida and molding his fishing techniques around his father's king mackerel successes.
"My father first became interested in fishing while living in Plant City, Florida, where he fished for big Florida largemouth bass in numerous phosphate pits", explained Chris Turner. "My dad soon learned how to catch live bait with a cast net and fished strictly with large wild shiners for giant Florida bass. Dad then began to fish some of the local bass tournaments and won several big bass events".
Gene Turner made his living in Plant City by crafting wooden boats for lake and river fishing. His custom built boats were called "Turner Craft" boats".
In 1954 Gene Turner and wife Jeannie, moved to St. Petersburg Florida where he continued to build wooden boats measuring up to forty-five feet.
Here Turner continued to enjoy fishing, only this time it was for a wide variety of saltwater game fish species including kingfish, grouper and red snapper.
"My Dad discovered by cast netting for live baits along the beaches and inlets off Clearwater, he was able to net the larger greenbacks and white baits", Chris said. "Other live bait fishermen were using hoop nets, where the large live baits would often escape while swimming right over the top of the hoop net. Here Dad and me would anchor up and chum by cutting up smaller white baits and greenbacks with scissors. We actually won our first kingfish tournament in 1968 with a 48-pound kingfish".
As king mackerel fishing began to grow in popularity off from the beaches of Clearwater, so did the need to competitively fish for king mackerel.
"Most of the kingfish tournaments that were held from John's Pass, were often week long events", Chris Turner said. "After a few seasons of fishing these marathon king mackerel tournaments, many king fishermen decided they would rather fish in a weekend event. My father, Gene Turner, Cid Rice and Shorty Welch sat down at Gator's restaurant located at "John's Pass" and formatted the Spring and Fall "Kingfish Classics". These were weekend events and were first sanctioned by the "Saltwater Angler's Association". Later, these popular kingfish events began sanctioned by the "Southern Kingfish Association".
There was good reasoning for holding high dollar kingfish tournaments during both the fall and spring fishing seasons. Massive schools of king mackerel begin migrating from south Florida back to the upper gulf during the months of March April and May. During the Fall, Gulf coast stock kingfish begin their fall migration back to south Florida during the months of September, October and November. Obviously this is good reasoning for the excellent king fishing during both the spring and fall kingfish seasons from Clearwater to the Tampa Bay shipping channel. Here king mackerel are attracted to a massive hard bottom that lies just off from the beaches off Clearwater Beach and the baitfish laden shipping channel located just a few miles south at the Tampa Bay "Skyway Bridge".
There are also numerous hard bottoms and wrecks located off the beaches of Clearwater Beach, John's Pass and west of Tampa Bay as well.
"The weather really doesn't matter during most kingfish tournaments held from Clearwater and John's Pass", Chris Turner said. "If there is a hard southeast wind, you can find calm waters at the Clearwater hard bottom. If the winds are hard from northeast, you can find calm waters at the Tampa bay shipping channel".
"When they constructed the new "Skyway Bridge", the old bridge was left in place", Chris Turner said. "The old bridge really turned into a big "Kingfish Magnet" and holds so much bait at times, that fishermen can walk on bait to the other-side of the bay. In fact just the other day I had a fishing friend land a 42-inch kingfish while fishing from the old Tampa Bay Bridge"!
Chris Turner still believes that there still are a lot of kingfish in the Gulf, which were once almost wiped out by commercial king mackerel fishermen.
"Although there are big migrations of kingfish during both the spring and fall fishing seasons, my absolute favorite time of year to catch kingfish here, is during mid May", Chris said. "We do catch king mackerel all year long, but the best fishing for the big migratory king mackerel is still during the spring and fall seasons".
Gene Turner is also well known as one of the pioneers for developing how we fish for kingfish today. Particularly when chumming up a big "Mack" to a barbed live bait.
One of Gene Turner's kingfish techniques, was to anchor on the shallow edge of the Tampa Bay shipping channel while bottom fishing for grouper. However Turner often landed sizeable kingfish while catching grouper for the dinner table.
"We frequently anchored just off from the deep channel of the "Shipping Channel" and fished for grouper", Chris Turner said. "Naturally my father would fish for kingfish at the same time and developed a very deadly chumming technique at the same time".
"Keeping in mind that the stomach of a king mackerel is very small, my father did not chum heavily", Chris Turner explained. "Here my dad would sit on a cooler, or bucket and cut white baits into thin strips, using a sharp pair of scissors. The small strips of white baits were then tossed into the water very slowly to attract nearby kingfish to our barbed live baits. In fact my Dad waited until one piece of cut bait had totally vanished in the water column before another tiny strip of white bait was tossed into the water".
For terminal kingfish tackle, Gene Turner used twenty-pound class kingfish tackle, while employing a unique technique in catching tournament size king mackerel
"My father always estimated the size of the kingfish that he would be catching on any given day", Chris Turner said. "With this in mind Dad would employ a #5 wire leader that was just a tad longer than the length of the targeted kingfish. He also believed that a hooked kingfish would almost always run straight away from the boat, causing the tail of the king mackerel to "Tail Whip" the terminal fishing line. By using a wire shock leader that was just longer than the length of the king mackerel, parted fishing lines and lost kingfish were avoided".
"At the business end of Dad's terminal kingfish tackle, he would use a pair of 3407 Mustad, 5/0 fishing hooks. The eye of the second hook was spread slightly apart so that the point of the first hook could be threaded through the eye of the second hook. Here, the second hook is positioned in the opposite direction of the first hook, while the first hook is barbed through the nose of the live bait. The second hook is allowed to ride free alongside of the baitfish, which often causes foul hooked king mackerel".
As with many kingfish destinations, tides are also extremely critical when fishing for Clearwater and Tampa Bay kingfish.
"One thing that my father displayed a lot of while king fishing, was patience", Chris Turner said. "My father really knew that the best kingfish bite would come with the proper tide, but he always fished hard through all of the tides".
Called the "Kingfish King", Gene Turner spent an entire decade battling the commercial side of king fishing and once said, "The day has passed when you could go out and help yourself. We have to realize that we need to leave some for everybody else".
During tournament season, Gene Turner teamed up with his son Chris and Bill Miller, aboard the tournament and charter fishing boat, "Shikari". Chris ran large sport fishing boats until 1982, then began to charter fish from Clearwater Florida until 1998. Chris Turner is now part owner in Maximo Marine, where he operates the service side of the marine dealership.
Gene Turner turns 90-years young this month and never had a driver's license. His wife Jeannie always drove Gene when needed. One thing we do know, Gene Turner is responsible for how most saltwater fishermen target Gulf Coast kingfish today and even though he never had a drivers license, he frequently drove kingfish plumb crazy!