A dog may be man’s best friend, but a pair of downriggers are a king mackerel fisherman’s best fishing tools.
The saltwater fishing world is still buzzing over the big king mackerel catches made during the 2009 SKA National Championship held November 18-22, 2009 out of Biloxi, Mississippi. Particularly the record-breaking king mackerel weighed in by North Carolina’s Ocean Isle Fishing Center kingfish team.
Rube McMullan and sons Barrett and Brant could not have possibly landed their largest king mackerel ever at a better time—the SKA National Championship. Their record-breaking kingfish weighed 74.10 pounds and was caught with one of the king mackerel fisherman’s favorite fishing tools, a Cannon downrigger.
The threesome of North Carolina king mackerel fishermen dropped a single pogy down to a water depth of 40 feet, employing a ten-pound downrigger weight. Minutes later, Barrett McMullan landed a big piece of SKA history when his father, Rube and brother Brant, hauled aboard their 36-foot, Yamaha powered Yellowfin kingfish boat, a 74.10-pound giant of a king mackerel!
Prior to the SKA Nationals, the McMullans had won both the 2009 South Brunswick Kingfish Tournament and the 2009 Hateras King Mackerel Tournament. During the Hateras tournament, team Ocean Isles Fishing Center weighed in 47- and 50-pound king mackerels.
“We catch a lot of our big fish with downriggers,” Brant McMullan explained. “In fact, before we ran out of live bait during the first day of the SKA Championship, our second largest king mackerel weighed just over 44 pounds and was caught while using a Cannon downrigger. We had the same problem many of the other kingfish teams were experiencing and that was not being able to get a live bait down deep before a surface feeding king mackerel ate the live bait.”
“To solve this problem and to be able to get our live blue runners down deep with our Cannon downriggers, we actually backed off from the swarms of king mackerel. Once we stopped marking bait fish, or game fish deep with our fish scope, we would send a pair of blue runners down to 40 feet of water with our downriggers. Then begin slow trolling back to the swarm of king mackerel.”
Although the McMullans acknowledged there were kingfish in the 40- to 50-pound class holding close to the surface, the chances of catching a tournament winning king mackerel deep was much greater with their deep downrigger live baits.
While many kingfish teams claim that the recent 2009 SKA National Championship produced the kingfish bite of a lifetime and right on the surface, several of the larger king mackerel were taken deep with downriggers, including the pair of Gulf Coast king mackerel team Ocean City Fishing Center Team broke all SKA records with.
In many cases where pelagic species of game fish are feeding on bait fish schools pinned to the surface, many of the larger game fish wait down deep for wounded bait fish to fall slowly into their lazy like feeding zone. Older and mature game fish let all of the young guns do the hard work of ravaging the baitfish schools, while they feed on the injured baitfish down deep.
The McMullans obviously employ a deadly downrigger system for king mackerel. And like many king mackerel fishing techniques, a few small adjustments to your present system will often make a kingfish world of difference.
“We use a pair of Cannon Uni-Troll, 10TS, manual downriggers,” Brant said. “We believe the manual downriggers are much more dependable and easy to repair if they ever stop working. In fact, we have on board a Cannon small repair kit that includes some of the necessary parts that may go bad out on the water. One item that you will need to at least carry on your boat is a replacement dog gear, which is very easy to replace.”
Instead of drilling holes into the gunnel and mounting the downrigger onto the gunnel, the McMullans employ rod holder mounts. Swivel mounts are bolted on top of the rod holder mount so the downrigger can be fished in a variety of positions.
“Our 36-foot Yellowfin has a huge storage locker in the bow of the boat where we store our manual downriggers,” Brant said. “After a day of king mackerel fishing, we will wash the downriggers completely down with fresh water and soap, then dry and lubricate them lightly, and store them in the storage locker at the bow of our kingfish boat.”
I guess one of the biggest questions that many king mackerel fishermen may ask is, “What type of downrigger cable works best for king mackerel?”
“We prefer the Power Pro braided fishing line,” Brant explains. “We use 250-pound test, which is attached right to the end of the downrigger cable. Here, I will bend the end of the cable into a tight loop and attach the braided line using an Albright Knot. By using 300 feet of braided line, the knot never comes into play, so “Knot” to worry. Also, the 250-pound braided line diameter is wide enough so that if a kingfish line comes in contact with our downrigger cable, it won’t cut the fishing line and lose a potential winning fish. More importantly, the braided fishing line does not hum like a braided wire cable will. The business end of the braided line is tied to a standard Cannon downrigger weight swivel. We also use ten-pound Cannon round downrigger weights when fishing in deep kingfish waters. We have also found that a water depth of 40 feet is very productive for big kingfish. Our drop back distances from the downrigger weights range from 30 to 50 feet and we normally rig ribbonfish, menhaden, or blue runners to our deep, downrigger rods.”
The McMullans also use Black’s downrigger releases, which are attached directly to the downrigger weight. This is a tension type release clip where king mackerel fishermen can manually adjust the amount of tension for the tension style release. The model number is #RC95.
For terminal downrigger kingfish tackle, the McMullans use Star kingfish rods and Shimano Speedmaster reels. Their kingfish reels are filled with 20-pound Yozuri monofilament fishing line and a ten-foot section of 20-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader is tied to the tag end of the terminal fishing line. Black Eagle Claw, #4, 4X treble hooks and Terminator kingfish #3, #4 and #5 wires are used to make up their kingfish leaders, which completes the McMullans’ deadly downrigger king mackerel setup.
During the 2007 SKA National Championship, downriggers also played a very important role in winning the tournament for their competitors.
Richard Stone of Jacksonville, Florida and his Woodsman fishing team used unique downrigger tactics to win the coveted SKA National Championship title, which was also hosted in Biloxi, Mississippi.
“We established a downrigger pattern that included trolling a current edge, next to an oilrig,” Stone said. “We set both Penn manual downrigger depths at 20 feet of water, while trolling C&H artificial ribbonfish with 30 and 50 foot drop back distances. We also trolled a large, live blue runner right over the top of each of the C&H artificial ribbonfish, which helped attract kingfish from down deep to the C&H Ribbonfish. Another factor in our downrigger kingfish tactic was trolling down current. Once we made a pass, trolling with the current, we would run back to the up current side of the oilrig and begin our downrigger kingfish tactics once more.”
“Clayton Kirby had previously shared with us the location of the oilrig and the big kings,” Stone said. “However we had to establish a kingfish pattern to catch them, which including trolling a current edge 20 feet deep with C&H artificial ribbonfish.”
Team Woodsman went on to win the 2007 Southern Kingfish Association’s National Championship while targeting tournament-winning kingfish down deep.
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