Migrating king mackerel have a tendency of making quick stops at baitfish haunts where fast food service is “King”.
The 20th Anniversary SKA National Championship was held from Fort Pierce where within a few miles from shore, shallow water depths drop rapidly into the deep blue waters of the Gulf Stream. A variety of live bottom areas hold schooling baitfish including blue runners, goggle eyes, ribbonfish, glass minnows, and mullet among others. Some of these live bottom areas typically hold a variety of bait fishes where migrating king mackerel frequent for brief periods while quickly filling their relatively small stomachs.
Many of these baitfish haunts resemble fast food restaurants where, during certain times of the day, kingfish are found schooling up for an easy meal. While other times the old saying, “You should have been here yesterday” is often repeated over and over again by luckless fishermen. However, if you happen to be king fishing at one of these king mackerel fast food live bottoms at the right time, king mackerel fishing just doesn’t get any better!
“We have goggle eyes and blue runners in water depths from twenty to over a hundred feet,” Fort Pierce’s Captain Charlie Stuve said. “One of my favorite live bottom areas for Southeast Atlantic king mackerel is an area just a few miles south of St. Lucy inlet called Peck’s Lake. Prior to the SKA National Championship, I had received information from a fellow commercial Spanish mackerel fisherman that the big kings were literally slamming the Spanish at Peck’s Lake. During pre-fishing at Peck’s Lake live bottom the hot tip was confirmed where we found the kingfish bite was hot and heavy.”
“James Gilchrist and our SKA kingfish team had made plans to kingfish at Peck’s Lake during the tournament; but were also skeptical that the kings would migrate from the area before, or during the fishing tournament. This area has a history of holding kingfish for a day or two, then they migrate to another concentration of baitfish.”
During the SKA National Championship, Captain Charlie Stuve was unable to compete in the event because of a boating problem. However I am sure with his local knowledge on baitfish habitats and kingfish migrations, team Yippee-Ki-Yea would have placed well in the national fishing tournament.
The Apopka, Florida team All In, captained by Terry McCray and team members Ryan Johnson and Matt Webb, had a good hunch that the tournament could be won at Peck’s Lake. During the one day event All In took that big chance of going home empty handed, or having a good chance of winning all the marbles at the SKA National Championship.
“We knew first hand that Peck’s Lake was targeted by commercial Spanish mackerel fishermen and had an excellent history for producing big tournament winning king mackerel,” Terry McCray said. “There were plenty of glass minnows and Spanish mackerel working the waters during the day of the tournament, both signs were excellent indicators that giant king mackerel had to be close at hand as well.”
Also fishing aboard team All In were fellow king mackerel team members Ryan Johnson and Matt Webb also from Apopka.
“It was rough king mackerel fishing at its best,” Terry McCray said. “The water clarity at Peck’s Lake was also discolored because of the twenty to thirty mile-per-hour winds, but at the same time, baitfish and Spanish mackerel were present and good signs that kings were here as well. We kept a close eye on our Raymarine fish finder while increasing the sensitivity just high enough to mark the baitfish and not the weeds and trash that was plentiful down through the water column.”
Team All In hit the jackpot of all king mackerel tournaments when they landed a 32.16-lb king mackerel that slammed a live blue runner trolled some twenty-five feet behind the prop wash during mid morning. At 2:15, a 37.59-lb. king mackerel ate a medium size ribbonfish trolled from their downrigger just off the bottom .
“We had two kingfish bites all day,” Terry McCray said. “But they were the right bites!”
All In’s two kingfish aggregate weight of 69.75-lbs. was good enough to top all competitors in the SKA Open Division.
During the SKA Pro tournament, November 2-3, 2010, team Skin Deep also keyed in to a major baitfish migration when taking home the coveted Angler of the Year trophy.
The Delray Beach, Florida team Skin Deep, captained by Captain Jamie Ralph, led his team to a respectable 34.61-lb. king mackerel during the first day of the event. However during the final day, water temperatures at Canaveral’s 8A reef had fallen over a degree, water clarity was poor, and the kingfish bite was off.
“It was 11:00 in the morning and we had to make a critical decision to make that eighty-mile run back south to an area where we thought the water temperature would be warmer and clean as well,” Capt. Jamie Ralph said. “We reeled in our kite lines and kingfish tackle and headed south!”
Team Skin Deep made the run to just south of the Boils and in close to the beaches where a major black mullet run was taking place.
“Kingfish were sky rocketing everywhere, water clarity was excellent and when I tossed my cast net over a school of black mullet, I captured a variety of baitfish including large black mullet,” Capt. Jamie Ralph said.
“However, when we began kite fishing with our largest live mullet, those big kings would sky rocket on the live barbed live mullet chomping all the way to the fluorocarbon shock leader. After losing a pair of tournament grade kingfish, I knew we had to make a terminal kingfish leader change. I lengthened the five-foot sections of forty-pound titanium wire to twelve-foot sections.”
The rigging change made a huge difference; soon Skin Deep had a 40.57-lb smoker ripping out kingfish line against a light drag. Minutes later the exhausted smoker was gaffed and placed in their tournament fish bag. Skin Deep’s two-day aggregate weight topped the scales at 75.18-lbs winning the coveted SKA Angler of the Year title!
Many of the SKA kingfish teams complained about huge, kingfish-sized ribbonfish chasing down their flat line live baits and cutting them into pieces. And at times, huge ribbonfish would actually sky rocket on barbed blue runners and goggle eyes. Team All In also reported giant ribbonfish eating their downrigger ribbonfish and live baits as well.
Dr. Sammy Perkins of Fernandina Beach Florida captained his 31-foot Cape Horn, Long Shot into third place in the Open Division while targeting the huge schools of black mullet that were migrating along the beaches.
“It was very rough with winds blowing from the northwest at twenty to thirty miles-per-hour,” Dr. Perkins said. “A major migration of black mullet was taking place along the beaches where it was still rough but fishable. We fished some fourteen miles south of Fort Pierce where we king fished close to the huge schools of black mullet. At 10:30 that morning we had landed a pair of 26-lb king mackerel. At high noon we hooked a much larger kingfish that managed to shake our kingfish hooks loose right at the boat. We later moved out into forty feet of water and cut our trolling spread down to four rods as it was simply too rough to fish the maximum six kingfish lines.”
“We found one school of mullet that was under attack by kingfish, where kings frequently sky rocketed high into the windy weather while chasing airborne mullet. Just after taking a huge wave over the bow of our 31-foot Cape Horn kingfish boat, our largest kingfish hit a live mullet that we had cast netted earlier that morning. The first run almost spooled our kingfish reel where it became extremely difficult to fight the hooked king mackerel in the rough seas. Fortunately we were able to gaff our largest king that eventually tipped the SKA scales at 36.77-lbs.”
What confuses even the skilled and seasoned kingfish team? Locating kingfish migrations when they aren’t feeding at fast food structures. But the Reel Thrill/Team Bone Suckin’ Sauce figured it out.
“We had a hot tip from Native Premonition’s Leon Wilcox, that a good kingfish bite was taking place at the House of Refuge,” Vaughn Ford said. “During pre-fishing our team caught a 35-pound kingfish, marked the spot with our GPS, and returned during the same spot during the tournament day.”
House of Refuge is located just a few miles north of Jensen Beach and right on the beach with water depths of only twenty-three feet.
“We never marked any bait and there wasn’t much of a bottom,” Vaughn Ford said. “However, the kingfish were holding on that one spot that we had marked and by 9:30 that morning, we had eight kingfish hookups. Our largest kingfish weighed 37.06-lbs that took a ribbonfish flat lined way back in the shallow water. We also had kingfish hookups while flat lining goggle eyes and blue runners too.”
Reel Thrill/Team Bone Suckin’ Sauce captured the SKA Class of 23 Championship title with an aggregate weight of 68.79-lbs. Ironically, during the 2009 SKA Nationals, Reel Thrill broke down and was unable to compete. Vaughn Ford, wife Kim, son Graeson and teammates Ryan Brazil and Dereck Ennis fish aboard a 23-foot Onslow Bay powered by twin Mercury 300hp Verado outboards. They also operate a family business in Raleigh, NC manufacturing a delicious barbecue sauce, properly named, Bone Suckin’ Sauce.
While most successful SKA teams target live bottoms where baitfish schools are numerous, don’t overlook areas of the beaches where kingfish have been known to frequent, or offshore sand bottoms too.
Angler magazine, January 2011
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