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Favorite Kingfish Baits

Terry Lacoss


Successful king mackerel fishermen have the option of presenting a variety of both live and dead baits to a school of king mackerel. While a variety of fishing conditions may help your kingfish team make the proper choice.

The average king mackerel fisherman follows a day to day trend of targeting king mackerel with the same fishing techniques. In other words, what worked yesterday will surely work today and without question. While in the back of their minds, where days of experience on the water targeting the speedy king mackerel are stored, they often employ the same old king fishing tactics.

Then there are a select group of king mackerel fishermen that are constantly searching for new lures and baits to catch more and larger tournament winning king mackerel. During their day of king mackerel fishing, their minds are always working to formulate a better way to catch king mackerel, even when they have employed a tempting variety of frisky live baits in their kingfish trolling spread.

While it may be confusing to most fishermen as to which live or dead baits work best for king mackerel, time and experience on the water maybe the only answer.

“I believe the best bait ever for king mackerel in the Florida Keys is a yellowtail snapper,” Captain Robert Trosset said. “For several years we were the only ones that employed this deadly king mackerel tactic, particularly when fishing for a winning Key West tournament kingfish. Here we targeted deep-water ledges where both yellowtail snapper and tournament size kingfish were plentiful. However, in following years, more tournament king mackerel fishermen caught on to this deadly kingfish tactic. Faster kingfish boats were also employed where the larger and faster boats would often reach a targeted deep water ledge first.”

Captain Robert Trosset is a world-renowned deep water and shallow water guide that operates from Key West’s Hurricane Hole Marina. Captain Trosset recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the IGFA Fishing Hall of Fame. Robert Trosset’s charter boat is called the Spindrift and holds 152 IGFA light tackle and fly fishing records!

“I often ask SKA teams which bait they caught their big kingfish with,” SKA managing partner Jack Holmes said. “In most cases, winning SKA teams will often respond with a double pogy rig.”

Certainly during the summer fishing season when king mackerel are migrating up and down the beaches where large schools of menhaden are holding, a double pogy rig fished far back on a flat line and from a t-top rod holder is a deadly kingfish tactic. Double pogy kingfish rigs can also be fished right in the wheel wash where better than average size king mackerel are often attracted to noise and flash of propellers.

King mackerel fishermen began fishing with the double pogy setup when large menhaden were not available. To make the kingfish set up more inviting to tournament grade kingfish, pogies were rigged to wire kingfish leaders, one in front of the other to give the kingfish baits a larger appearance. In some cases, more than two pogies were rigged to the same kingfish leader where three and even four pogies were rigged to series of kingfish hooks and slow trolled nose to tail. This deadly setup was kept top secret for many kingfish seasons and often referred to as the Family Tree. However in later kingfish seasons, this deadly setup was limited to two pogies on a kingfish leader to avoid costly tangles during a day of tournament fishing.

The double pogy kingfish rig can also be used with a variety of both dead and live kingfish baits to give the presentation a tempting challenge for any trophy king mackerel.

During the SKA First Coast King mackerel tournament there wasn’t a single school of menhaden to be found off the beaches of Jacksonville. Our kingfish team opted to jig up Spanish sardines at an offshore structure, then ran some 30 miles offshore to an area off the Georgia coast called the 40-Mile Brunswick Bottom. Instead of using a double pogy setup, we used a double Spanish sardine setup where two large Spanish sardines were slow trolled nose to tail on the same kingfish leader. The result was a 45-pound kingfish that won the event. While this is a prime example how to be very flexible in your personal kingfish tactics, always keep a fresh mind and be versatile in changing how you target king mackerel.

Beach mullet are also deadly kingfish live baits and easily cast netted right from the surf during the summer fishing season and also when the fall run of mullet takes place. Live mullet are often fished deep with downriggers, in the wheel-wash, or on flat lines far back in the kingfish spread. South Florida king mackerel fishermen often split a large mullet, debone it and rig the mullet with a weight just under the mouth. The mullet is then sewed back together with dental floss and, finally, a large 8/0 Mustad hook is rigged just ahead of the tail and in the bottom of the stomach.

The Split Tail mullet is trolled between four and eight knots and has a deadly swimming action when trolled either close to the surface or deep with the aid of a trolling weight. This is a very deadly kingfish tactic when water conditions are clear and when kingfish are scattered over a large live bottom.

Ribbonfish are extremely deadly kingfish baits when rigged with a one-ounce boxer style lead head jig in the mouth and with a series of small treble hooks rigged right down the side of the sword like baitfish. When mackerel fishermen are lucky enough to capture live ribbonfish, this might just be the deadliest of all kingfish baits. Also called cutlass fish, skilled king mackerel fishermen seldom leave home without at least a dozen of these premier kingfish baits.

Like many kingfish baits, ribbonfish can be trolled close the surface or down deep with the aid of downriggers. While many king mackerel fishermen believe that ribbonfish are productive kingfish baits when fished close the beaches and inlet mouths, ribbonfish are also excellent kingfish baits while trolling at deep-water king mackerel structures as well.

Ribbonfish can be purchased at area bait and tackle stores where king mackerel fishing is popular and range in price from $4.00 to $6.00 each. When kingfish season arrives, there is often a scarcity of ribbonfish, so be sure and put your order in ahead of time. Avid SKA kingfish teams my purchase up to 200 frozen ribbonfish at a time to make sure that they are well stocked up for the up coming tournament season!

Fishermen can also catch their own ribbonfish, which is mostly done at night while fishing under a lighted boat dock where a deep channel and plenty of baitfish are present. Two of the more popular locations to catch your own ribbonfish are the deep waters of Florida’s Port Canaveral or the Flagler Beach fishing pier.

Blue runners are extremely deadly kingfish baits when trolled or drifted over kingfish structures. Also called hardtails, blue runners are commonly jigged up while using spinning tackle and employing sizes 12-15 Sabiki bait catcher rigs at deep-water structures, or close to oilrigs. Two-ounce Diamond Jigs are also very effective when deep jigging for hardtails. Particular when the single hook is replaced with a #2 treble hook and tipped with a small piece of shrimp.

Goggleyes are not only premier sailfish live baits, but have proven to be a deadly king mackerel live bait as well. Ironically, sail fishermen will often show their anger when a huge king mackerel intercepts their live goggleye. Today king mackerel fishermen are paying as much as $10.00 each for a live goggleye that may produce a huge payday for their SKA kingfish team!

Tournament king mackerel fishermen tend to purchase live blue runners and goggleyes at popular boat ramps where high dollar kingfish tournaments are taking place. While more and more kingfish teams are learning how to use Diamond Jigs and Sabiki bait catchers at their favorite kingfish structure to secure these expensive live baits.

Other popular baits for king mackerel, which can be fished dead or alive, include Spanish mackerel, threadfin shad, white bait and squid. Key to your kingfish team's success often revolves around one factor, tournament winning king mackerel are presently holding on a particular structure for one reason, there is a readily supply of forage food. Like the old, seasoned king mackerel angler explained, “Match the Hatch.”
Click these links for kingfishing articles by Terry Lacoss




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