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Lightning Strikes Twice
Kingfish strike as fast as a bolt of lightning when it comes time to feed!
It was the end of a fairly good day of king mackerel fishing as I reached into my boat's live well and attempted to capture one of five Spanish sardines that were lucky enough to have not been fished with earlier. I also made the mistake of not using the bait-net, which made capturing one of these speedy swimmers almost impossible.
As I chased the live minnows around and around in the live well, I soon began to wonder if I couldn't catch one in these close quarters, how does a king mackerel capture one of these speedsters in open water?
Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a twelve-pound kingfish chase a speedy Spanish sardine right out of the water. The minnow was only inches from death as the king bared its razor sharp teeth in mid-air. When both baitfish and predator returned to the ocean, we all expected for the kingfish reel to whine like a hungry baby. But there was dead silence for a long fifteen seconds.
They say that lightning doesn't ever strike the same object more than once, but that afternoon a lightning fast kingfish did strike twice and the same baitfish!
Seconds later that same large Spanish sardine came rocketing out of the water with the same kingfish right on its tail. This time lightning struck in mid-air and chopped the minnow into several small pieces, resulting in the flat line kingfish reel screaming like a baby!
The fight was almost as spectacular as the strike, but not quite. In fact during the ride back to the marina, we all talked about that lightning fast kingfish strike. After all it was the month of July when fireworks go off almost on a daily basis!
During a past Bell South Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament, several kingfish boats were anchored and trolling at the tip of the St. Mary's inlet when a big school of kingfish moved in to feed on the greenies that were schooling close to the rocks. I can remember to this day how exciting it was to watch 20- to 40-pound kingfish rocketing out of the water like missiles. I really did not think that greenies could jump that high either, but I guess when your life is at stake, you would jump high too!
The fireworks only lasted for a short minute, but in that time period every kingfish boat was hooked up with a nice-sized king mackerel. This is also typical of inlet fishing while waiting long periods of time between kingfish strikes. But the wait is often well worth the time and the strikes and the fish are often well worth the wait.
Kingfish strike like a bolt of lightning and are super quick when it comes time to capture even a speedy Spanish sardine, greenback, or any live bait. I believe what most king mackerel fishermen try to accomplish during their day of king mackerel fishing is to entice the feeding habits of king mackerel by fishing with fresh, speedy bait-fish and to also make it a little easier for kingfish to chase down their barbed live baits.
You can super-charge you live baits by treating them chemically when you first put them in your live bait well. There are several products on the market today that not only prolong the life of baitfish, but also super-charge them to swim much faster when live bait trolled.
First fill up your bait well with clean ocean water and add the recommended amount of chemicals. I personally use a product called "Bait Fresh" that I have had good success with. Next I will place the live baits into the well, followed with a couple of handfuls of ice. I will also turn on the re-circulator pump and oxygen system. During the day I will periodically add a couple of handfuls of ice to the bait well.
If I am using menhaden, I will first fill the live bait well with fresh, clean ocean water and keep the live well pump running. After placing the menhaden into the live bait well, I will wait until they have completely cleaned out their system before turning on the re-circulator pump and oxygen system. The correct amount of "Bait Fresh" is then added, along with a couple of handfuls of ice.
Lighten up your terminal kingfish tackle!
To keep a live bait frisky in your slow trolling spread, fishermen will need to lighten up on their terminal kingfish tackle, including leaders, hooks, swivels and fishing lines. Heavy fishing tackle not only tends to wear live bait down in a hurry, but also puts additional weight onto the live bait that restricts it's swimming ability.
A good rule of thumb for choosing your terminal kingfish tackle depends on the size of your live baits. Some 15- to 20-pound test terminal fishing line works just fine when slow trolling medium size kingfish baits including menhaden, threadfin shad and Spanish sardines. A four-foot section of 20-pound fluorocarbon shock leader is employed with a three-foot section of 31-pound single strand wire. A number two live bait hook is then haywire wrapped to the tag end of the wire shock leader. Finally a short section of 41-pound single strand wire is then haywire wrapped to the eye of the nose hook and a number six 4-X treble hook is haywire wrapped to the tag end of the stinger wire.
The length of the stinger hook is adjusted so that the hook lies just ahead of the tail of the live bait.
This is an excellent setup for using small to medium size kingfish baits and also promotes live baits in your trolling spread to swim with vinegar. An excellent tip here is to barb the nose hook right through both nostrils of the live bait. If you run the nose hook from the bottom of the mouth and out through the top of the head of the baitfish, you will restrict the flow of water through the gills of the live bait. I also recommend allowing the stinger hook to swing free in front of the tail of the live bait. Barbing the stinger hook into the live bait will also restrict the natural swimming action of the live baitfish.
Obviously if you are fishing with larger baits including blue runners and mullet, you will need to upsize your terminal kingfish tackle to 25- to 30-pound test, wire leaders to 40-to 50-pound test and your terminal kingfish hooks to 4 & 2-4x hooks.
Swap out your live baits frequently!
I think a major problem with attempting to attract one of those sky rocketing kingfish strikes is slow trolling your live baits for extended periods of time. Once the live baits have been in your trolling spread for more than 15 minutes, they will often become too tired to dart and swim with enough energy to attract a nearby kingfish bite.
One technique in avoiding this common problem is to watch your rod tips. If the rod tips are twitching and pulsating, your live baits are normally okay. You can also physically watch your live baits swimming on the surface and make sure that they are swimming with lots of energy.
If there are any doubts, reel in your live baits and change them for fresh ones.
Another kingfish tactic that has been used for many kingfish seasons now to attract a speedy kingfish bite is to simply reel in one of your flat line kingfish baits and then slowly feed the live bait back into your bait trolling spread. As the live bait drifts back behind your slow trolling boat, it will begin to swim more freely without the extra weight and more than likely become too tempting for nearby kingfish.
King mackerel fishermen can also take their fishing line in hand and give it a sudden jerk with flat line live baits, then allow the live bait to drift back a foot or so. This change in swimming pattern is also tempting for nearby mackerel.
Live bait chum!
Live bait chumming is also a surefire fishing technique that has been successfully used throughout the southeast for attracting aggressive kingfish strikes.
Live bait chummers often fill up a spare live bait well with live baits and when king mackerel trolling is begun, toss out a handful of livies into their trolling pattern when the timing is right. Live baits should be tossed out into the trolling spread when you are slow trolling over a kingfish structure, or when you are marking kingfish with your recorder.
King fishermen have also had excellent success slamming live bait against the transom of their fishing boat. The stunned live bait begins to drift behind the boat in an erratic swimming pattern that is just too tempting for nearby king mackerel!
Finally the success to every successful king mackerel fisherman is to employ fishing techniques that tempt speedy strikes from high leaping kingfish.