« Return to About King Mackerel
Surfside King Fishing
Spawning king mackerel often move into the shallow surf during the heat of summer, frequently smoking a kingfish reel!
It was one of those cloudy summer mornings as a front from the northeast was approaching the shallow surf where king mackerel boats tried desperately to secure live baits.
The cloud cover had scattered schools of menhaden, frustrating cast netters to a point where they were tossing their heavy nets randomly.
A few of the sport fishing boats simply gave up on securing a well full of livies and soon anchored in close to the surf and over a live bottom. Barbed hooks were quickly sent down to the bottom where a variety of beach species began to attack their baited hooks.
Mike Gunter took the honors of barbing a live yellow mouth trout and casting it towards the shallow side of the surf where a large float held the live bait right on the surface. Literally seconds later a massive king mackerel struck the live trout and Gunter was soon in for the fight of his life!
Obviously when a big mackerel takes a live bait in the shallow surf, there is nowhere to go deep, so line blistering runs are frequently experienced. Thus the name "Smoker" was more than likely given to fast running king mackerel that were hooked in shallow water.
After several blistering runs, where Gunter thought his hooked king mackerel would surely empty his 20-pound fishing line from his kingfish reel, first mate Doug Gies stuck the 40-pound kingfish with the "Miss Val's" long kingfish gaff.
Ironically the "Miss Val" charter boat had been guiding from the Fernandina Harbor Marina for the entire kingfish season to many of the offshore kingfish drops and had not landed many king mackerel weighing over the 30-pound mark. After one fishing trip to the shallow surf, Captain Benny Hendrix had landed his largest kingfish of the season.
However, the key to success while fishing in close to the beaches and surf is water temperature. When the water temperature is in the low eighties, the king fishing in close to surf and shallows can be hotter than a Fourth of July firecracker.
More importantly, this hot king fishing action can last right through the fall fishing season and as long as the water temperature remains in the mid seventies and warmer. So where do Southern Kingfish Association kingfish teams begin their search for tournament-winning king mackerel? The answer is close to the beaches and surf when the conditions are perfect for shallow water king fishing.
A frequent mystery with beach king fishing comes where king mackerel will often migrate offshore and then without notice, migrate back to the surf. With this in mind, king mackerel fishermen may spend several hours fishing in the shallows without any success. Waiting for that one big bite that may never come. On the other side of the coin, the bite could happen any minute as kingfish migrate from nearby deep-water fish havens in close to the surf and beaches.
During the recently held BellSouth Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament, SKA competitive team Bear Caught barbed the largest king mackerel during the first day of the event. It weighed an impressive 46-pounds.
Bear Croft, captain of the Yellowfin tournament boat, had captained his tournament team to the big fish while live bait trolling in some 70 feet of water offshore of the Nassau Sound.
During the final day of the event, Bear Croft decided to fish in close to the surf at Nassau Sound, where he predicted there may be a better chance in weighing in a 30-pound king mackerel, or larger. Which if his big kingfish was bested, their Bear Caught fishing team would have a good chance at becoming a first place winner in the aggregate division.
Slow trolling a combination of large menhaden and ribbonfish in close to the beaches produced the skilled king mackerel team a nice 32-pound kingfish and a two-day aggregate weight of over 78 pounds. However even though their team had won aggregate honors, they took second place in the big fish category, which paid more money.
Jacksonville's Butch Garvin is also a consistent winner when king mackerel fishing tournaments are held along the "First Coast." Garvin has a unique fishing tactic for beach kings when they are in the shallows and that is a fast trolling speed while pulling ribbonfish.
"Fishing the beaches is hit or miss," Butch Garvin said. "But when you hook up, they normally run big. The size that we look for to win a kingfish tournament!"
The Early Times fishing team normally trolls their ribbonfish fairly fast with a trolling speed running from 2.5 to 3.5 miles per hour. Normally live bait trollers will troll from 1.5 to 2 miles per hour.
This style of high speed trolling allows beach fishermen to cover a lot of water, almost twice the amount of water as they would while slow trolling live baits.
Rigging ribbonfish properly is also a very important step in trolling ribbonfish at faster trolling speeds. A "Hook-Up" led head jig, in the one-ounce size, is normally hooked through the bottom of the mouth and up through the top of the head of the ribbonfish. A three-foot section of number four Malin wire is used as a leader and attached to the terminal fishing line with a 30-pound black barrel swivel. This allows the ribbonfish to swim straight with a slight swimming action. Several silver, number 4-4X treble hooks are then rigged right down the side of the ribbonfish using number-five Malin wire. The treble hooks are attached to the side of the ribbonfish by barbing two of the hooks into the side of the fish, allowing the remaining treble hook to be exposed.
Troll them way back!!
While trolling in shallow water, water depths from 25 to 30 feet, free line your barbed ribbonfish at least eight feet behind your kingfish boat before placing your kingfish reel in gear and placing your rod in the rod holder.
A successful trolling spread includes one ribbonfish set at a depth of 15 feet with a downrigger and a second downrigger ribbonfish set at five feet. Two ribbonfish are then set in the T-Top "Shotgun" rod holders with set back distances of 80 and 100 feet. Finally, a fifth ribbonfish is trolled right in the wheel wash at only five to ten feet behind the transom.
Watch your speed!
Keep a constant watch at your boat's trolling speed by monitoring your GPS. A good speed for trolling ribbonfish is 2.5 to 3.5 miles per hour.
This fast trolling speed is often too fast for trolling live baits, unless you are trolling large mullet or menhaden.
Most beach fishermen have learned by weeding out the small menhaden from their cast-net and filling their live well with "Turbo" pogies they can troll lives fairly fast along with their ribbonfish.
Be sure and use a single number one live bait hook when rigging large livies, while hooking the live bait through the mouth and the top of the head. Allow the number 4-4X stinger hook to swing free alongside the tail of the live bait.
Let them run!
When a beach king takes a ribbonfish or a livie, make sure that your reel's drag is set on the light side. Allow the king to make a long run, then chase him down with your boat. After a few long runs, the hooked king will begin to tire and gaffing them with a ten-foot kingfish gaff secures your catch easily.
Finally keep an ear open to the VHF radio and listen to hear where the latest kingfish action is happening long the surf. There is a lot of beach and time should not be wasted.