We traditionally look at two holidays to signal the start of trolling season for kingfish and Spanish mackerel along with their attendant migratory companions, blackfin tuna, cobia and barracuda. These are St. Patrickís Day (March 17) and Columbus Day (Oct. 10). Part of the reasoning is the Gulf water temperatures at these times are the magical 72 to 76 degrees, the most comfortable for baitfish and their predators on their south to north migration in the spring and north to south trek in the fall. This year February, with its record-setting high temperatures, saw an early arrival of Spanish mackerel and kingfish which could be found in all the usual spots. Mackerel at the Skyway fishing piers, near the mouths of every entrance to the gulf and on the nearshore artificial reefs. Kingfish were caught all along the shipping channel, the midwater reefs and the wrecks from 40 to 70 feet. We were braced for an extended run of kingfish, which was somewhat halted by the yo-yo effect of cold, windy days. Dirty water caused by stirred up silt forced us west to find cleaner water in 40- to 50-foot depths. Careful attention to the depth finder would show schools of bait in these depths and deploying Nos. 2 and 3 planers with large spoons trolled at 6 knots would soon reveal if kingfish were nearby. If strikes occur, either continue trolling with the hardware or use sabiki rigs to obtain live bait and slow troll them with stinger rigs sized to the length of baitfish on site. The closed seasons and increase of size and bag limits has resulted in a large increase in gray triggerfish. They now have to be 15 inches fork length and have a bag limit of 1 per.
Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (727) 397-8815.