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Know how to make the most of that kingfish spot

Real estate agents know that although "location, location, location" might be the general rule, it's not the only rule. Owning a great piece of land won't matter much if you don't know what to do with it.

The same is true for kingfish trolling. Once you identify a productive spot, how you work it will determine if the property's value appreciates or depreciates.

The basics

Kingfish are generally structure-oriented predators that frequent wrecks, reefs (natural and artificial), ledges and rock piles. Attractive spots, but it's not the scenery they seek. Kings want food, and such sites harbor loads of forage fish including sardines, threadfin herring, blue runners and cigar minnows.

Slow-trolling such baits across promising structures brings out the spot's potential by making your quarry's preferred meals available and vulnerable.

Why slow-trolling? Unlike anchoring, which limits you to one area and depends on fish coming to baits, slow-trolling covers more area and takes baits to the fish.

The key is presenting baits naturally. You want them swimming, not dragging, so run the boat at its lowest speed possible. Boats with multiple outboard engines will run only one motor, but keep the other(s) down for maximum water resistance.

If you get pushed along too quickly by wind and/or current, deploy sea anchors, which create additional drag to slow the boat. For a homemade remedy, drill ventilation holes in the bottoms of two 5-gallon buckets and tow one off either side of the boat, amidships.

Of course, there is such a thing as going too slowly. If you notice baits swimming past the side of the boat, or crossing lines, speed up — by advancing the throttle or retrieving sea anchors (or buckets).

The presentation

Live bait slow-trolling spreads can vary greatly based on conditions and personal preference. Intrinsic to this game is covering the water column, so combine surface baits (flat lines), with downriggers to offer baits at multiple levels. If a certain position consistently produces, shift another line or two to the hot zone.

A basic spread consists of two flat lines staggered at about 50 and 75 feet, a long "shotgun" line of 100 feet or more and two downriggers. With the latter, set one bait at mid-depth and another near the bottom.

A live bait is best for the deepest downrigger because dead offerings such as ribbonfish will often snag in bottom structure. Live baits will swim up and remain clear of snags.

Conversely, a dead bait works better on the shallower downrigger because live ones like to swim topside, where they'll tangle with flat lines.

Boat traffic on a popular spot might require altering the trolling pattern to avoid tangling lines with other vessels. Shortening lines helps. In rough conditions, scaling down to three or four lines further simplifies the operation.


Follow-up: Mark the site of each strike on a GPS and return for targeted presentations. Kingfish are site-specific, so retracing a course can lead to multiple strikes.

Bait up: Keep a gold-hook ("sabiki") rig handy and use it during trolling. Because you will target the kind of structure that holds baitfish, you might as well keep up a constant effort to renew your supply.

This strategy ensures authenticity by capturing and enlisting indigenous forage. Trolling baits that kings naturally see in a given area fulfills the universal angling axiom of "match the hatch." Moreover, struggles attract attention, so reeling up snared baitfish will often bring kingfish in for a closer look.

Dental protection: Troll live baits on wire "stinger rigs," which have a single lead hook and a treble hook dangling from a 4-inch piece of wire attached to the eye of the lead. Kingfish use their sharp teeth to nip baits in half, but the stinger rig grabs them from either end, while the wire prevents bite-offs.

Chumming: From chopping fresh baitfish into fingernail-sized chunks to dripping concentrated menhaden oil onto the surface, giving fish a trail of scent and appetizing nuggets will lead them to rigged baits.

For simple yet effective chumming, hang a frozen chum block in a mesh bag from a gunwale cleat. Wave action melts the block and disperses its ground fish and oil content.

Use these tactics to maximize a kingfish location and you can expect a symphony of screaming reel.

Know how to make the most of that kingfish spot 04/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 12:57pm]
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