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Wanted: one king mackerel (large)

A commercial grouper fisherman had spotted schools of silvery fish jumping about 35 miles offshore. "That's all I needed to hear," Capt. Ed Walker confessed. "The water temperature felt right, the bait was out there. I wanted to get one before the crowds showed up."

The object of Walker's quest was a member of the tuna family, Scomberomorus cavalla, commonly known as the king mackerel. But he didn't seek just any king, he wanted a trophy fish, a "smoker," like the 60-pound monsters they once caught off the Indian Rocks Pier.

He knew anglers had been catching scattered kings over the past few weeks. But The Great Fall Migration, heralded by the arrival of those solitary kingfish that'll "smoke" the gears on a fishing reel, had yet to begin.

And when it did, Walker wanted to land the first one.

So last week, the 24-year-old fishing guide and high school buddy Mike Moore loaded up Walker's flats boat and headed out to the Clearwater Reef, three miles off Clearwater Beach.

"We were trolling live greenbacks as slow as the boat could go," Walker said. "We had been catching plenty of (Spanish) mackerel, then all of the sudden everything got real quiet on the reef. I guess that's when he arrived."

The anglers checked on the status of the 7-inch minnows to make sure they weren't trolling just heads. They greenbacks looked fine. Then it hit.

"The thing launched on his bait and came out of the water," Walker said. "Then it ran straight for the boat. All I could see was a little spark on the water from the slack line."

The kingfish pulled about 200 yards of line from the reel and Walker gave chase in the flats boat. By then the wind and waves had picked up.

"I had this huge kingfish on and I was having a tough time just keeping my balance," said Moore, who spends more time skimboarding than fishing.

But the 15-pound test held, and after 25 minutes the fish tired. Walker gaffed it as it passed under the boat. On board, the kingfish measured 64 inches. Official weight at the dock was 43{ pounds.

"By now, from what I hear around town, the weight is up to 50 pounds," Walker said.

A fish that long should have weighed more, Walker said. "I think that's a sign that he is a fresh arrival," he said. "He's been swimming and hasn't had time to eat much."

Walker credits Moore's success to the "stinger rig" they were both using. It consisted of 1{-feet of 45-pound test piano wire attached to a 2/0 short-shank live bait hook. Rigged to the eye of the hook was an additional 5 inches of wire that trailed the "stinger," a treble hook.

Moore knew the fish was big, but he didn't think it was that big.

"That's about the biggest fish I ever caught, definitely the biggest king I ever saw" said Moore. "I was one happy person."

Free guide service: If you're getting ready for an out-of-town fishing trip, and you're having trouble finding a guide, there's help for you.

The new Fish Florida Guide Referral Service offers help in finding United States Coast Guard licensed captains for freshwater, saltwater, backcountry, offshore, light tackle and fly fishing.

The Largo-based guide service, operated by local angler Jennifer Staley, is offered at no charge to the angler. For more information call 1-800-741-5873.

Canoe Trail Opens: The 4-mile canoe trail at Weedon Island State Preserve opens Saturday.

"This has been a long time coming," said Lt. Keith Thompson, the Preserve's manager. "I attribute the completion of the trail to the volunteers. It shows the support the preserve has by the Tampa Bay community."

Muzzleloading Season: Muzzleloading season runs today through Sunday in the state's Central Wildlife Management Zone. State regulations require that hunters wishing to hunt during this special season must purchase a $5 Muzzleloading Gun Stamp in addition to their regular hunting license.

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