Four anglers, each fighting a kingfish, crowded the tiny skiff.
Their boat drifted aimlessly among the chum slicks and trolling lines of a dozen other fishing parties.
"That's real smart," first mate Darin McCarty quipped as he watched from another boat. "Who's going to gaff the fish?"
Twenty minutes went by and none of the anglers was close to landing a king. They had gotten a little greedy.
Successful king fishermen usually work in teams. When a smoker hits, the other anglers reel in the remaining lines, then get down to the business of chasing the fish.
McCarty usually works with the angler and keeps the skipper abreast of what direction the fish is running. When the king finally is spent, he picks up the gaff.
It's no easy task gaffing a moving king. You don't always connect the first time.
"A swing and miss," the captain might yell, like that annoying fan behind the screen at home plate who doesn't know when to shut up.
But the second swing is no strike. McCarty makes contact and the king hits the deck. Teamwork is the name of the game.
_ TERRY TOMALIN
Spring Kings Tournament Time
April 4-6: Sarasota Suncoast Kingfish Classic, call 363-0071.
April 6 through May: Sunday King Fish Special, Tierra Verde, call 866-2115.
April 12-13: Tarpon Springs Suncoast Kingfish Classic, call 938-3771.
April 18-20: Treasure Island Suncoast Kingfish Classic, 363-0071.
April 19: Clearwater Rotary Kingfish Tournament, call 584-4656.
April 25-27: Tierra Verde Spring '97 Kingfish Tournament, call 399-2052.
In Search of spring kings
The kingfish migration is six weeks early. This time last year, the fish were still south of Naples. But unseasonably warm water has lured them north. So look for kingfish to be plentiful from now through the end of April, as long as Gulf temperatures remain below 80 degrees. Some hot spots:
1) Tarpon Springs Hard Bottom: This spot holds bait. Tournament anglers often overlook this area. Loran : 28.08.25', 82.25.85'.
2) Dunedin Reef: The reef itself holds both kingfish and bait. A 32-pounder was caught here during a 1996 fall tournament. Loran : 28.03.20', 82.54.55'.
3) Mandalay Hard Bottom: Northwest of Pier 60 in 18 to 20 feet of water. Loran : 27.59.40', 82.52.25'.
4) Clearwater Hard Bottom: A well-known charter boat destination, run 4.6 nautical miles from the tripod at Clearwater Pass on a 270 degree heading. Look for boats.
5) Sand Key Hard Bottom: Southwest of Clearwater Pass in 18 to 25 feet of water. This spot produces big kings, but it is heavily fished. Loran : 27.58.55', 82.54.00'.
6) Old Indian Rocks Pier: Live bottom can be found a quarter mile offshore, that's why it used to be such a great fishing pier. The pier is gone, but the fish are still here.
7) Indian Shores Reef: Nice fish in the mid 30-pound range came off this spot last spring. Loran : 27.51.40', 83.01.80'.
8) Rube Allyn Reef: Numerous 30-pounders have been caught here in recent seasons. Loran : 27.55.19', 83.01.58'.
9) Redington Hard Bottom: An angler in last fall's Kingfish Classic hooked the winning fish, a 38-pound smoker, a half mile northwest of the Redington Long Pier.
10) Betty Rose (also known as the Mecca or Permit Barge): This wreck always holds fish. It's the first to get 'em and last to lose 'em. Loran: 27.42.62', 82.58.33'.
11) Blind Pass: Both the south side and north side (The Drop) of the pass produce fish. In a tournament last fall, when the wind blew 35-miles an hour out of the east, all but one of the placing fish were caught here.
12) Egmont Shipping Channel: Largest kingfish ever caught in a west coast tournament, a 51-pound behemoth, was caught here in the spring of '95.
13) Egmont Shipping Channel Markers 5 and 6: It is hot and cold but big fish come from this spot. Channel markers always hold good bait.
14) Shrimp Barge (also known as Doc's or Chemical Barge): A well-known scuba site, get there early or the divers will ruin your fishing. Be prepared for big cobia. Loran : 27.30.37', 82.59.22'.
Know your limits: King mackerel must have a 20" fork length. The daily recreational bag limit is two fish per angler.
Source: Capt. Larry Hoffman