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The Spring of '97 will be remembered as the "good old days" by some angler in the future when a kingfish run falls short of expectations. This year's run of king mackerel is reminiscent of the '60s and '70s before the advent of the large roller net operations that all but decimated the fishery.

Last week I had the opportunity to introduce John and Sue Olsen; their son Ben, who was celebrating his 13th birthday; and Libby Coen from Wisconsin to kingfishing at its finest. Fishing the Betty Rose, they caught their limit of kings and lost a half-dozen to hungry barracuda that seized the opportunity to remove everything but the kingfish lips from our hooks on several occasions.

Most of the fish were caught trolling spoons and plugs behind No. 2 and No. 3 planers, with the larger fish hitting a large, locally-manufactured gold spoon. Because of the extremely clear water, we found it necessary to lengthen our leaders from the customary 20-25 feet to 30-35 feet. The long leaders are an annoyance when the planers are reeled in, but the aggravation is worth the increased action.

Kingfish are excellent table fare, but also are very delicate and must be well-iced as soon as they are caught. They turn out well when baked, broiled, fried and smoked. They are much better if utilized fresh. Smoked kingfish freezes well and serves as a delicious snack when taken out of the freezer and thawed in a microwave.

_ Dave Zalewski charters the Lucky Too out of Madeira Beach. Call (813) 397-8815.