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Teamwork is key to kingfishing success

+ Second of three articles on kingfish.

Probably the worst thing a kingfish tournament angler could say is, "I caught a fish."

True, the angler's rod-handling skills play a large role in the accomplishment. But what about the person who wound in all the other lines and cranked up the downriggers so the hot line could run unhindered? Or how about the sharpshooting gaffer who snagged the fish and slung it aboard?

And let's not forget the helmsman, who deftly maneuvered the vessel through a pack of fellow kingfish vessels and dodged crab trap buoys just to keep the angler in the best possible position to work the fish.

This is why most king mackerel tournaments award prizes to the team, not the individual. Sure, winding in 10-pound "schoolies" is a one-person job. But when kings of 30 pounds plus are the target, the synergy of individual skills working toward a collective goal is the deciding factor.

Consider these factors intrinsic to team success:

+ Diversity: Sorry, fellas, the days of fishing being a "guy thing" have long passed. Fact is, tournament teams fishing without a woman are minimizing their chances of placing in the money.

Most tournaments include a ladies division, but standard rules allow a woman's fish to be entered in the overall and ladies competition. Even if the fish doesn't make the cut on the big board, there's still a chance of placing in the ladies division. (Same goes for youth divisions.)

For clarity, this is no token move. History has shown that, generally, female anglers outperform males in the technique category because they're more prone to calm finesse rather than ego-driven power fishing.

We'll not digress into the Mars/Venus thing, but when a big fish is being difficult and time's running out, the women anglers are usually the ones resisting the urge to bully the fish _ a strategy often ending with pulled hooks or a broken line.

+ Mark that spot: Because kingfish often hang around specific bottom structure for feeding, a strike frequently precedes several if you can put the baits back on the hot spot. Removing himself from the emotion of a hookup, the helmsman must instantly log the strike zone on the navigational equipment. Some teams employ a log book in which the helmsman marks pertinent catch factors such as time, tide stage, bait, rod position and depth. Future review often reveals strategic trends.

+ The right ammo: Fly fishermen coined the phrase "match the hatch," meaning fly patterns resembling indigenous insect species are most successful as the fish respond to what they are used to eating.

Experienced teams keep one member jigging with a gold hook rig while slow-trolling to find out what baits are in the area. If you catch a few fresh baits on-site, immediately deploy them in the trolling spread. The next strike is almost invariably on the local bait.

Even is you don't nab new baits, watch for bait schools dimpling and splashing near the surface. Trolling rigged baits on the outskirts of roving schools usually draws strikes as those with hooks resemble weaker, easier targets. Most teams assign a member to do nothing but tend to the baits, monitoring those in the live well and keeping a fresh supply in the spread.

+ Bait deployment: If you're nodding off awaiting a strike, get creative with the presentation. Standard six-line spreads have two deep on downriggers, two surface lines staggered at about 10 and 25 yards, one close in the prop wash, and another "shotgun" bait at least 40 yards back. The latter is a prime spot to place a double or triple bait rig, which gives the appearance of a small cluster of vulnerable baitfish.

When floating grass consistently fouls trolling baits, pull the rods from their holders and let each team member manually tend the tackle. This individual attention will minimize the frustration while allowing quicker strike response.

+ Time management: Tournament weigh-ins close at a specified time and anyone who hasn't reached the check-in point when the buzzer sounds is disqualified. Hence, decisions regarding where to fish, how long to stay and when to move are crucial. Each team member's opinion should count, but, lest indecision foil the effort, a team's captain must have the final say.

The common mistake is "runitus" _ the uncontrollable impulse to run from spot to spot. Sure, moving to find the right conditions is reality. But teams that realize even a great spot has its slow times usually fare well.

So many times, teams bug out just before a tide change or a major feeding period and end up running while the fish are biting. Such mistakes are the deadliest of tournament ills. For even with ideal baits, perfectly prepped tackle and air-tight teamwork, the inescapable truth is you cannot catch a kingfish if you have no bait in the water.

+ Next: Chumming is the scents-ible kingfish catalyst.


The Southern Kingfish Association sanctions regional competition throughout the Southeast, with qualifying for a season-ending tournament of champions held at rotating venues. Locally, Division 6 comprises tournaments in Sarasota, Treasure Island and Tarpon Springs. For information on SKA membership, call (954) 763-4607. For information on the Division 6 (Florida Gulf Coast) competition, call (813) 363-0071.