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August 11, 2010

Chasing Kings

Big king mackerel have big appetites

Soon yellowtails, mackerel and schools of baitfish ranging from ballyhoo to runners take up stations in the slick. At this stage, we simply fun-fish for the snappers (some go on ice for our dinners, and some go into our livewell), Spanish macks and grouper, certain that it's only a matter of time before a big king joins the party. This same tactic can be applied when you're drifting over structure or within a school of Spanish mackerel, or even bonito, when they're schooling over the reefs and structure. Don't ever forget that the largest kings feed on Spanish mackerel and bonito.


The Gear
Since we're at anchor and over hard bottom, line capacity and toughness become issues. Our designated live bait outfits are spooled with either 30-pound or 50-pound braid ending in a Bimini twist and joined to a 20-foot top shot of 30-pound fluorocarbon with a Bristol knot. The fluorocarbon provides a cushion against the no-stretch braid and is less visible. The Penn Torque 100 and 200 reels offer plenty of line capacity, and matched jigging rods lend an ultralight feel yet pack plenty of backbone.

The actual leader is about 2 feet of 38-pound-test single-strand wire attached to the monofilament top shot with a 120-pound-test barrel swivel. Now here's where I depart from the tiny-hooks philosophy. Tiny hooks do catch a lot of fish, but many fish are lost when these diminutive hooks pull out or straighten. Furthermore, small hooks make it tougher to release kings. These hooks often lodge deep in the throat, and the light drag required to prevent pulling or straightening them plays big fish to exhaustion.


I've developed a system in which once a king is hooked, I don't have to worry about pulling or straightening a hook. I can apply enough pressure to end the fight quickly, while the fish is still in good shape. What's more, rarely will the fish be hooked deeply. I use circle hooks for both the lead and the stinger hooks. My lead hook, based on the size of the bait, is either a 7/0 or 8/0, in-line, and my stinger is the same model in a 6/0 or 7/0. The stinger hook is joined to 4 or 5 inches of 38-pound-test single-strand wire and a 120-pound-test barrel swivel. When fabricating this rig, lay the eye of the barrel swivel on the stinger wire over the eye of the lead hook so the main wire leader must past through both hook eyes before the haywire twist/barrel wrap is completed. That's all there is to the rig, outside of adjusting the length of the stinger wire to match the chosen bait.


The King Cut
The next part of the equation is big baits. Kings are "slashers," meaning they sever and consume one portion of a sizable prey on the strike and then swing back around for the remains. In this approach, we choose a legal-size yellowtail or a cero or Spanish mackerel over a bite-size bait. Some of our baits would look good on dinner plates. I've fished many a goggle-eye, blue runner, live ballyhoo, horse pilchard, threadfin herring and speedo for big kings, but none have elicited the consistent results of big yellowtails and cero and Spanish mackerel.