On a good day, Eric Swain and Stanley Jarusinski can catch all the menhaden they need near the Island Harbor Marina in Bogue Sound, where the latter launches his 23-foot Regulator. And today was a good day. Swain had just dropped a ten-foot, 22-pound castnet over a big school of pogies, and was letting the baitfish rain into a transfer pen that floated beside the boat.
"We just switched to a heavier castnet," Jarusinski explained as Swain proceeded to dip up 36 of the frisky menhaden and place them in the onboard live well. "When the water cools in early fall, pogies get a lot faster. Your usual summer net won't catch them in this depth. They're turbocharged!"
One could say the same of Jarusinski, better known in local angling circles as "Captain Stanman." A retired businessman from Pennsylvania and a long-time amateur angler in the Cape Charles, Virginia, area, Stanman has been plenty busy since relocating to Swansboro, North Carolina, and receiving his IGFA professional certification. In addition to immersing himself in the fine points of pursing king mackerel, he has formed a fishing club and founded an annual charity tournament. Yet despite his impressive schedule, Stanman still managed to find time to show me how he earned a reputation as one of the best kingfish anglers on the coast.
Kings on Demand
With our bait secured, Stanman steered the Regulator through Bogue Inlet and raced to a piece of bottom structure known as Bear Rock, which lies a few miles off Bear Island in Hammocks Beach State Park. As the boat rocked gently in moderate seas kicked up by a light easterly wind, Stanman and Swain set the slow-troll spread.
"We count 60 pulls for a long set, 30 for a medium," Stanman explained, pulling arm lengths of 17-pound fluorescent line off a shiny Shimano Trindad 20. Meanwhile, Swain sent one menhaden deep on a downrigger and rigged three others to swim just below the surface.
With the baits deployed, we began trolling around the underwater structure, and it wasn't long before one of the soft-action rods doubled over. Swain calmly picked up the outfit and held the tip high while the fish ran ... and ran ... and ran.
As we waited for the fish to end its initial run, Stanman explained why there was no need to set the small hooks used in slow-trolling. "I might touch the spool to firm up the connection, but I never pull back on the rod. If you do this, you are likely to pull the hook, and the more you pull the more likely it is that the hook will wear a hole in the fish's mouth and pull out later. You never know if a fish is well hooked or not, so you have to assume that every one is lightly hooked."
Given this, Stanman says, it's best to use a light drag and pump the fish gently to the boat. "Pick up slow, drop slow, reel fast," Stanman advises, adding that a fast retrieve can be important, too. "The Trinidad 20s we use have smooth drags and a high-speed gear ratio - 6.2-to-one. When the fish is running toward you, you need all the speed you can get."
I readied my camera, but it was a few minutes before Swain was able to gain line. Eventually the light but relentless pressure took its toll, and Stanman gaffed the estimated 20-pounder aboard. As I shot some photos of the fish, it occurred to me how confident my hosts had been that we would get a "photo fish" on this trip. After all, catching a big king is hardly guaranteed, but these guys made it look easy!
Rods, Reels and Line
Like all top anglers, Stanman has a considered opinion about every piece of equipment on his boat and how to use it. In live-bait kingfishing, as it has evolved along the Atlantic coast, the key elements are small hooks, light line, "soft" rods, minimal drag and patience. Heavy line and drag settings above three pounds, Stanman will tell you, will only lead to failure.
His preferred rod is the Shimano TLD ML70, which has roller guides and a very soft tip. The latter acts as a kind of shock absorber, which helps prevent the hooks from pulling. In the line department, Stanman uses 17-pound-test Gamakatsu G-line, a fluorescent copolymer that makes it easy to see where the baits are and where a hooked fish is heading. To reduce visibility below the surface, he ties in 15 feet of Tuff Stuff fluorocarbon between the main line and the wire terminal leader.
A master rigger, Stanman rejects as imperfect more terminal rigs than most anglers use in a lifetime. For three years he studied the art of bait rigging until he got it right. "It took a lot of experimentation, a lot of wire twisting, and a lot of fishing before I figured it out," he admits.
To make his bait rigs, Stanman uses American Fishing Wire's Single Strands Tooth Proof Tournament Straight Lengths, available in 12-inch and 36-inch sizes. This wire is very springy and lays straight, even after being stored in coils.
Stanman feels that king mackerel leaders should be as fine as possible to reduce visibility, although the dropper-hook wire can be slightly heavier to reduce cut-offs. If, for example, No. 4 wire is used for the leader, No. 5 can be used for the dropper hooks. Wire sizes vary according to bait size. For small baits, use No. 3 leader and No. 4 dropper-hook wire. For medium baits, use No. 4 leader and No. 5 dropper wire. And for large baits, use No. 5 leader and No. 6 dropper wire.
Leaders range from 18 to 24 inches. Any longer and they can kink and break; any shorter and "the kings will be eating your fluorocarbon." Distance between hooks usually runs four to 4 1/2 inches, depending on the size of the bait. Stanman recommends connecting all wire loops to one another, instead of to the hook eyes, which could open under strain.
The nose hook may range in size from 1/0 for small menhaden to 2/0 for mediums to 3/0 for large baits. Treble hooks may range from No. 6 to No. 4. (Stanman uses two No. 4s for large baits). Live menhaden should be hooked crosswise through the nostrils, while dead baits should be hooked through the chin and head, as near on center as possible.
When using 17-pound line, Stanman sets his drag at no more than two or three pounds. He also uses 35-pound-test SPRO swivels. No others will do. Small swivels create smaller and fewer bubbles when pulled through the water, and the SPROs are the strongest available for their size. Stanman says that kings can see a swivel if it's too large or if it creates bubbles. This can cause the fish to either attack the swivel, resulting in a cut-off, or shun the rig altogether.
Keeping Live Bait
If Stanman seems a bit rigid, it's only because he has found a system that works. He is loath to stray from proven tactics, especially when it comes to gathering and keeping live bait. "Most slow-trollers simply dump their castnetted baits on the deck," he says. "This causes the baits to lose slime, along with vitality, and makes a slippery mess."
To keep his baits in top shape, Stanman places them in a holding pen after they've been netted. The net frame is constructed of polybutylene pipe and other materials that can be obtained at a hardware store. "The transfer net is well worth the trouble," he says. "The baits last longer and attract more bites, and the boat is easier to clean. On the days when you catch more than enough baits and want to give some to your friends, you can let the transfer net float away from your boat. Your pals can stop by and take what they want safely and conveniently." (For instructions on how to make your own transfer net, visit Stan's website at
Because live baits play such an important role in Stanman's strategy, he goes to great lengths to keep them frisky throughout the day. To this end, he keeps an oxygen tank in a transom locker and uses it to deliver pure oxygen to the live well water. It makes a big difference.
So does the use of chum and scent. To supplement any chum he uses, Stanman has constructed a clever fish-oil dispenser. It drips an emulsified menhaden oil called Menhaden Milk, (843/856-9188;
As mentioned, Stanman uses a downrigger to present baits to deep-holding kings, and here, too, he employs a few tricks. For example, he uses 250-pound-test Spiderwire braided line instead of standard downrigger cable. The Spiderwire doesn't kink or rust, and is thinner than cable. This allows it to slice more easily through the water, creating less depth-robbing belly.
Stanman employs a 34- to 36-inch, 250-pound-test, coated-stainless-steel leader above the downrigger ball and an AFTCO downrigger release clip with a 250-pound snap swivel. These heavy-duty components became necessary when he started attaching a perforated soda bottle filled with Menhaden Milk and dog food to the downrigger line. It turns out that the kings were cutting off his downrigger ball when they attempted to eat the source of the scent! By the way, instructions on how to make the downrigger chum dispenser are also posted on Stanman's website.
Troll or Drift?
Stanman is prepared to either troll or drift with live or dead baits, depending on conditions. However, he prefers to drift over productive areas whenever possible, but notes that this requires a ten to 15 mph wind to be most effective. In calm conditions, slow-trolling or power-drifting (occasionally bumping the engine in gear, then shifting to neutral to let the baits sink) are the only options. When trolling, Stanman keeps his engines at 400 to 500 rpm in order to move along at one mile per hour. "You've got to pull your baits just as slowly as you can," he says.
For drifting dead baits, Stanman recommends rigging a 1/8-ounce Hank Brown HookUp lure in the bait's head. Since a downrigger is useless when drifting, he rigs a 3/8-ounce egg sinker on a somewhat longer leader and positions the bait some ten feet above the bottom.
If Stanman finds a crowd of boats already drifting an area when he arrives, he moves off a half mile or so and starts his drift there. "You can't be in a crowd when you're drifting because you'll interfere with the other anglers' drifts," he explains.
If you still have doubts about Stanman's abilities, consider that his team won the Southern Kingfish Association's 23-feet-and-under class at the 2002 Teach's Lair King Mackerel Tournament in Hatteras, North Carolina, with a 50.35-pound king. In the 2002 United States Anglers Association Championships, Stanman and crew caught a 36-pound king on the first day of competition and a 46-pounder on the second, which was good enough to win the 23-and-under class with the second heaviest fish in the championships. As the expression goes, the proof is in the pudding.