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November 13, 2012

Live Bait Fishing for Kingfish

Nothing beats a fresh live bait when targeting big king mackerel.

Butler says that you learn where big kings are likely to be through experience. “If you kill a big buck deer ­hunting, you’re liable to go back to that same spot next season,” he says. “It’s the same with kingfish — big fish stay in the same places.”

Rigging for kingfish requires wire leaders, as the fish sport formidable teeth, and kingfish rigs are typically simple affairs: a lead hook, often a J-hook, with one or more treble stinger hooks, which can be embedded near the bait’s tail or allowed to swing freely. The size of wire used often varies with water clarity. “I fish 90- to 130-pound wire exclusively,” Butler says. “And unlike some other guys, we fish a lot of drag. When you’re catching up to 50 fish a day like we often do around here, you just don’t have time to mess with the smaller fish. You want to get them in and get your baits back out looking for that one big one.”

Dave Workman Jr.

Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Workman fishes a 32-foot Yellowfin, and he owns Strike Zone Tackle in Jacksonville, Florida. He’s one of the best-known king mackerel tournament anglers in the world, having won SKA's angler of the year honors three times. Like Butler, Workman likes fishing pogies.

“We have big schools of pogies from Cape Canaveral, Florida, all the way up to Virginia,” he says. “We find them along the beach and throw cast nets on them. The pelicans often sit on top of the schools of bait, or sometimes you’ll hear them ‘pop’ early in the morning when they flip. Other times, they turn the water brown as big schools of them roil up the sand.”

He says you have to keep fresh baits out there all the time, so some special handling is required. “I put 1½ ­pogies per gallon of water in my livewell,” he explains, “so that’s 75 baits for a 50-gallon well.” He adds that if the ­water’s really hot, as it often is in the dead of summer, you have to reduce the number of baits in the well.

But pogies eventually tire and get red noses from ­bumping into the walls of the livewell as they swim. “Fresh bait is everything,” Workman says, “so don’t be afraid to dump your wells at noon and go back to the beach for a fresh supply.” Workman often fishes the pogies just off the beach in 12 to 20 feet of water, near the schools where he originally caught them, so it’s not usually too far to return.

But he also shares Butler’s view on targeting larger fish with pogies. “You catch bigger fish more consistently on blue runners than you do on pogies,” he says, “but blue runners are harder to find in Northeast Florida. No matter what kind of bait you’re looking for, it’s hard to beat resident bait.”

He told us a story of fishing out of Canaveral: As he launched his boat before sunup, he heard bait flipping under a bridge. He tossed his cast net and came up with a netful of silver mullet, another great bait for kings. “It depends on what time of year it is,” he explains, “but be opportunistic. When the fall mullet run is going on, you can bet there will be kings following the mullet, so use them.” 

Workman fishes larger baits in 35 to 50 feet of water over structure like wrecks, hard bottom and depressions. He rigs with a single lead hook on No. 4 wire with No. 6 wire for the trailing treble hooks. He’ll fish slightly larger wire in the Gulf where the water’s greener. “The main thing is to find the bait,” he adds. “The big kings will be where the bait is holding."