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November 13, 2012

Live Bait Fishing for Kingfish

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

Capt. Mark Schmidt

Location: Key West, Florida

Schmidt is the charter operator in our group (captmarkschmidt.com), and since king mackerel from both the Gulf and the Atlantic stocks spend the winter off Key West, he’s right in the middle of the action. “Fishing is best down in Key West from December through early April,” he says, “depending on when the water cools down and then warms back up from the winter.

"On the Atlantic side, I like ledges that drop off fairly quickly from 60 to 120 feet,” he adds. “In the Gulf, we look for structure like rock piles or wrecks. We use lots of block chum to get started. The top baits are blue runners, ballyhoo, pilchards and threadfin herring, and pinfish work as well.” 

As with our other experts, Schmidt is partial to blue runners. “My favorite bait is a blue runner, any size I can get,” he says. “I rig with a 6/0 to 8/0 thin-wire in-line circle hook on light, single-strand wire from 45 to 90 pounds, with a swivel on the opposite end. The hook and wire size depends on water clarity, size of bait we’re ­using, and what size fish we are seeing. If you have only small baits, downsize everything so the bait swims ­naturally.”

Schmidt’s rigging differs from the tournament pros. “On large blue runners, I use a smaller stinger hook, and I use a single rather than a treble. It’s easier on the fish,” he says. “Conditions dictate whether I anchor or drift. If it’s rough and windy and hard to get a decent drift, I'll anchor. If I’m marking a lot of fish in a small area, I’ll try to anchor on them and chum. If the fish are spread out and hard to find, I’ll drift and slow troll. When we can get pilchards, we will anchor up on a likely spot and chum with the pilchards, as well as use them for bait.” This can trigger a kingfish feeding frenzy — quite a sight to behold.

No matter which bait you choose, honing your live-baiting skills will help you score more, and larger, kingfish. Just remember that it’s all about the bait. 

Live Bait Kingfish Tackle Box

Rods: Long trolling rods with relatively soft tips, capable of handling 20- to 30-pound-test line.

Reels: Conventional reels sized to match, with ­ultrasmooth drags.

Line: Most pros use ­monofilament rather than braid because kings have soft mouths, and mono is more ­forgiving.

Terminal Tackle: Wire leaders are a must. Most kingfish pros fish wire between No. 4 and No. 7, depending on water clarity. A single J-hook or circle hook is used for the lead hook, with one or two treble hooks on stingers. The stinger leader is usually slightly heavier than the main leader since the kings bite the stinger leader most often when feeding.