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March 19, 2013

Florida East Coast Kingfish Fishing

Spanish Inquisition: Feed big kingfish their smaller cousins on Florida's east coast.

Click through the images in the gallery above.

We knew the big kings were around, but Capt. Skip Dana and I were surprised by one monster that didn’t play by the rules. 

We were so tight to the beach as we procured Spanish mackerel for bait that I stayed at the wheel to keep the swell from washing us ashore. It was here, in eight feet of water, where it happened.

Dana landed a Spanish mackerel, impaled it on a three-hook wire rig, and tossed it overboard. Within seconds the reel screamed: A big king had crashed the bait right next to the boat.

In that shallow water, the kingfish had no option but to charge straight offshore. I gave chase, and Dana, positioned in the bow, reclaimed line. We needed to stay on top of the fish so it couldn’t part the line by dragging it across the descending reefs. After a spirited fight, I gaffed and boated the fish, which later scaled 42 pounds.

While we targeted those Florida kingfish out of Pompano Beach in November, this fishery remains ­productive into March, ­providing there’s cold weather to keep the ­Spanish mackerel around.

Dana is no stranger to catching big kingfish, having taken them to 53 pounds. He operates the fabled Helen S and Fish City Pride drift boats from Hillsboro Inlet, and spends considerable time fishing tournaments and ­chartering for sailfish, kingfish, and bottom fish aboard his 27-foot center console, Pop-A-Top. And he knows of what he speaks when he says kingfishing here can be world class.

Spanish 101

Big kingfish stalk schools of migrating Spanish mackerel. Therefore, the Spanish must be present to attract and hold trophy-class kings. Dana says this starts when the first strong cold fronts roll through. “The mullet migrate down the beaches first, followed by the bluefish, then the Spanish,” says Dana. “Once we get really cold weather and Northeast swells — which stir up the bottom and dirty the water — the Spanish will be here, along with big kings. It usually happens mid- to late November.”

Dana prefers running the beaches for Spanish mackerel baits. They can be right in the surf, foraging on glass minnows, mullet, shrimp and juvenile runners. We found a huge school tight to the beach in cloudy water. We seemingly could have caught them all day casting Sea Striker GOT-CHA and Williamson Gomame jigs.

If other boats or birds don’t tip off the whereabouts of Spanish, Dana says to look for slicks, bait breaking the ­surface, mackerel sky-rocketing bait and, of course, fish on the fishfinder. But one thing is certain: They are either there or not, so don’t spend too much time in one spot.

Feed the King

It’s essential to immediately get live Spanish mackerel baits back in the water, right by that school. We had two lever-drag reels spooled with 20-pound-test smoke-blue monofilament, and a 20-foot-long wind-on ­leader of 30-pound-test fluorocarbon. From there, a small barrel swivel joined the fluorocarbon to the three-hook wire leader.

We’d catch a Spanish, remove it from the jig, and run the lead hook of the rig either through the fish’s collar or upper lip, then lightly impale the two stinger hooks down its side. With either one or a pair of rigged mackerel, we’d slow-troll from the beach out over the shallow patch reefs in 25 to 35 feet of water. 

The strike settings on our drags were light; just enough to keep the line from backlashing, and we activated the reels’ clickers. Once we hooked a king on 20-pound outfits, we advanced the drag to around five pounds.