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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.

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When a big king begins eyeing your baits, they’ll suddenly become nervous and start darting about, and even swim, panic-stricken, to the surface. This sets up some incredible visual strikes, such as a king launching itself from the water with a severed Spanish in its jaws.

As in most live-bait fishing, the strongest, friskiest baits deliver the best results. If you’ve been strikeless, and your baits don’t appear as energetic as they once were, get rid of them. Run back to the beach, catch a couple of new Spanish mackerel, and repeat the drill. “When the big kings are biting good, your baits won’t make it out to the patch reefs,” says Dana.

Although bluefish and blue runners are also usually abundant, Dana believes big kings get so focused on Spanish mackerel that they’re hard to catch on other live baits. 

Early morning is prime time to score the big kings, but if the Spanish are solid, they’ll be there all day. “The last big king I caught around the Spanish schools came almost at dark,” says Dana. 

Should South Florida see a late winter and some cool temperatures leading into March, there’s a good chance the ­Spanish and big kings might still be around, at least somewhere along the coast. If not, the big kings head to the deeper reefs, so try to catch Spanish mackerel along the patch reefs, and then slow-troll them out deeper.

There are no shortages of fishing options out of ­Hillsboro Inlet. It’s all here, from snook to swordfish. Add in the ­Spanish and big kingfish, and you can experience some of the fastest and most impressive fishing around, and it’s literally right off the beach. 

Florida Kingfish Tackle Box

The trick to this fishery is getting on the Spanish mackerel, rigging them quickly and getting them back in the water as you troll seaward to entice a king mackerel. 

Rods: Any of the newer, strong and light composite rods (such as Penn Bluewater Carnage, 5’8” model ­CARJ80130C58) rated for 80- to 130-pound lines 

Reels: 30- and 40-size lever-drag reels, to match rods

Lines: 20-pound-test nylon monofilament, smoke blue

Leaders: Several feet of 30-pound-test fluorocarbon

Terminal Gear: 36-inch main leader of 40-pound-test Terminator Titanium braided leader, or equivalent, and 6/0 VMC Live Bait Hook; two stinger hooks fabricated with No. 6 single-strand wire and 4/0 VMC Live Bait Hooks, or equivalent; small barrel swivel to cap off the rig

Baits: Live Spanish mackerel

Chasing Bait

Dana prefers running the beaches for Spanish mackerel. Be on the lookout for birds, other anglers or kingfish crashing the schools of Spanish. They can be right in the surf at times, foraging on glass minnows, mullet, shrimp or juvenile runners. We caught them by casting Sea Striker GOT-CHA and Willamson Gomame jigs. 

When the Spanish are difficult to find, troll the beaches. We tied Rapala X-Rap 10 (XR10) swimming plugs onto a pair of light spinners, one with a ­40-pound-test (No. 4) wire leader, the other tied to a 30-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. We cast and free-spooled the lures, engaged the reel drags, placed the rods in gunwale holders, and trolled tight to the beach. This in itself was fun, as we stayed busy catching bluefish, blue runners, jack crevalles and mackerel.

Florida Kingfish Planner

What: Big king mackerel

When: November through March

Where: Pompano Beach, Florida

How: Good public access at the 14th Street Boat Ramp, 2815 NE 14th Street Causeway, Pompano Beach, which offers three two-lane boat ramps, finger piers and courtesy docking. It has plenty of parking spots for vehicles with trailers. It’s about a mile south of Hillsboro Inlet.

Who: Capt. Skip Dana, 954-650-6908,

Hillsboro Inlet Fishing Center, 954-943-8222,