Our first official trip for kings was a great success. We found them in the Gulf in only 50 feet of water, and I quickly learned that fast-sinking line worked best, with a clear intermediate coming in second. A 10-, 11- or 12-weight rod worked fine when matched with a reel with a fast retrieve and lots of backing. A wire leader was a must, and the fish seemed to prefer big, bushy synthetic baitfish patterns that were about twice the size of the pilchards we were using for chum. The idea was to cast as far as I could, let the fly sink for a serious amount of time and then strip like mad. Sometimes the kings were visible behind the boat, but the ones I saw were never the ones I hooked. The biggest one I caught that first trip was probably 20 pounds, and I had a ball. The strike stops your heart, and the first run leaves you wondering if it will ever end. If there's a downside to this fishery, it's that you lose about two-thirds of the fish you hook. I'm not sure why — they just fall off the hook at some point during the fight. That first trip was my undoing, and I could hardly wait to get back. Several years of frustration from bad conditions and trips on which we never found fish didn't stop me from trying. Every so often we would get into them and hook a few, but I never did get that 30-pounder I was lusting after. Finally, last year, the stars aligned.
Off to the Marquesas**
The kings appeared sporadically last December and January in the Atlantic, but the Gulf remained quiet. We found a few off Western Dry Rocks one day, but a pod of dolphin moved in and ate everything we hooked. In late January, the kings schooled up once again off the Marquesas and then moved into the Gulf and disappeared. They were here one day and gone the next. Rufus Wakeman and I were scheduled to fish with Trosset the first week in February, and we all agreed that if there were a snowball's chance of finding kingfish, we would try.