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17 Kingfish Trolling Tips
Follow these pro tips to fine-tune your kingfish trolling spread.
1. OFFER OPTIONS: King mackerel are voracious feeders that will hit a variety of baits. Spoons, jigs and trolling plugs are most likely to tempt juvenile "schoolie" kings in the 10- to 20-pound range, so for the big "smoker" kings you'll want to troll a spread of natural baits. This strategy involves covering lots of water and showing the fish different looks. A mix of flat lines, long baits and deep baits on downriggers provides diversity and helps you dial in what the fish want on any given day.
2. FISH THE CHANNELS: Channels are a popular option for kingfish trolling. For one thing, kingfish concentrate deep in the water between higher edges, so you instantly have a target zone for the highest probability of a bite. Also, daily tidal flushing creates a food funnel that proves irresistible to predators like kingfish.
3. SET YOUR BAITS: Spacing out the baits in your kingfish trolling spread is a skill developed through repetition. It's often a visual thing in which the angler setting baits monitors the line distance, perhaps through counting waves or a measurement of "one-1,000, two-1,000, three-1,000." Whatever the method, it's usually best to have one person in charge of deployment. Others may assist, but with one angler determining the spacing, you're assured of more precise placements.
4. WATCH THE SPREAD: Once you have a king mackerel spread deployed, the game can become a lot of waiting and watching, but don't fall into a state of lethargy. Keep an eye on your lines and make sure they're all running properly. If a bait keeps rising to the surface and pushing water, there's likely an issue with fouling, or perhaps the bait is hung up in grass. Clear any disrupted lines so your spread remains effective.
5. CHECK YOUR DRAG: Kingfish are ferocious predators with lots of sharp teeth. However, their mouths are delicate and hooks are easily torn free with excessive pressure. Carefully setting drags and checking the line pressure on each bait will help prevent lost fish.
6. CHUMMING WORKS: Kingfish are primarily sight feeders, but they also have a good sense of smell. That's why chumming is an integral part of a successful trolling effort. You can drip concentrated menhaden oil in the water, cut baits into thumbnail-sized chunks or grind baitfish into an oily mash. The standard, though, is a frozen chum block hung from a cleat in a ventilated bag. As the chum block melts it releases tiny bits of ground fish, along with fish oils. This forms a slick that kings will follow to your spread.
7. DEPLOY THE STINGER: Considering the king mackerel's teeth, along with their notorious habit of immobilizing their prey by cutting it in half before eating it, you'll need a trolling rig that beats this crafty predator at its own game. That's exactly what the classic stinger rig does. A single nose hook holds the bait, while a trailer wire places a treble "stinger" hook at the bait's aft end. No matter how a king attacks, that trailing hook typically snares the fish.
8. MONITOR THE SOUNDER: When you're trolling baits for king mackerel, you'll rarely see your quarry before they attack. However, spotting bait schools on your bottom machine is a good indication that you're in the right area. Kings will tolerate a little discomfort in water temperature or clarity, but if there's no food, they're history.
9. EYE IN THE SKY: When trolling broad areas, look for marine birds like this high-flying frigate. Birds will follow schools of kingfish for hours, just waiting for them to feed. Once the slashing starts, frigates dip low to snatch the scraps left at the surface. Spotting frigates circling an area should put a big red X on the spot.
10. SET A WIDE SPREAD: The key word in trolling spread is "spread." Savvy kingfish anglers recognize the value in placing rods in various positions to widen the area they cover on each pass. One of the most strategic design elements on a kingfish boat is the rocket launcher, often mounted at an angle on the corner of the T-top. This is the spot where most crews run one of their long lines.
11. RIDE SHOTGUN: The "shotgun" position is the shortest line in your spread. Also called the "prop bait" for its proximity right in the prop wash, this line may sit 10 to 15 feet off the transom. Use a rod holder at the center of the transom, or a central rocket launcher on the T-top. Wherever you position the rod, put one of your largest baits in this shotgun position.
12. DRAG OPTIONS: Some kingfish anglers swear by a conventional lever-drag reel, but others prefer a star drag. The latter allows for more fine-tuned adjustment -- very helpful during a long fight. Moreover, some say that maintaining consistent pressure is more challenging with a lever drag, as you essentially erase your drag setting each time you disengage the reel to deploy a bait.
13. FEED THE FISH: King mackerel are speedy critters and sometimes they take the corners too fast and overshoot their targets. Here, and in any missed attack, quick thinking anglers can improve their chances of a follow-up strike by feeding line back to the point of the attack. When a king boils or strikes at a bait but misses, the boat's forward motion pulls the bait away from the attacker. Peel off several yards of line and you might convince the fish into a second shot.
14. RIG WIRE EFFECTIVELY: One look at a king mackerel's wicked choppers and it's easy to see why you need to use wire for trolling rigs. Experienced anglers use wire leaders of three feet or more to make sure the fish doesn't clip the fishing line if it ends up wolfing down an entire bait. Also, rigging 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon between the leader and the main line helps prevent cut-offs when the king's rigid tail fins beat against the line on a run.
15. FINE-TUNE YOUR RIGS: A plump blue runner is like candy to a kingfish, but without wire rigging, it's just a donation. Bigger baits like this one may merit multiple stinger segments, so tournament teams typically carry "rig bags" that hold various configurations with different hook and leader sizes.
16. WORK AS A TEAM: When an effective trolling spread results in a hookup, the crew must quickly shift gears into fish-fighting mode. Place a gaff man close to the angler -- out of the way but ready to move in the moment the king rises within range. Until them, a carefully orchestrated operation requires steady rod work, an awareness of potential nearby snags and diligent boat handling to keep the angler in good fighting position.
17. SEAL THE DEAL: A well-planned and well-maintained trolling spread will produce big kings like this one. They are not easily fooled, but by deploying a diverse array of meal options, monitoring the lines for proper progression and staying frosty, you won't miss the next tournament-winning smoker.
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