Kingfish are one of the most targeted species by offshore anglers in the Northeast Region because they can be really abundant and are a lot of fun to catch on light tackle. The majority of kings we find in my region will be in anywhere from 20 to 65 feet of water, although the fish do range shallower and deeper.
Some of the best locations for kings in my area are the stretch from Pontre Vedra south to Matanzas Inlet in 25 to 40 feet of water. That’s where you’ll find the popular areas to target kings like the Red Tops, The Desert, The Picnic Tables and The Captain’s House which is just north of St. Augustine Inlet. There’s also a good number of small wrecks in the area that hold a lot of fish.
The big key with kingfish is finding the bait. If you find the bait, you’ll find the fish. In my region, that usually means pogies (Atlantic menhaden). Pogies travel along the beaches in large schools, and the kingfish follow these pogey schools on a regular basis. You’ll also find a lot of kingfish around the shrimp boats that are dumping their bycatch which includes a variety of fish species.
On the outgoing tides, the water going out the inlets often pulls a lot of baitfish like mullet and pogies with it, and the kings will hunt the clean side of the tide lines near the inlet mouths looking for these baitfish. They’ll also hold along temperature breaks—usually on one side or the other of the change. Once you figure out which side of the temperature line the fish like, fish only that side.
Water conditions play a big factor in my region when targeting king mackerel. Out of Jacksonville, the St. Johns River is constantly dumping freshwater into the ocean at the inlet, and that water is not only lower in salinity, but dirtier. Kingfish anglers know to look for a water color they call kingfish green, which is a darker green color where you can see eight or ten feet down into the water column. That milky green water isn’t nearly as good, because the kings can’t see your baits.
For bait, live blue runners or pogies are the favorite baits, although rigged ribbonfish play a close second choice. Bigger baits catch bigger kings, so a lot of anglers like to use the 8 to 12 inch baits, and because kingfish have sharp teeth they use a wire leader. Kingfish are known for biting the tail off the bait to inhibit its ability to swim and escape, then turning back around the eating the rest of the bait, and that’s why most anglers use a double hook or stinger rig.
The basic stinger rig consists of a short piece of #4 copper wire (kings can see heavier wire in clear water) with a 3/0 to 5/0 hook, followed by a short piece of wire attached to the eye of the front hook and with a #2 treble hook on the other end. The front hook goes in the nose of the bait and the tail hook swings freely. The treble hook should not extend past the tail of the bait, but should swing freely so that if a kingfish bites the tail or slashes at the bait, the treble hook will sting it back.
The average kingfish in my area runs 15 to 25 pounds, but a big smoker king may exceed 50 pounds. They call those big fish smokers, because they smoke the line off your reel.
Most kingfish anglers choose monofilament over braided line for their reels because of its ability to stretch. A lot of times you’ll hook a kingfish on the outside of the face as it slashes at your bait, and the no stretch properties of braided line tend to pull the hook out before you can land the fish. Instead, you want 20 pound rods with a soft, flexible tip and reels able to hold 400 to 500 yards of 20 pound monofilament and a fairly light drag. When the fish strikes, let it run and tire itself out, and then slowly work it back to the boat with light pressure to avoid pulling the hook.
The largest king mackerel tournament in the world takes place every July here in Jacksonville. The 34th Annual Greater Jacksonville Kingfish Tournament and Festival takes place July 21 - 26, 2014 at Jim King Park & Boat Ramp at Sister Creek. The annual event is a long-standing tradition for residents of the Jacksonville area and has drawn up to 500 boats fishing the weeklong event for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes. Annually, the Tournament attracts approximately 20,000 spectators who watch the weigh-in and enjoy the festivities.
This Fishing Report was submitted on 5/10/2014 7:50:08 PM by Seamus and last updated on 5/10/2014 7:50:08 PM.
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