By Hunter Ledbetter
King mackerel, kingfish, king, smoker king—we may not all call it the same thing, but we all answer the call for kingfish.
Florida anglers have access to a year-round fishery for these speedy predators. While there are many techniques for landing a big kingfish, one that you’ll want to have in your bag of tricks is kite fishing live baits. This method is especially productive along the edge of the reef while drifting or anchored over a wreck.
According to Kevin Mckeon, a mate out of Marathon who regularly fishes for lings with kites, “A kite presentation is particularly appealing to kingfish because kings sight bait on top, higher in the water column. Your ability to keep your bait on the surface where the sun can reflect off it just screams buffet to a cruising kingfish.”
Kevin adds that he likes to cover all options and will often also put a couple of baits out behind the boat. Many other livebait captains I’ve spoken with are of the same opinion: Even if they are getting a good and steady bite around the boat, they would deploy the kite to increase the chances of more and bigger fish.
If you’ve fished for sailfish in South Florida,you’re probably pretty familiar with kite fishing and the outstanding results it produces with those fish [if you’re not familiar with the sailfish scene, simply look elsewhere in this issue]. Tunas and dolphin are regularly taken on kites. I’ve seen cobia caught on kites. The technique produces equally outstanding results for kingfish.
Kite fishing is more involved for the angler and requires constant attention from the crew and captain, but it’s not hard to do and worth the effort for your day on the water. According to Capt BJ Meyer, who fishes a 39 Sea Vee out of Marathon, Florida, ”The key to kite fishing, for any species, is communication between angler and captain and anything that makes yourself better understood will increase your catch. It’s a simple thing, but I always fly a red kite off the port side and a green kite off the starboard and only call out red or green kite. We already associate those colors with our running lights and it cuts down on the confusion when the fishing gets hot.”
Of course all good fishing stories start with good bait. Larger scaled sardines (pilchards), goggle-eye, blue runner and threadfin herring are some great choices. The sardines (whitebait) are usually plentiful during winter months and a few throws should black your well out. Of course, usual doesn’t always mean it happens and if you can’t find bait to throw on, you can still fish. Use a sabiki rig to catch 20 to 30 threadfin herring or blue runners and you’re still in the game. You won’t have bait to throw around the boat, but you’ve still got a great shot at catching kings on kite. Regardless of your bait choice (or availability), rigging and flying the bait works the same for any live bait you want to use. Tie a stinger rig with a 4/0 J hook in the front with a 3/0 treble trailing. Depending on the size of your bait you may want to add a second treble. Normally, we use only one. Number 4 wire is a good choice, but you can go a little higher if a bigger class of fish are hitting your baits. I still like using wire attached to hooks with haywire twists, but like all things, things change. Check out the tie-able wire that is available now. I like using it. Get some and give it a try. See what you think.
A Kingfish Kite Rig
I haven’t seen one, but I’m sure there are still some manually retrieved kite reels out there. An electric kite reel is a definite plus in this game and I recommend investing in one. There are plenty of kite reels on the market. Almost all have line counters and work well. Of course you’ll need a 12-volt plug on your boat or run power from your boat battery. The Daiwa Tanacom 1000 is sturdy and an excellent choice for your kite reel. We put out six lines on two kites, three rods in a 3-way holder on one kite reel on each side of the boat. As I mentioned, it gets a little involved keeping all the bait in the water and the boat pointed into the wind, but once you get it set up, it’s fairly easy to keep this rig in the water.
Let’s go through the rig and how it’s fished. We’re using the SFE All-Purpose Kite. This model works well in wind from 5 to 25 mph and can hold our lines and weight without any problems. Here is a little trick you can try that will help keep your rig flying right. On the kite you will fly off the starboard side, add three split shot to the top right edge of your kite and two shot on the bottom. This will help your kite fly out away from the other one and do the same with the top left edge of the port kite. The weight and amount of shot you add changes with the wind velocity, the harder the wind, the more you’ll want to add. You want a lot of baits in the water, and it’s possible to fish as many as three lines off your kite line. Capt Meyers adds, “Your kite reel line takes a lot of stress from the kite and weight of all the gear, so you don’t want any stretch in it. I recommend you use 80-pound braid.” In addition to not wanting any stretch in your line, you want to use braid to reduce the size profile of the kite line in the wind. You would need heavy mono to hold all this, it would create a lot of wind resistance, the braid just cuts through the wind and creates almost no wind resistance. You’ll want to use swivels in the kite line so it doesn’t get twisted and ensure they catch your clips to feed your fishing lines out.
Connect 60 feet of kite line by swivel and snap to the kite. At the end of that line, tie a small swivel, then connect another 60 feet of line to a little larger swivel and then another 60 feet of line to your last swivel. Each the swivels is a little bigger going down the line and catches the release clip allowing you to fish three lines out of the one electric reel. Black’s Outdoor and Marine in Lafayette, Louisiana sells an entire kit that lets you set this rig up and is worth the very reasonable price. You’ll need a trident rod holder for each side and you’re almost ready to fish!
This kite rig is very sturdy and the line very durable; it can stand up to a lot of pressure without needing any special treatment to remain in good working order. Just rinse your kite rig with fresh water at the end of the day like you would with any of your rods and reels.
Kings hit hard and fast. We fish 20-foot, 40-pound leaders, attached to the line with a barrel swivel. Before tying on the swivel and leader, put enough weight (typically an egg sinker) on the line to keep the line from blowing too much in the wind. Also add a bright float on top of the sinker. The float helps you see your line and clip, and the weights help keep your bait in the water. Clip your line on and feed the kite line and fishing line out at the same time. Wind, waves and boat movement will be constantly
changing where your bait stays in the water. Keep an eye on your bait and keep it just in the water. The scaled sardines and threadfin herring will die quickly if they are out of the water. You’ve got to keep an eye on them and keep them just in the water.
Although this kite rig sounds a bit complex, it is remarkably easy to fish. Whether you want to anchor in front of your secret numbers and put your kites out over them or you want to drift the edge of a reef, just turn into the wind and get your kites launched. This can be done with ease off larger center console boats, with lots of rod holders and space you can move around. Don’t limit yourself to just launching off the stern. Move around; you might get a better launch angle forward. Try out different arrangements. You can fly one off the back and the other forward, for instance. If you’re able to load up on whitebait, of course, it won’t hurt to start throwing some stunned bait when you get set up. Also put out a line near the boat.
Regardless of how you set up your rig, the technique is the same. It won’t be long before toothy critters home in on your kite presentation. When the fish hits, depending how high your kite is, you’ll have 40 to 50 feet of slack. You’ll have to reel fast and get that line in before you’re having any influence on the fish. It’s common to have doubles and triples; when they crash like this, it’s a bit of controlled chaos as you fight fish and work to get the other lines in and clear of the action. It’s the kind of action
that makes for a memorable day of fishing. FS
First published Florida Sportsman Offshore Special March 2016