Spend less time scouting for bait and more time slammin’ the smokers.
By Terry Lacoss
Starting your day with a drag-screaming kingfish strike is always a pleasure. Those few hours around sunrise are also some of the most productive. Here’s one system for getting on big kings quickly, without spending valuable time catching live baits.
Dead ribbonfish (a.k.a. silver eel), Spanish sardines and cigar minnows make excellent kingfish baits. Buy a supply the day before your trip and place them in a cooler with ice.
If you’re planning to target kingfish close in, along the beach, a good method is to rig up four or more leaders to silver eels and keep them fresh in a baitfish bag. These baits may be slow-trolled using a leadhead or other sinker arrangement, but a more-targeted system involves using two downriggers to cover the upper two-thirds of the water column.
In 30 feet of water, for instance, you might troll one downrigger silver eel at 10 feet, and the second downrigger eel at 20 feet. No need to run those baits out real far before putting the line in the release clip; 20 feet between the bait and downrigger weight is fine. On flatlines at the surface, deploy two silver eels astern at about 30 feet and 40 feet. A spread like this, with rigged eels, can be trolled at up to 3.5 knots—quite a bit faster than you’d run traditional live baits.
A typical silver eel setup begins with a 20-pound-class rod and reel filled with 20-pound monofilament. A 10-foot length of 20-pound fluorocarbon shock leader is then attached to the main line using back-to-back uni-knots. Next, a 30-pound black barrel swivel is tied to the end of the fishing line, followed by haywire wrapping an 18-inch length of No. 5 coffee colored piano wire to the remaining side of the barrel swivel.
A small skirt such as the pink-and-silver Strike Zone Pearl Duster or C&H Pearl Baby is then threaded onto the wire leader. The lure ultimately covers a 3/8-ounce leadhead jig that is haywire wrapped to the leader wire and barbed through the bottom and out through the top of the mouth of the silver eel, allowing the silver eel to swim straight.
Finally, a short section of No. 6 silver piano wire is haywire wrapped to the eye of the jig followed by haywire wrapping a sturdy treble hook stinger, such as a VMC silver No. 4, 4X treble, to the tag end of the wire. One or more stinger hooks and wire shock leaders are rigged right down the side of silver eel, depending on the size of baitfish.
For deepwater trolling, a good approach begins with purchasing a couple of 5-pound boxes of frozen cigar minnows or Spanish sardines. Here, we also use a skirted lure. I like the green-and-silver pattern Strike Zone 3/8-ounce Pearl Baby. Thread the lure onto No. 3 coffee-colored leader wire.
A 3/0 livebait hook is then haywire wrapped to the tag end of the leader wire, followed by an 8-inch length of No. 4 wire. Finish with a No. 4, 4X treble hook, adjusting the length of the leader so that the stinger hook is set between the dorsal fin and tail of the dead minnow.
Troll two minnows in the upper twothirds of the water column. Downriggers are ideal for this, with the baits set back at about 20 feet from the downrigger weights. For example if you’re fishing 60 feet of water, put one downrigger bait at 20 feet and the second at 40. Also run two minnows on the surface, one at 30 feet back and the second about 40 feet. Troll about 3.5 knots.
If a kingfish strikes and fails to find the stinger, freespool the remaining portion of the bait. You’ll often pick up a second strike. FS
First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2014