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Dropping for Deepwater Kings

A downrigger plan for big kings and other striking fish.

Will you pull a lipped diving plug or a livie off the electric downrigger? Both good tactics for fish marking deep.

King mackerel working a baitfish school at the surface aren't hard to find or catch. Watch for the skyrocketing silver missiles, put out a bait and hold on.

More commonly, kings are scattered over sandy bottom, suspended at midwater depths beneath the bait schools, or perhaps holding over ledges or other deep structure. Knowing a few special tactics can pay off big-time, if you want to target those deepwater kings.

First, learn to use your sonar properly. On my unit, which has a dual-frequency transducer, I select a split-screen option where half of the screen uses the 50 kHz signal for picking up deepwater bottom, baitfish and king mackerel. The remaining half of the screen employs a 200 kHz beam which depicts a cleaner picture of baitfish and kings marking from just under the surface to midwater depths.

I also adjust the manual sensitivity mode, also referred to as “gain,” to sharpen up fish and structure. Increasing sonar sensitivity may also disclose a thermocline which appears as a horizontal fuzzy line across the screen. Thermoclines occur where warm and cold water masses collide below the surface. The boundary gathers plankton, baitfish and frequently king mackerel.

Baitfish schools holding over structure normally show up as a yellow, or a light colored cloud. If they're on bottom, the bottom appears fuzzy. Depending on the size of the baitfish and the tightness of their school, the darkness of the color will increase.

Sonar, of course, identifies gamefish by marking the air bladder. King mackerel have small air bladders, typically appearing on your fish finder screen as a narrow mark that looks like a boomerang.

For delivering your bait to precise depths, nothing beats a downrigger. I prefer electric downriggers, as they offer hands-free operation. That's particularly useful when you have a small fishing party. You can eliminate the fish-spooking hum produced by traditional downrigger cable by attaching 300 feet of 250-pound-test braided line to the end of the cable. Bend the end of the cable into a tight loop, and then attach the braid to the cable using an Albright special knot. With 300 feet of braid, the knot never comes into play. Braided line is much smaller in diameter than cable, thus eliminating some of the blow-back produced when deep water downrigger fishing. Also, when a hooked king mackerel runs the monofilament fishing line across the braid, the mono line will not part.

I attach a Black's #RC95 downrigger release to the tag end of the braid, while using a short length of braid between a 10-pound, round downrigger weight and the release. This allows us to put the fishing line in the release clip while the downrigger weight is still in the water. No bending over in rough kingfish waters!

Tackle for deepwater kings includes high-speed, 6:1 conventional reels filled with 20-pound monofilament. I frequently add a 10-foot section of low-visibility, 20-pound-test fluorocarbon shock leader to the main line, using back-to-back uni knots. Next, a 30-pound black barrel swivel is attached to the tag end of the shock leader using a palomar knot. A 3-foot section of No. 4 coffee-colored stainless wire is then haywire wrapped to the remaining end of the barrel swivel. A 1/0 live bait hook is then haywire wrapped to the tag end of the wire leader. Black No. 4, 4X treble hooks are then haywire wrapped to short sections of No. 5 wire to connect to the preceding hook's eye in series as stinger hooks. Multiple stingers may be used, depending on the size of the baits.

Good deepwater kingfish baits include live blue runners, menhaden, silver mullet, pilchards and dead, pre-rigged Spanish mackerel, mullet and ribbonfish. Also do not overlook the effectiveness of lipped plugs in mackerel finish, such as the MirrOlure 113 MR or Yo-Zuri Sashimi 3D Magnum Deep Diver. The setback from the downrigger weight to the bait or lure should be 20 to 30 feet for deepwater kings. Trolling speed should range from 1.5 to 2 knots—slower for live baits, faster for lures.

First Published Florida Sportsman June 2013

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