Just The Thing For A King

Slow trolling live baits can connect anglers with feisty Kings

Just The Thing For A King
A mouthful of sharp teeth enable kingfish to easily slash their way through schooling baitfish. (David A. Brown photo)

It's gotta be a top 5 for the Worst Cliché list - the one about being able to sell ice cubes to Eskimos. This statement of persuasive power hinges on the notion that Alaskan natives lack not for chill. Closing the sale therefore requires convincing said Alaskans that your brand of ice cubes are more attractive than others.

For kingfish anglers, this postulate applies to live bait slow-trolling. Voracious predators, king mackerel hunt where they're likely to find large quantities of forage. Wrecks, ledges, reefs, shipping channels all fit the bill. Trying to sell one of your hook-toting livies might seem an exercise in futility, and it you simply grab a minnow from your livewell and drop it off the stern it likely will be just a bunch of wasted time.

But that's not how the ice cube sellers of the kingfish arena do it. Indeed, the art of live bait slow-trolling depends upon standing out, not blending in. You want to make your offering look natural, but vulnerable.

Accomplish the first by using indigenous forage species. Along the Gulf Coast, the top choices are Spanish sardines, blue runners, cigar minnows, pilchards, menhaden and mullet. Anglers gather the latter three close to shore in castnets, while the others are usually caught by jigging gold-hook ("sabiki") rigs over bottom structure in deeper water.


For the vulnerable part, troll baitfish as slowly as your boat will idle over the hard bottom areas where baitfish naturally gather. Pull them a few yards outside any visible bait schools so they look like easy targets.


For optimal results, keep these points in mind:

Wired and Willing - Kings come equipped with a mouthful of formidable dental equipment that they use to slash through bait schools, clip their meals in half and gobble the falling pieces. For anglers using only a single nose hook, this means a whole lot of short strikes in which your opponent cuts off your bait right behind the hook.

Prevent such thefts by trolling each bait on a "stinger" rig. Here, a 2/0 lead hook trails a piece of No. 3 or 4 wire with a No. 4 or 6 treble hook at the end. By placing a hook at both ends of the baitfish, you ensure that something grabs any attacker.

Larger baits like mullet and big blue runners may require additional stinger segments to cover their entire length. One segment every 3-4 inches is about right.


Dress 'Em Up - When water clarity is low, you may need some little difference, maybe a flash of color or an odd sound to catch the king's attention.


Click image to see the photo gallery


A common attractant called a "duster" comprises a metal head with a nylon skirt - often dressed with Mylar or other flashy materials. The duster slips over your leader, rests near the bait's head and pulsates in the water when trolled. Rubber squid skirts do the same, but with a larger profile.


Spinner blades and rattling attachments also help.

Another visual strategy involves trolling two baits in tandem. Known as the "double trouble" rig, this arrangement is a good bet for enticing big kingfish looking for the quickest path to a full stomach. Dressing double rigs with dusters further enhances the appeal.

Smells Like Trouble - It's important to note that the plumpest bait trolled on the most immaculate rig will get pretty lonely if no kingfish sees it. Many times, the kings are hunting nearby but they just haven't looked in your direction.

Good thing for anglers - kings follow their noses. If they smell a potential meal, they'll check it out. Leverage this behavior by chumming with chopped baitfish chunks, menhaden oil and frozen chum blocks hung just below the surface in mesh bags.

Don't forget to shake the chum bag. Warm water and wave action will gradually melt the block and its contents will disperse. But for periodic bursts of scent, give the rope several good tugs to rattle loose a cloud of chum particles.

Hang your chum bag from a forward cleat, as this allows the chum particles to drift under the boat and into the prop wash where the scent gets pushed even deeper and farther.

Sting the King - When a kingfish strikes, the stinger rig typically does all the hooking for you, so no need to jerk the rod. Just keep the tip high, let the fish make several long runs and then work it to the boat with smooth, even pressure.

Tired kings usually end up making progressively narrowing circles under the boat. The angler can help the gaffer by steadily gathering line and guiding the fish to the surface on each pass.

Some like to gaff kings in the head for a quick submission, but reaching this close to the fishing line can risk break offs. Conversely, while gaffing a fish near the tail gets his motor out of the water, this is also a thinner, bony section where gaffs often glance off the skin.

Your best bet is to aim for the mid-back region, just behind the dorsal fin. You'll sacrifice some edible meat, but you'll have a broad, thick target. And once you stick a gaff in a king's back, he'll rarely wiggle off the hook.

Now, when you boat a kingfish, the excitement is far from finished. Those teeth that ravage baitfish will also do a nasty number on any finger that gets too close.

For safety, wear thick fishing gloves when gripping a kingfish anywhere near the mouth. And for removing hooks, use needle nose pliers or a long-handle hook plucker, or just toss your fish in the ice box, clip the leader and reset that spread of live baits.

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