There’s no doubt that kite fishing is a highly effective tactic for catching pelagic game fish when they are concentrated in a specific depth, contour or band of ideal water. If your goal is simply to set one or two baits on the surface, the task is fundamental. However, if you plan on setting two kites and hanging multiple baits, there are a few insider secrets that will greatly increase the coverage zone and effectiveness of your spread depending on the preferred conditions and methods of presentation for your particular stretch of Sailfish Alley.
With the winter season upon us, we are graced with more consistent wind patterns making for optimal conditions to dangle lively baitfish from the sky. For those unfamiliar with the ancient practice, kite fishing is the ultimate method of presenting live baits on the surface. Volumes have been written about the topic, but it remains highly popularized and is constantly evolving.
Undoubtedly, the best kite fishermen have earned their wings in South Florida. Here, competitive crews use kites to catch everything from tuna to sailfish, even when it’s blowing a gale. Maintaining a presentable spread of multiple kites in such varying wind speeds requires anglers to make subtle changes on the fly. And depending on where you ply your craft, conditions and methods vary from location to location as the bathymetry of the coastline changes dramatically from Stuart to Key West.
It is crucial to understand the general behavior of migrating sailfish no matter where you fish. In the shadow of South Beach, where Double Threat (fishmiamicharters.com) fishes nearly 200 days a year, the orientation of the coastline basically runs a north to south line and more often than not, the current moves northbound with the Gulf Stream. Sailfish prefer feeding into the current, therefore traveling from north to south.
Before you can even think about creating the perfect spread, you must first understand how the kite works. Specialized fishing kites are made out of lightweight fabric and feature diagonal spars used to help support and catch wind. The bigger the kite, the more tension it will put on the kite line by catching more wind. The SFE Extra Light and Tigress Lite Wind kites have the largest dimensions and these are the two best options for light wind conditions. On the other end of the spectrum is the Bob Lewis Gale Force kite, which has the smallest dimensions allowing for less pressure on the kite line during extremely high winds. There are many other heavy wind kites that also feature holes to reduce drag by allowing air to flow through and around the kite. Fish a light wind kite in gusty conditions and you’ll risk snapping the fragile spars and watching your kite plummet from the sky. Fish a heavy wind kite with a lackluster breeze and it will be tough to keep it aloft. Launching kites from a sportfish is also much different than what can be expected from an open center console. Aboard the fully restored 42’ Hatteras Double Threat, mates in the cockpit must compensate for the blockage of wind from the house since I must keep the bow pointed into the wind to keep the kites off the stern. Once set, I can position the boat to quarter off the wind, but it’s really important not to overcompensate for the current or lack thereof. Powering too much will make your baits swim too hard and result in an unnatural presentation and potentially tangled kite lines.
To help keep kites aloft in an effective flight pattern, most sportfish crews utilize their outriggers to increase spread and maximize veer. With the development of this tactic innovative anglers capitalize on a specialized ring that clips to the outrigger’s halyard so the kite line can be raised and lowered as needed. A stainless steel ring large enough for the kite’s release clips to pass through is connected to a short length of 300 lb. monofilament. The opposite end is attached to a snap swivel or longline clip to facilitate an easy connection to the outrigger release clip. When it comes time to launch the kite, the mate passes the kite line through the ring before attaching the snap swivel to the kite bridle. When deploying a kite with this method it’s a good idea to raise the halyard about half way up the outrigger so if the kite takes a dive it won’t hit the water.
After choosing the right kite for the current conditions, bridle adjustments are crucial for perfecting the flight pattern. Most kite manufacturers create black marks on the bridle lines to show the range of adjustments where they will have the optimum performance. It’s generally best to stick within these boundaries, but there are some occasions where we exceed the manufacturer’s recommendations. For example, when flying kites with helium we sometimes close the bridle all the way to help lower the kites since the added gas forces the kites to rise high in the sky. And, to put out a big spread or battle light wind without helium we may open the bridle a touch past the open mark.
...use distance from the boat rather than distance between kites to cover more depth...
The phrase open your bridle means to move the bridle slider away from the kite. This will make the kite fly higher. If your bridle is pushed open too far, the kite may dance a bit and fly high. By moving the bridle away from the kite you increase the angle of attack, which generates more lift. This allows for a wider spread after adding split shots. The kite may also fly better in lighter winds as you open the bridle.
Conversely, closing your bridle means moving the slider closer to the kite. This reduces the angle of attack where the kite meets the wind. By closing the bridle, you will make the kite fly lower. If the slider is pushed too far, the kite may want to dunk from excess pressure during a gust or increased maneuvering of the boat like when trying to line up a free-jumping fish. Another issue with a closed bridle is the kite will slightly bank in the direction of the split shots but the distance it can travel horizontally is reduced by the lack of lift. This is a disadvantage when the wind is running parallel to the coastline, such as a north wind off Miami. Off the Keys this may mean an east or a west wind. When you are faced with a north or south wind off Miami or Palm Beach, it is crucial to spread out your kites for several reasons.
Presenting distressed baitfish on the surface is highly effective, but requires well-planned drifts over fertile waters.
With a wider spread on a north wind, predators don’t need to swim under the boat to find your bait. This is helpful for spooky fish like blackfin tuna, though sailfish certainly aren’t afraid of the short kite bait just feet off the transom. Perhaps the best reason for a wider spread is that you can cover more depth. With a north wind off Miami or an east wind off the Keys, your left long may be in 155 feet of water while the right long sits in 135 feet. This increased range can create a bigger wall of baits and proverbial picket fence along the edge of the reef. This is crucial especially if the fish are spread out, which is typical during a slow bite with lacking current. The best way to increase spread is by opening your bridles and then adding split shots to the top corners of the kites in the direction you want them to veer.
When the wind is blowing perpendicular to the coast, east or west wind off Miami and north or south off the Keys, it becomes far less important to spread the kites out. Your picket fence is more effective without as much spread during these conditions. Here, we add a few split shots to each kite and use distance from the boat rather than distance between kites to cover more depth and a larger swath of water. We also usually leave the bridle a bit more closed. If you were to bank your kites too hard in either direction, you would actually reduce the effective wall of coverage. Presented with an east wind off Miami, if the south side of the spread is banked too hard to the left, then fish patrolling the edge from the north may need to swim under the boat to find the baits. If the spread is facing straight back, the wall of bait sits in cleaner water.
Kite fishing is far from a new concept, as primitive anglers around the world have been utilizing makeshift fishing kites for centuries. However, the most consistent tournament teams scrutinize every detail of the presentation in order to maximize the approach and stay ahead of the winds of change knowing the importance of just one sailfish release.