Snakes To Smokers

I admit it. I’m the type who likes to fiddle. Regardless of species or technique, I’m always experimenting with tackle and always trying to perfect my approach. Sometimes I’m extremely successful and sometimes not so much. My latest quest has been an attempt to perfect the ultimate king mackerel stinger rig.


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Arguably the most popular game fish in Florida, king mackerel are regularly taken around the entire state by anglers of all ages and skill levels. While there are heavy runs in the spring and fall, these eating machines may crush a bait any day of the year! Kings are regularly fooled on trolled strip baits with Sea Witches and naked ballyhoo, but they can also be caught slow trolling with the use of downriggers and planers. Hungry mackerel readily slam jigs, destroy flies and seldom ignore struggling baits dangling from a kite. Truth is, these migratory eating machines can be caught on a wide variety of natural and artificial offerings using an array of tactics and techniques. This versatility is what makes these prolific predators so popular. Toss in drag sizzling runs and the key ingredient for smoked fish dip and you have the perfect predator!

While we all know there are no guarantees in fishing, the proper rig in any application will certainly increase your odds for a rewarding experience.

From 5-pound snakes to 50-pound smokers, one thing all king mackerel have in common is a set of razor sharp dentures. This means wire leader is a must to prevent frustrating cut offs. Commercial king-fishermen are known to fish triple hook sardine rigs tied directly to monofilament, but this is the exception rather than the norm in clear water with spooky fish.

When I first started king mackerel fishing, I tied rigs using #6 (61 lb.) single strand wire. It worked and still does, but after years of trial and error, boating plenty of kings and losing my fair share along the way, I’ve now reduced my terminal signature to 35 lb. titanium leader. American Fishing Wire, Malin, Knot 2 Kinky and Terminator all produce quality titanium products. This advanced material is much more supple and provides live baitfish greater mobility compared to single strand wire. This means your offerings don’t have to work as hard and remain livelier for longer periods of time. Additionally, titanium is nearly indestructible. You can stretch it…twist it…turn it…and catch multiple fish on the same rig, just don’t kink it because that is a titanium leader’s one weakness.

Additionally, titanium leader is thinner than comparable single strand wire, which equates to a sneakier approach. While kingfish are aggressive, they are not dumb and stealth matters! What else you need to know about titanium leader other than it retails for approximately $1/foot is that the series of knots commonly used with single strand stainless steel wire will not work, so forget about a simple haywire twist. Titanium has different characteristics and your terminal options include a bulky clinch knot, or tiny crimped connection. I prefer the latter for a cleaner, streamlined presentation. While tiny #1 crimps are perfect, you will need a scaled down crimping tool to achieve a reliable connection.

You should also know that your crimped connection would fail if you simply threaded the titanium wire through the eye of the hook and back through the crimp. Instead, complete the connection by feeding the final tag end of the wire protruding from the top of the crimp back down into the crimp, essentially leaving you with three strands of wire in the crimp. A secondary approach is to create a reinforced loop by making an overhand knot and passing the leader around the loop two times. When executed properly, both techniques will hold securely.

When rigging for kingfish, I start by doubling six feet of 20 or 30 lb. test running line with a Bimini twist or spider hitch. From here I connect six feet of 40 lb. fluorocarbon via a small, streamlined Albright knot. The tag end of the 40 lb. fluorocarbon is where the completed stinger rig will ultimately attach via a tiny barrel swivel. Length of titanium leader from the swivel to the lead hook is debatable. I prefer 24 inches, but remember that determined smokers characteristically charge bait with incredible speed. No matter how long your wire leader is, the occasional cut off is simply unavoidable.

Selecting the proper hook is the next part of the equation, with nearly as many options as there are anglers. While I continue to have success with a variety of hooks from various manufacturers, I’m currently experimenting with Eagle Claw’s latest innovation—the surgically sharpened Trokar Big Nasty. The 7/0 is perfect for fishing big pogy, goggle eye and blue runner. Not only are Trokar Big Nasty hooks needle sharp, but the hook features a welded eye that prevents the ultra thin titanium from slipping. Equally important, these forged works of fish-catching art are incredibly strong for their thin diameter. Trokar Big Nasty is also slightly offset with a unique shape in the bend, which I am convinced facilitates a quicker hook set and nearly escape-proof connection. Combined, these important features add up to one incredibly impressive hook!

My stinger hook on this rig, positioned three to six inches behind the J-hook depending if the rig will be fished off a kite or flat line, is a #2 Trokar Straight Point treble. Again, Trokar Straight Point trebles are ridiculously sharp. As a kingfish races in for the kill, the savage often slices its target in half. It is this small treble implanted in the back half of the bait that often makes the connection. With anything less than a 4X treble you could risk hook failure.

While we all know there are no guarantees in fishing, the proper rig in any application will certainly increase your odds for a rewarding experience. Regardless, you must remember to focus your efforts in areas likely to hold forage and the game fish you seek. It is this basic fundamental that is the very first step in achieving consistent success. Smokers beware!