If you’re not familiar with the Southern Kingfish Association, then there is something you should know. This isn’t your average tournament circuit, as die-hard kingfish anglers are from a different breed altogether. Here highly-skilled teams fish hard regardless of the prevailing weather conditions, and if you know anything about competitive kingfish tournaments you know that professional crews run far and wide in search of smoker kings. With so much productive water to explore, exactly where to fish is often the biggest challenge facing local and visiting SKA competitors. And since points are based on the largest fish by weight, teams often run full-throttle for more then a hundred miles in search of trophies.


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Photo: Captain George Mitchell

The Southern Kingfish Association was established in 1991 with the inaugural season debuting 11 events from North Carolina to Florida. Over the years the association has grown into what is now the largest sanctioning organization of saltwater fishing tournaments in the world. The SKA backs over 50 events from North Carolina to Texas. Members fish in their respected divisions on the Mercury Tournament Trail in hopes of qualifying for the SKA’s year-end National Championship in November. Together with their sanctioned events, SKA tournaments raise over a million dollars a year for local charities, scholarship programs, and local marine enhancement programs.

The SKA is a great way for families to enjoy quality time together, which explains why over the years more and more teams have been made up of husband and wife combinations.

The SKA is also the proud host of the Yamaha Professional Kingfish Tour—a series of five high-energy events for teams that possess better than average skills. There’s over $600,000 in prize money on the professional trail and amateur teams that qualify for the year-end National Championship are eligible to compete with the big dogs.

The Mercury Tournament Trail is where most of the 7,000-plus fishing teams join in friendly, family competition. The trail is broken down into 11 geographic divisions with three to five events in each division. Anglers compete to post their best three kingfish in a division with the top 25 teams in aggregate weight earning an invitation to the National Championship at the end of the year. For the recreational angler who competes in a boat 23-feet and under there’s a special class just for you, too. In this class the top 20 teams from each division get to go to the Championship. Imagine, fishing your home waters, fishing local events, then qualifying and getting to compete in the big event where your team could not only win cash and prizes but return home as the best in the country! This reality has already happened for many anglers.

The SKA is a great way for families to enjoy quality time together, which explains why over the years more and more teams have been made up of husband and wife combinations. The SKA rewards the ladies each year with a beautiful gold and diamond pendant going to the top female angler, while top junior and senior anglers are also awarded great prizes.

What To Expect
What’s not to like about competitive tournament fishing? Most events are educational, offer great fun, camaraderie, plus the prizes aren’t bad either. However, most tournaments lack a common denominator—a single species that unites anglers along thousands of miles of coastline. The mighty king mackerel is the perfect specimen and is one species that isn’t in danger of collapse. According to fishery managers kingfish stocks are in good shape and have made a tremendous comeback over the past few years. In the Gulf of Mexico kingfish stocks were decimated in the early 80s but through sound management and reasonable bag limits, the stocks are healthier than ever.

Anglers often go the distance when searching for nomadic kingfish. In a recent event held in Jacksonville, FL. the winning fish was caught off Fort Pierce. So what is it that drives anglers to lose sleep, miss work, upset loved ones and take long road trips? While cash prizes are certainly an influential factor, there’s a lot more to competitive king mackerel fishing. Even if you finished on the leaderboard in every tournament you entered your team still probably wouldn’t break even. It’s the challenge of locating a highly migratory predator that could be lingering in water ranging in depth from 20-feet all the way to 200-feet. That’s what draws competitive crews. You’re not only competing against a field of talented anglers, but against an intelligent fish that can exhibit unparalleled bursts of speed and power that will surely put your angling prowess and your tackle to the ultimate test. Finding that one true smoker is what it’s all about.

There aren’t many tackle regulations in the SKA with almost every team employing similar strategies. Fishing downriggers and kites with light tackle outfits and 20-pound test is the norm and since IGFA regulations do not apply, multiple treble hooks are allowed. Most SKA competitors utilize well-equipped vessels with top-notch electronics and lots of horsepower. Running and gunning is definitely the name of the game and the vessels that dominate SKA tournaments, high-powered deep-V center-consoles, lament this fact. Industry leading manufacturers such as Contender, Yellowfin, SeaVee, Hydra-Sport, Wellcraft, Donzi, Strike and Regulator are a just a few of the builders that strive to create a perfect platform that can live up to the rigors of competitive king mackerel fishing.

Finding Sponsors
Other than consistently locating tournament winning king mackerel, one of the challenges for competitive teams is gaining sponsorship to help with some of the incurred tournament expenses including entry fees, tackle, bait, fuel, ice, etc. Generally, sponsorship coincides with a successful team and seasons of experience on the tournament trail, and don’t for one second think that securing sponsorships is an easy task. Countless hours of gathering photos, submitting portfolios and typing letters are the initial steps in the process, a process that will surely be a long journey until your dreams finally come true. While you may think that getting as much financial support as possible is the ultimate goal, this is not necessarily the best-case scenario. For serious SKA competitors, building long-term relationships is what it’s all about.

Take Notes

Kingfish are creatures of habit and you can expect them to frequent the same locations year after year as they contour the coastline on their annual migration. Having a record of what conditions you found success in seasons past is a trade secret among SKA specialists. Factors to take note of include depth, location, water clarity, water and air temperatures, type of bait and lunar phases. While this all sounds good on paper, if you’ve spent enough time on the water you’re well aware of the fact that the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees and that to be successful you must be able to adapt to the prevailing conditions.

Become A Member

The SKA trail is fun, exciting, and more often than not, extremely rewarding. What other sport can you get into today and establish a name for yourself so quickly? It only costs $70 per year for new members and you get a subscription to Angler Magazine, the official publication of the SKA, an embossed membership card, free classified ads, discounted marine insurance and official SKA apparel. So come on, log on and jump aboard. It’s time to go tournament fishing, the SKA way!