Wicked Winter Kings

As a southwest Florida guide and professional king mackerel tournament angler, catching success is always on the forefront of my agenda. Indeed, whether it’s daily chartering or competing against the best-of-the-best on the Southern Kingfish Association Tournament Trail (, the task of turning big fish is always a tall one.


Image 1 of 3

Photo: Captain Will Geraghty

However, through proper application, innovation and sheer determination I have been a part of many smoker kingfish to come over the rails, resulting in a hard fought 2007 SKA Mercury Tournament Trail divisional title and capturing the coveted 2009 Yamaha Pro Tour Angler of the Year title along with Captain Ron Mitchell and crew aboard Bandit.

Tough enough to grasp in frequented home waters, having a hot bite or quality sized kings “under your thumb” abroad on the tour has always been the challenge.

As our wintertime king bite progresses here along the Gulf coast and throughout the southern regions of the Atlantic, the following “tricks” of the tour can be applied to your daily offshore excursions with solid, drag-screaming results. Remember anglers; application, innovation and determination will keep you connected to monster cool water kings.

It’s All About the Bait
A requisite for targeting winter smokers is having an eclectic variety of quality live baits. While standard issue blue runners and pilchards will suffice, adding spice and size to the trolling spread will often produce an upgrade in the class of fish you entice. Depending upon your region and subject to availability, adding mullet, ladyfish, bluefish, freshly caught Spanish mackerel and ribbonfish to your arsenal will fill the voids. Remember, at times smoker kings become finicky and focused on a particular forage species present in the area, so be prepared for any and all bite scenarios.

Considerable time and effort is always exhausted in the procurement of live bait, only reaffirming the importance of proper handling procedures. Simple tools such as a dehooker and monofilament dip net should be standard. Ask any pro or seasoned charter skipper; tournaments ARE often won employing a healthy bait spread, so treat baits as a precious commodity.

Rig it Right
Prior to each tournament or charter outing I always remind myself of two critical items; presentation will be KEY and EVERY bite counts when hunting for smokers. Today’s modern tackle innovations allow for the easy execution of these items while feverishly working the cockpit in extreme pressure packed situations.

While single-strand wire still finds its way on board for double rig applications pulling pogies and goggle-eyes, employing American Fishing Wire ( Surfstrand 1×7 stainless wire has opened up a world of convenience and flexibility to the avid king mackerel angler.

Surfstrand 1×7’s camouflage color scheme, corrosion resistant spring tempered construction, higher breaking strength and superior kink resistance allows for quick and easy construction of multiple rigs. For the angler, no more bloody fingertips or haywire twists as simple snelling of hooks and use of a figure-eight knot (refer to illustration) to fasten terminal connections is all that is needed for preparing an effective 1×7 wire rig.

Surfstrand’s greatest attribute is the ease it affords for swiftly constructing rigs in the field that are accurately size-specific to the baits that are being deployed. For example, larger baits will need an additional stinger to avoid short strikes.

Indeed big baits do catch big kingfish. Big hooks will also keep large baits firmly pinned on the wire rig. To avoid pesky “nose/hook-pulls” and ensure a refined presentation it is prudent to employ stout, heavy gauge wire hooks such as Owner, VMC and Gamakatsu.

Additionally, kingfish bite patterns change on a dime requiring anglers to pay acute attention to rig accessories. Vibrant skirts, beads and spinner blades should all be considered. While plain rigs always produce, never be afraid to experiment with rigs, baits and spread setups on the surface and well below it. You never know when you might find that winning combination.

Get Dialed In
Due to king mackerel’s migratory nature and unpredictable wintertime conditions, becoming dialed into the fishery can at times be tricky. Tough enough to grasp in frequented home waters, having a hot bite or quality sized kings “under your thumb” abroad on the tour has always been the challenge. To combat the difficult task of locating kingfish, begin by tapping into the following helpful resources:

Stay on top of ever-changing wintertime sea surface temperatures, watercolor, currents and altimetry with one of many Internet based providers. Available for all regions of coastal Florida, most have gone electronic allowing access directly to your iPhone or Blackberry.

Online forums and tutorial seminars will more than add to your offshore king mackerel prowess. Here, avid anglers and experts alike reveal current details on what to look for in baits and locations. Networking, too, provides tremendous insight into the fishery. Building relationships with charter skippers, tackle shops and fellow fishermen will keep you in the loop and hooked up. On the tour with my teammates, we have forged relationships with others and share intel whenever possible always resulting in better finishes for all.

Lastly, while the above information is a great starting point, remember that nothing replaces time spent on the water.