How To - Live Bait Kingfish

LIVE BAIT FISHING- King Mackerel fishing techniques and such.....

At the Ocean Isle Fishing Center it is our goal to help you catch more fish.  We pride ourselves on working with the area's best captains and having the most knowledgeable staff.  However, it is one thing to know, it is another thing to tell, and that is where the OIFC comes in.  See the below articles, videos and links that will hopefully help you have more success fishing the inshore waters.

 
Videos:
 
 
Links:
 
 
Articles On This Page:
 

Beat the Heat to Catch King Mackerel

Dead Bait Fishing for Kings

Fall Brawl Tips- as printed in 2007 Fall Brawl program

Fall Brawl Tournament Tips- as printed in the 2006 Fall Brawl program

Fishing in Tight Quarters- How To Succeed When Fishing in a Crowd

Kingfish Tournament Preparation

Sifting through Jacks to Find Kings- originally printed 2004

Tournament Tips and Techniques- as printed in the 2005 Jolly Mon program

Winning the Jolly Mon King Classic- originally printed 2004

 


Tournament Tips and Techniques

quoted by locally and regionally recognized tournament fishermen

 

Dean Spatholt- Fish Meister- 2004 SKA angler of the year

  • Prefish when at all possible and look for favorable conditions ie. water color, temperature, clarity.  “I consider spots that hold fish in the upper teens to low twenty pound range to be worthy of fishing on tournament day.”
  • Mix in a big, different bait in your spread to draw attention.  “I prefer Bluefish, Spanish Mackerel or Charlie Browns.”
  • Carry a super heavy cast net that will catch bait when it gets scattered.  “I use Capt. Brant’s custom net that I got from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center.”
  • Be sure to jig bait where you are fishing and mix it into your spread.  “Often times I find the baitfish local to the area will be more productive than Menhaden I’ve brought from near shore.”
  • If you have the chance, don’t be afraid to fish by yourself.  It’s a big ocean.

 

Steve Shook- Cat Daddy- 1st place 2005 FLW Ft. Pierce kingfish tournament and 1998 SKA angler of the year.

 

  • I like to use a large bait of 13-15 inches.
  • I use 25 pound test with a  30 pound fluorocarbon leader
  • I use a 16 inch lead of Terminator titanium leader tied to my flurocarbon with an Albright knot
  • Many time I’ll hook my boat behind its head or even 1/3 of the way down the back in order to get it to swim differently or make it swim down- instead of always hooking the bait in the nose.

 

Joe Winslow- Hooligan- The most dominant Carolina King Mackerel tournament fisherman over the past five years

  • Kingfish are creatures of habit. If you find out WHERE they bit yesterday, try also to find out WHEN they bit.  
  • Check your baits frequently. Kings will often shadow a bait without striking until you pull it away from them.
  •  If you miss a strike, do two things – 1) freespool the bait that was hit, then 2) drop back or pull up one of the other baits to the position that got the strike.
  • Fill several buckets of water so that when you hook up, you can just drop each of the other cleared baits into a bucket. This will lower your transition time significantly.
  • Don’t lie to other competitors. If you have confidential information, just say you can’t talk about it.
  • Be courteous fishing in a crowd. Always congratulate the winners. And don’t be a potlicker.

Barrett McMullan- Team OIFC- Perennial regional SKA division top five

·        Focus efforts on 65' depth range when fishing the Jolly Mon.  Find an area holding bait preferably away from the crowd of boats in 65' depth and
go to work.

·        Have someone jigging a Sabiki rig at all times.  Mid July is a great time to
catch odd baits such as cigar minnow, boston mackerel, spanish mackerel, and
other baitfish that will separate your spread from the next guy's.

·        Go fly a kite.  Fishing a bait dangled from a kite can be a deadly tactic
for large king mackerel.  This method of fishing takes some practice.

·        Jolly Mon = Jungle.  When in doubt about where to try your luck for the
Jolly Mon, head for the Jungle.

Forrest Taylor- Team Furuno- 1998 SKA national champion

  • Preparation is key.  Carry various styles of rigs made for a variety of sizes of baitfish.  In addition, thoroughly check rods, reels and lines and double check electrical connections on your boat to be sure everything is working.  “One thing I don’t overlook are my baitwell pumps.  They have to work perfectly, thus I double check their connections and carry spare pumps in case of emergency.”
  • The quality of bait is key.  “It is essential to have a drain at the bottom of your live well which constantly siphons off the ammonia that can build up at the bottom of your tank.”
  • Don’t overload your baitwell.  “I put 36 Menhaden in my 55 gallon tank to insure their freshness.”

Rube McMullan- Whimper Snapper Whoopers-  old-time gooroo

I would like to use this opportunity to present my special super secret tips to catch the tournament wining King Mackerel. The way things work on our Carolina Contender Fishing Team, I come up with the nutty ideas, Brant and Barrett look at me like I'm crazy, and 5 years later these crazy ideas become an integral part of our tournament repertoire. The problem here is as I get older, having to wait for 5 year cycles to incorporate my tourney winning ideas has gotten to the point that I'm not willing to wait out the 5 years. Therefore, if I make public these ideas, and you go win the tourney, maybe Brant and Barrett will go ahead and pick up these ideas now rather than later. So here goes...... 

  • "Lite em up". On your ribbonfish rig, take a "lunker light stick" and place in the mouth of the ribbonfish. When you close his mouth with the nose hook, the light stick will be secured in his mouth. Works best on cloudy days[red is best color].He'll be breathing fire, which will be a challenge to the biggest badest of the King Macks. 
  • "Smell em skirts". Skirts are an important part of everyone's arsenal but this takes it to the next level. Take a hollow squid and rig like a normal skirt. Inside of the skirt, take a section of your wife's kitchin sponge and stuff into the hollow squid. Fill the sponge with pogy oil. Put your live pogy on and he'll put out a smell line that will attract Kings from far and wide.

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Beat the Heat to Catch King Mackerel


Beat the Heat to catch King Mackerel

By Capt. Brant McMullan

 

 

The month of August is hot in the Carolinas.  Temperatures soaring in excess of 95 degrees and calm winds often have us fishermen dreaming of the cool October days ahead.  But it’s fishing, and it’s in our blood.  We make excuses to go on the roughest of days, so why should there be any difference on the calmest of days?  The problem comes in finding action during these “dog days” of Summer.  Particularly if you’re seeking King Mackerel.  After making a good showing in June and July in the 55-70 foot depths, usually the Kings will retire offshore to deeper, cooler depths where they relax before heading to the beach for their Fall run.  Think about it.  How many times have you been listening in on the radio to hear a bottom fishing charter boat talk about catching 30 pound Kings on the drift line.  I hear it all the time, and August is the month.  So let’s see if we can take advantage of this fishery to not only produce a nice catch of King Mackerel, but also produce some great table fare to boot.

 

The first piece of the puzzle is “where”.  The answer is simple in that you will be mimicking exactly what the bottom fishing charter boats are doing.  You will head offshore to the 90-110 foot depth range and find a spot with a good ledge or rocky bottom.  You’re favorite Grouper or Snapper hole will be perfect.  Off of the southeast North Carolina coast, the areas to the northeast and southwest of the Frying Pan Tower have great bottom structure and are where the Kings hang out during August. 

 

The next piece of the puzzle is “how”.  I will set my anchor over the spot with structure.  Next I pull out my B-liner Snapper rig and drop a couple pieces of fresh squid to the bottom.  Don’t forget to wind up 10 cranks if you want to specifically target B-liners.  Hopefully I’ve anchored over a spot holding the tasty Snappers and I’ve quickly boated a couple and have placed them on hold in the live well.  I then shift my focus and begin getting set up to catch Kings.  I’ll rig a live B-liner up on a standard 2 hook King Mackerel rig and let it drift on top some 50-75 yards behind the boat.  Typically there will be enough current in the area you’re bottom fishing that the B-liner will swim nicely away from the boat.  However, if there is no current then you may want to use a balloon as a cork/sail to get the boat away from the boat.  Next I’ll pull out a couple of frozen Cigar Minnows and rig them on standard 2 hook King rigs.  I’ll fish one with no weight just short of the B-liner and fish another with a 1 ounce egg sinker set 6 feet in front of the bait and approximately 50 yards back.  Lastly, I’ll take the other live B-liner I have and let it back 30 feet and then drop it on the downrigger to 50 feet deep.  This technique is very effective since many times the Kings will be holding deep in the cooler water.  However, again if there is no current, then the downrigger cannot be used as the bait will likely swim around the ball.  And that’s pretty much the jist of it.

I’ve found many times that the Kings will actually prefer the dead Cigar Minnow and often times only feed on them if the bait is in the exact right depth zone.  What I like to do in this case is to rig 2 or 3 rods with 1 ounce egg sinkers and dead Cigar Minnows.  I will then let each one out to different distances/depths and try to determine which zone the fish are feeding in.  Once I’ve pinpointed the zone, I bring all my baits into that area and increase my chances for catching more fish.

If you want to get creative with your new found King Mackerel fishing technique, you can try adding kite fishing into the mix.  Nothing looks prettier than a fat, lively B-liner splashing away at the water’s surface.  And the strikes you’ll get are breath taking, not to mention the Kings are usually oversized.  Simply replace your top lined baits with two lines run from a kite and continue with the weighted and downrigger baits and you’re set up.

A reminder for all of you tournament fishermen out there that may have ambitions of testing this technique.  You will want to set up a system that will allow you to break free from your anchor in the case that you hook up with a big King.  It’s of course important not to put too much pressure on a prize winning King in that you risk on pulling the hooks.  As such, trying to slow down a King or drag it back to an anchored boat is a risk that is not worth taking.  Therefore, I have clip-in shackles built in to three sections of my anchor rope at 50,100, and 150 feet.  After I’ve set anchor, I’ll take a polyball and hook it into the next available shackle in the rope.  In the case a big fish gets on, I unshackle the anchor rope and I’m free to chase the fish and then come back to the same spot to continue fishing.

And did I forget to mention this style of fishing has a perk?  Once you’ve settled in and are waiting for the bites, don’t be shy in pulling the Snapper rod back out or rigging up a Grouper buster.  Hopefully you’ve anchored on top of the bottom fish and can now keep yourself busy making dinner for nights to come.

So don’t let those “dog days” of Summer slow your fishing schedule down.  Head offshore to bluer pastures and set anchor.  Enjoy a relaxing day of bottom fishing while lightlining and catching the occasional 30 pound King Mackerel.  It’s just that easy. 

 

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Dead Bait Fishing for Kings


HOW TO KING MACKEREL FISH WITH DEAD BAIT

 

Materials needed:                                                Recommended Rod/Reel:

-4 lead headed, double treble king rigs               -Shimano Speedmaster with 7’ Star Ariel

-2  3oz egg sinkers or a downrigger                     Lite Action tip. Costs $______                        

-chum [optional]                                                  -Penn 345 GLS with Star Ariel 7’ lite

-fish oil                                                                   action tip. Cost $________

-dead cigar minnows                                            -Penn level wind combo. Cost $_____

 

The key to dead bait king mackerel fishing is to run your baits slow enough that they don’t spin. If they spin you are going too fast. By using a lead headed king rig, this can normally be accomplished by leaving 1 engine in gear, however if your bait is spinning you will need to slow down even more. This can be accomplished by either putting your engine in and out of gear, or by dragging a 5 gallon bucket in the water which acts as a drag, thus slowing your boat. Additionally, when you put your cigar minnow on the king rig, the lead head hook goes under the baits chin, and out it’s head. The treble hook should be placed in the bait’s side, but in a matter that the bait is straight, and not in any bind. If it is bent by the hook placement creating a bind, the bait will spin.

 

We typically fish 2 lines up top and 2 lines weighted. The top lines will be placed back 20 and 30 seconds behind the boat. The weighted lines will be placed 10 and 15 seconds behind the boat. If you have a downrigger, that is where your deep lines will run[typically ½ the depth of the water. If you are using the 3 oz egg weights to get a bait down, place them approx 10 feet above your bait and tie them off with a rubber band so the weight will remain above the bait.

 

We drag our chum beside the boat or if using fish oil, take a plastic soft drink bottle, pour the oil in the bottle, and make a small hook hole in the bottom of the bottle so the oil can slowly drip out. Tie it off beside the boat so it is dipping in and out of the water. The chum or oil will act as an attractant for the fish.

 

We fish 20 lb test line, and your drag will be very light. When the King strikes, don’t set the hook, just allow him to run as the treble hooks will set themselves. Patiently angle the fish to the boat, and when it’s time to gaff, keep the boat moving so as to keep the fish out from underneath the boat where he may get tangled in the props.

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Fall Brawl Tips- as printed in 2007 Fall Brawl program


Fall Brawl Tips

“Yee Haw” Fish Call Distinguishes Your Bait

One of the keys to catching a tournament winning king is catching its eye.  This is especially true when fishing in a crowd, which is often the case in tournament fishing.  The all new Yee Haw Fish Call does just that.  The blades on the front of the Yee Haw spin at over 500 RPMs, all while maintaining the very slow speeds needed for slow trolling.  Thus the high RPMs creates hydrokinetic energy which excites the baitfish and “calls” the big King Mackerel in.  The standard rigging method is to wire the Yee Haw into your rig approximately 12 inches ahead of the bait.  The Yee Haw is deadly effective for use with live bait or dead bait.  You will be surprised at its effectiveness. 

The Yee Haw Fish Call is only available at the Ocean Isle Fishing Center- retail $9.99

 

Live Bait Problems

If the trend continues this Fall as it has started, you may find it very difficult to locate and catch Pogys for fishing the Fall Brawl.  Without this standard tournament winning bait, what other options do you have?  Live Bluefish will be a prime baitfish during late October.  Typically as the water cools these Blues school up around inlet mouths and can found in the rip currents:  they are normally indicated by dipping gulls working the rips.  Use Gotcha plugs, Stingsilvers or Clark Spoons to catch plenty for your live well.  Another prime bait is Mullet.  Schools of Silver Mullet are often running the beach during the late Fall.  You will normally find them very close to the surf, often in less than 10 feet of water.  Look for the tell tale Mullet jumping from the water and then watch as the school will reveal itself.  Using a 10 foot cast net is most effective in catching these prime baits.  One bait this is typically overlooked but in its greatest abundance in the late Fall are Spots.  Spots are King Mackerel candy and can be caught on hook and line with great ease in the late Fall.  The only problem with them is that they do not slow troll very well at all.  To effectively fish spots you should either drift, or my favorite, anchor up and fish them under balloons.  These are three answers to the possible Pogy problem.  Of course, don’t forget dead Cigar Minnows and Ribbonfish.  They are always stand bys and have have produced MANY tournament winning fish.

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Fall Brawl Tournament Tips- as printed in the 2006 Fall Brawl program


Fall Brawl Tournament Tips by Capt. Barrett McMullan

For those who haven’t heard, the king mackerel fishing along the Carolina coast in October is second to none.  On any given day one can fish dead baits or live baits from 1 mile off the beach to 30 miles off the beach and have an unforgettable day catching smoker kingfish. However, it’s tournament time, and that means fishing for that one bite from the big boy rather than 20 bites from the youngsters.  If history means anything, then the use of live bait is most certainly an option that can improve chances on catching the winner.

 

Unfortunately, live bait is not always easy to catch during the Fall months. Pogys are the live bait most often used throughout the fishing season but by mid to late October the pogys are larger and more scarce. They are definitely catchable and very effective when used to target king mackerel, but a lot of valuable fishing time is often wasted chasing these baitfish.  Here’s a few suggestions on cutting down the time catch these baitfish:  (1.) Time permitting, attempt to catch enough pogys to fish with the day before the tournament and pin them up over night in a bait pin placed in an area with little current.  The water is cooler this time of year and the bait will stay in decent condition, not to mention you will save a lot of time tournament morning when other teams are searching for bait.  (2.) When catching pogys, focus efforts on flips that are in shallower water rather than deeper water.  Catching pogys in 30 feet of water rather than 10 feet is much more difficult because the extra depth gives the pogys a chance to swim out from underneath the cast net.  (3.) The heavier the net is, the better it is.  With pogys being larger and thus faster, throwing an extra heavy net will be beneficial because it will sink on the bait before it has a chance to escape.  

Pursuing other live bait options this time of year is not a bad bet and often times using an ‘exotic’ bait will separate your baits from the boat fishing next to you.  Silver mullet are usually finishing up their migration down the coast during this time and make an excellent kingfish bait. The world famous Carolina spot run takes place during October and many tournament winners have fallen victim to a big yellow belly spot. A tip about catching spots: using blood worms on hook and line is certainly an effective option but often times you can shorten the process of filling your livewell with spots. When the spots are running along the beach sometimes they will stir up muddy balls of water while they are feeding along the bottom.  Also, schools of porpoises will be feeding in the area of muddy water indicating the presence of the schools of spots.  While watching your fish finder, peruse the area of muddy water.  Once you have marked a "big blob" holding near the bottom, use your heaviest cast net and throw off the back of your boat where you just marked the fish.  Be prepared for a well full of spots and enough extras to have a fish fry for all of Brunswick County.  Other baits that should not be overlooked include live cigar minnows, which can be found offshore on hard bottoms or artificial reefs, pinfish and bluefish.  If all else fails, don’t hesitate to use dead baits such as ribbonfish, cigar minnows or ballyhoo.

 

Where to fish? - the question that determines the outcome of your weekend. There is no absolute correct answer to this but with a little research, communication between fellow anglers and knowing what to look for, you can improve your chances of being in the right area. First thing to look at is history.  Hot spots in the past during this tournament and during October include the Cape Fear River Channel, Lighthouse Rocks, Horseshoe, Shark Hole, 390/390, 410/510 and the Myrtle Beach rock. This is not to say that the winner will definitely come from one of these spots but it is just a piece of the puzzle to take into consideration when you are trying to decide where to try your luck. The way I choose between each of these spots and the numerous others that are out there depends on both the bait holding in the area and the water color.  I prefer to be fishing around pods of baitfish that kingfish will likely be feeding on like pogys, cigar minnows, or glass minnows. Water color is something often overlooked, but this time of year I find it is very important to be in that dark "king green" water. 

Whether its catching bait or waiting for the bite, patience and persistence is key.  And remember, big bait, big fish.

 

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Fishing in Tight Quarters- How To Succeed When Fishing in a Crowd


Fishing in Tight Quarters

by Capt. Brant McMullan

As competition and prize payouts increase, the ability to effectively cope with crowds has become a necessity

 

            Thinking back on my years of King Mackerel tournament competition, I recall numerous times when a particular spot’s productivity attracted quite a crowd of fishermen.  I remember the Hog’s Breath tournament out of Key West in 99’ when a huge school of Kings in the 30 to 50 pound range were holding right offshore of the Western Dry Rocks.  A crowd of over 100 boats jockeyed for position as they tried to keep their baits in an area no larger than two football fields.  It was chaos and excitement rolled into one as you could hear the scream of other boat’s reels.  The conditions were so tight most courteous fishermen opted to fish no downriggers and only two or three flat lines.  As we would hook up, the angler would make a dash for the bow as the driver gunned the boat around and started making headway toward the fish.  These were not small Kingfish either; like I said, fish in the 30 to 50 pound class.  We worked to keep our fish right under the boat, thus protecting it from the other boats around us.  I watched as several other teams lost fish after fish as they couldn’t react fast enough and allowed their King to distance itself too far from the boat and get entangled in other boats downriggers or props.  I watched one instance in which a boat hooked up and spun on their fish only to have their long flat line get hung up in the props, thus keeping them from being able to maneuver towards the fish.  I also saw another boat move into the fishing area and proceed to drop anchor in the middle of the fishing fleet.  Needless to say, his anchor line was the end of many other boat’s opportunity to boat a big Kingfish.  The whole scene was a true spectacle, and in hind site, quite a learning experience. 

There’s no question that the sport of saltwater fishing is growing with leaps and bounds.  At the forefront of popularity is the hard hitting, fast running and widely abundant King Mackerel.  Over the past few years, King Mackerel have made the spotlight thanks to the Southern Kingfish Association and its many tournaments held up and down the east and gulf coasts.  It’s become quite lucrative to be able to catch big Kings on demand, and as such, thousands of fishermen chase the silver gamester with a relentless drive.  But, tournament fishing is not easy money.  Competition is fierce and sometimes in that great big expanse of an ocean, fishing can be quite tight.

            Experience tells us that you can’t win if you’re not in the right place.  Great bait, fast boat, good looking girlfriend……all those don’t mean a thing if you’re fishing on the “#1 Rock” when all the big Kings are on “#2”.  Before a tournament, competing fishermen will scour the area looking for “the secret spot” where they will be able to catch the winning King during competition.  Problem is, there just aren’t too many secrets spots anymore.  Furthermore, fishermen that prefish for a tournament, tend to check the same old areas that have historically proven to produce big fish for that particular time of year.  Even if they find fish, many other fishermen will likely be thinking the same thing.  What happens is you end up with a tournament of 200 boats, and 150 of them will fish within a Pogies throw of each other.   As an experienced and recognized competitor on the Southern Kingfish Association’s tournament circuit, I will provide several do’s and don’ts that I’ve picked up from experience and in dealing with other top fishermen in an effort to help you deal with fishing in close quarters.

The first and most obvious key to successfully fishing in crowds is to always be alert.  The boat driver must be able to anticipate the moves of other boats and potential maneuvering problems that may soon exist.  Propping back with a soda and a sandwich may not always be practical if you’re fishing in tight quarters, especially if the sea conditions are sloppy.

Since you’re alert and aware of what’s going on around at all times, you’ll need to be ready to act when a smoker King nails your bait.  It’s one thing to be able to maintain a spread of 6 baits in a cluster of boats, but to actually catch a fish in the crowd is the key.  You need to have a plan with your crew in case of a strike.  Who will man the rod, the wheel, wind in lines, turn the boat…..The method of “we’ll just let it happen and then react” requires a ton of experience fishing together and even then often results in shouted demands and sometimes heated arguments.  If fishing is really tight, you may need to tone down the number of lines  as well as shorten your long lines to ensure quick maneuverability when you get a strike; if you get a strike and spin to chase the fish and your lines are too far back, the angler will soon have the long line draped across his rod and tangled around his feet you fish.  When I’m fishing a tight crowd, I  will typically trim down my spread to four lines with either three top lines and one downrigger or two top lines and two downriggers.  In addition, I’ll keep my longest line at 15-20 yards from the boat. 

Along the same lines of being able to act when your bite comes along is being able to react to what’s going on with other fishermen around you.  Sure it’s nice to plan and think you’ll be catching the big fish, but many times it’s the guy next to you who gets his number called.  Since you’ve followed step 1 and you’re alert, you immediately see the guy next to you is hooked up.  Check the direction of the fish, and if there is any chance what so ever the fish is moving in your direction, immediately raise your downriggers, shorten your long lines and power up to get out of the way.  Sometimes things happen so fast you can’t avoid a crossed line.  Don’t even hesitate to cut all your lines if need be.  What goes around comes around.  One other note for the fisherman with the fish hooked up-  if your fish is headed toward another boat, be sure to let the boat know they may be in the way.  A wave or a VHF call is usually sufficient.

 

Now that I’ve covered several of the important points you will want to follow, let me now point out several more things you want to be sure not to do.  The first of the “don’ts” goes along with staying in control.   It’s great to be able to set a beautiful spread with baits up, baits down, skirted, unskirted…., but fishing too many lines will hurt you while fishing in a crowd.  When a fish strikes you want to be able to make evasive manuevers and fishing too many lines can lead to lines in the props, loss of mobility and finally a lost fish because it got too far from the boat and cut off by another boat.

Another “No No” is to set up anchor in the middle of the fishing hole.  Anchoring is an effective technique for pinpoint fishing a spot, however, if several other boats are trying to fish the same rock and you plop down on top of it, you’re not being considerate.  First off, your anchor line becomes a hazard to other boat’s trying to land fish.  Second, you’re keeping other boats from being able to present their baits where the fish are likely holding and third, you’re usually just chumming up the fish to go and bite the guy’s bait who is trolling up your slick.

Right along with anchoring and thus hogging a hole is kite fishing.  Kite fishing is a creative and often times spectacular method for catching big Kings.  However, it greatly reduces your maneuverability and also causes your bait spread to take up a disproportional fishing area. 

One of the most important of the “don’ts” again touches on the necessity of  being able to make evasive maneuvers; don’t losing control of your fish.  This is probably the #1 problem when people fish in tight quarters.  If you haven’t followed the above list of do’s and don’ts, your fish will likely distance itself 200+ yards from your boat and leave several boats in between you and it.  The answer is to be ready to react fast.  After the strike, have the rod man quickly move to the bow while the driver turns the boat and shortens the long lines.  Go ahead and power up and get on top of the fish quick.  As soon as you’re on top of the fish, you’ve eliminated the risk of losing it to another boat.  With my fishing team, I prefer to have three crew members ready to react.  One member mans the rod and heads directly to the bow, one member powers up and spins the boat toward the fish and the third member first shortens the long lines then brings up the downriggers.  And while I’m still on the don’ts and we’re hooked up to a smoker King in a tight crowd, don’t tighten the drag!  Resist the urge as you will risk pulling the small hooks from the fish’s mouth or wherever else it might be hooked.  Use a reel with a high speed retrieve ratio and wind fast and steady as the boat driver gets on top of the fish.  Once you’re over the fish, the standard pump and wind will help get the fish in the boat

On a final note of etiquette, remember to be courteous to other boats fishing around you.  If you can hear the guy’s VHF or check his long line, you’re too close!  Remember that no one owns a spot and maneuvering to cut off another boat’s progress toward your spot is rude.  Lastly, your boat’s roaring power may be impressive, but roaring into or out of the fishing hole is very obtrusive and disrespectful.  Let your presence be known by the fish you put on the boat, not the noise you make.

Now that you’ve been schooled on how to handle situations when you or a neighboring boat gets hooked up to a King, let me pass along a few tid bits I’ve found effective in actually drawing strikes while fishing in a crowd.  Without a doubt, the most important key to separating yourself from the guy next to you is your bait.  Live bait is a must if you seek to attract the biggest King and above that, the bigger and more lively your bait, the better off.  It was just this past November when we were fishing the Southern Kingfish Association National Championship out of Morehead City, NC.  We had caught Menhaden for bait the day before the tournament and kept it overnight to fish the next day.  We ended up fishing on a temperature break with a crowd of 50 other boats a few miles offshore of Hatteras.  The bite was fast and furious as 30-60 pound Kings were being hooked up left and right.  At day’s end, we weighed in what we thought was a respectable 39 pounder, but soon came to find out that all the guys that stopped and caught fresh Menhaden on the way to the fishing ground were weighing 40 and 50 pounders.  Case in point, always opt for fresh bait if you have the choice.  It’s worth taking the extra time.  All bait being equal, I will work on trying to present my live bait in the most natural manner as is possible by scaling down on the size of my terminal tackle.  I’ll use #2 or #3 wire Malin wire with #6 or #4 Eagle Claw treble hooks and 20# barrel swivels.  I’ll shorten my lead wire down to 12” to 18” and splice on 6-10 feet of 20# fluorocarbon to my main reel fishing line.  In addition, I will often experiment with trolling speeds.  Sometimes I’ll let the boat drift at neutral to allow the baits to swim deep or sometimes I’ll speed up a bit to make the Kingfish believe the bait is going to get away.  Another trick is to run double and sometimes even triple baits on a rig.  The frantic movement of the hooked baits together will often draw the attention of a hungry King.  Lastly, I always experiment with adding color to my baits by using skirts.  One color may be better than another at any given time, so don’t hesitate to make changes. 

As you further immerse yourself in the world of King Mackerel fishing, you will find that you’re not the only one out there that enjoys catching these silver bullets.  And whether you’re a weekend angler fishing a local hotspot or a tournament fisherman vying for position over a top producing Kingfish hole, it pays to know how to handle yourself while fishing in crowds.

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Kingfish Tournament Preparation


Kingfish Tournament Preparation

 

Kingfish Tournament Fishing is like any other sport or hobby in that it is only as serious and time consuming as you make it.  However, as most tournament fishermen will testify, king mackerel tournament fishing is more than a hobby and different than a sport; it is an obsession.  For those who feel the same way as I about this unique sport, and wish to reach that level of tournament fishing where you, your team and your boat function as a finely oiled piece of machinery, here are some advanced tips for preparing to compete in kingfish tournaments.

 

It is essential to see the “big picture”.  You must have a plan with contingencies.  No detail is any more important than the other because everything must fit together properly in order to be consistently successful.  For this reason, having all systems operating flawlessly is a key step in achieving your tournament goal.  Being able to fish with confidence i.e., knowing you are in the right location, using the right techniques, and all the equipment is in full working order is an invaluable asset in tournament fishing.  The great thing about realizing the importance of this is that each of these ingredients to success can be addressed even before the tournament competition hours begin.  Understand that due to preparation, each piece of the puzzle you fill in ahead of time puts you one more step ahead of the next guy.

 

Equipment

Needless to say, make sure your engines are in full working order.  It is a good idea to run your boat at cruising speed, wide-open and trolling speed.  Chances are likely that you will need all three capabilities.  Inspect spark plugs for corrosion and oil build-up, and any other special conditions that your individual engines have displayed in the past.  Check your bilge and surrounding water for fuel, oil, and hydraulic leaks, as any unnatural fluid leaks will taint the water your baits will be swimming in and will adversely affect fishing.  On that note, make sure you are not leaving the dock on tournament morning without a full load of fuel and oil.  No matter if you believe that you will be fishing within a few miles of home, you never know when you may get the word that there is a hot bite 50 miles up the beach and you need to run wide open to get there in time.  Nothing is more frustrating than to be all ready to go fishing and your electronics are not working.  Checking all electrical units and switches prior to a tournament is a must if you want to save yourself some major headaches.  Beyond just checking to make sure all systems are working, it is a good idea to know how to repair and replace parts and units efficiently and correctly in case of the need for emergency repairs.  This statement is never more applicable than when referring to bait pumps.  For this reason, carrying a spare pump as well as the tools to install it quickly will salvage the day.  One more piece of equipment I never leave the dock without is a spare prop.  Just as with the bait pump, knowing how to replace a spun prop and being able to do it quickly is a valuable skill. 

 

Often overlooked on the equipment preparation front for kingfish tournaments is the condition of your boat’s trailer.  During the tournament season it is essential to have your trailer in working order at all times.  For the same reason as carrying a full tank of gas at all times, having your trailer operating correctly will give you the option of towing your boat up or down the coast to fish a hot bite.  You never know when you might get the word at a captain’s meeting the night before a no check-out tournament that the 40 pounders are jumping in the boat in the Cape Fear River Channel and your rig is sitting at the dock in Morehead City.  Having the flexibility to throw your boat on the trailer and head to where the fish are can often be the difference.  One thing to note on trailer maintenance is that 9 times out of 10 it is going to be the lights not functioning properly that will keep you from hitting the highway.

 

Bait

Before addressing the ever popular question, “where’s the bait?” it is necessary to first think about the conditions you will be fishing and decide what type of baitfish you prefer whether it be pogys, mullet, cigar minnows…ect.  Once you know what you are looking for it is a good idea to find out where they have been holding so you can attain them with little trouble the morning of the tournament.  Be sure to have back up plans or alternate methods for catching bait on tournament morning, as weather changes and crowds of boats can make catching bait in conventional ways difficult.  Time allowing, I like to go out the day before a tournament and focus more on bait than actually fishing.  I focus on finding at least two sources of fresh bait that I can count on. 

 

Penning bait vs. not- a brief note on catching bait before a tournament.  This is a tactic chosen by many fishermen in an effort to increase fishing time on tournament day and has led to many winning fish being caught before others have started fishing.  However, once the people that have fresh bait show up to fish around you, the chances are high that you will be out-fished.

 

Finding Fish

Pre-fishing is a good way to find fish and get an idea as to what behaviors they are displaying.  It is important to really take note of what is going on with the fish and conditions when you are pre-fishing.  You should notice what depths the fish and bait are holding at, what types of bait they are feeding on and as many other details as are available.  I don’t like to actually do much pre-fishing as too many times you catch the big fish and then can’t produce that fish in the tournament.  Instead, I’ll go on what I call a recon mission prior to the tournament.  I’ll ride out to several spots that I may fish in the tournament and pay close attention to my fish finder, as well as surface conditions and any other conditions that may help me decide whether to return to that particular spot on tournament day.  Also, occasionally I’ll pull a normal spread of baits on single hooks with mono leaders just to check for bites. 

 

History speaks the loudest for determining where the fish will be.  Big kings are genetically coded, similar to salmon, to return to the same places year after year.  They will typically follow patterns according to conditions and not time.  Fortunately, typically conditions repeat themselves more or less at the same times each year.  Besides paying attention to conditions and remembering exacts from year to year, reading back through over 10 years of past issues of the SKA’s Angler magazine to see where big fish were caught in each tournament can be an excellent information source. 

 

Communicating and research is a critical step in determining where the big kings are holding.  It is a good idea to start calling fishing piers, friends, and tackle stores at least a week in advance of the tournament to find out what has been going on.  When calling tackle stores, piers and marinas find out any recent catches and if there has been any citation size kingfish weighed.  Establishing a network with fishermen you trust is very important.  Working together to find fish may not always pan out for you, but remember that what goes around comes around.  This ocean is a big place and trying to be everywhere at once is impossible.  A bit of equipment advice for communicating during tournaments with those in your network is to carry a cellular phone.  Often times your buddy, who is on a hot bite, might be out of radio and range and cannot get you the message of what is happening.  For this reason, a quality cell phone with the capability to plug into an onboard antennae is a crucial piece of equipment.  There is nothing worse than to get back to the dock and find out a friend is sitting atop the leader board after fishing all day by himself catching fish as fast as he could go and he could not get in touch with you due to your lack of equipment. 

 

The whole idea behind spending time and effort preparing for a kingfish tournament is to give yourself a better shot at winning.  Each step you take to prepare for a tournament is one more advantage that will help in posting a good result.  However, in the end, luck usually plays a huge role in how your day goes.  But it is the ability to be prepared and manage the bad luck while absorbing the good luck that will have you winning consistently.  Those who understand and act on the belief that a tournament starts weeks ahead of the actual date and not on tournament morning are those who will be ahead of the game and thus in better position to succeed.  A successful king mackerel tournament fisherman never rests.

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Sifting through Jacks to Find Kings- originally printed 2004


I mentioned this in my article this week, but often times while live bait fishing the Amberjack will overwhelm your fishing efforts.  Amberjack are certainly a worthy adversary, but there’s only so many you want to catch before its time to give the Kings a shot.  And if the Jacks are really persistent and continue to hang with boat and eat every live bait before it gets 10 feet from the boat, then the answer is to switch your live baits out for dead baits.  Now I know this isn’t conventional wisdom, which says to use live bait for the best Kingfish action, but successful fishing is all about adaptation.  Slow trolling dead Cigar Minnows on skirted Kingfish rigs is very effective and despite their often totally mindless actions, the Amberjack apparently are picky enough not to eat dead baits.  If I’m fishing an area where I know the Jacks are present, I’ll fish a spread that consists of a dead bait on the long top line and a dead bait on the downrigger.  I’ll fish these with skirts of which I prefer the dark green or pink/mylar Cape Lookout Lure Kingfish skirt.  Then I’ll fish a single live bait on the medium to short line where I can see it and pull it away from the Jacks should they show up.  The dead baits are very effective for Mahi as well and you’ll be pleased with the results.

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Tournament Tips and Techniques- as printed in the 2005 Jolly Mon program


Tournament Tips and Techniques

quoted by locally and regionally recognized tournament fishermen

 

Dean Spatholt- Fish Meister- 2004 SKA angler of the year

  • Prefish when at all possible and look for favorable conditions ie. water color, temperature, clarity.  “I consider spots that hold fish in the upper teens to low twenty pound range to be worthy of fishing on tournament day.”
  • Mix in a big, different bait in your spread to draw attention.  “I prefer Bluefish, Spanish Mackerel or Charlie Browns.”
  • Carry a super heavy cast net that will catch bait when it gets scattered.  “I use Capt. Brant’s custom net that I got from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center.”
  • Be sure to jig bait where you are fishing and mix it into your spread.  “Often times I find the baitfish local to the area will be more productive than Menhaden I’ve brought from near shore.”
  • If you have the chance, don’t be afraid to fish by yourself.  It’s a big ocean.

 

Steve Shook- Cat Daddy- 1st place 2005 FLW Ft. Pierce kingfish tournament and 1998 SKA angler of the year.

 

  • I like to use a large bait of 13-15 inches.
  • I use 25 pound test with a  30 pound fluorocarbon leader
  • I use a 16 inch lead of Terminator titanium leader tied to my flurocarbon with an Albright knot
  • Many time I’ll hook my boat behind its head or even 1/3 of the way down the back in order to get it to swim differently or make it swim down- instead of always hooking the bait in the nose.

 

Joe Winslow- Hooligan- The most dominant Carolina King Mackerel tournament fisherman over the past five years

  • Kingfish are creatures of habit. If you find out WHERE they bit yesterday, try also to find out WHEN they bit.  
  • Check your baits frequently. Kings will often shadow a bait without striking until you pull it away from them.
  •  If you miss a strike, do two things – 1) freespool the bait that was hit, then 2) drop back or pull up one of the other baits to the position that got the strike.
  • Fill several buckets of water so that when you hook up, you can just drop each of the other cleared baits into a bucket. This will lower your transition time significantly.
  • Don’t lie to other competitors. If you have confidential information, just say you can’t talk about it.
  • Be courteous fishing in a crowd. Always congratulate the winners. And don’t be a potlicker.

Barrett McMullan- Team OIFC- Perennial regional SKA division top five

·        Focus efforts on 65' depth range when fishing the Jolly Mon.  Find an area holding bait preferably away from the crowd of boats in 65' depth and
go to work.

·        Have someone jigging a Sabiki rig at all times.  Mid July is a great time to
catch odd baits such as cigar minnow, boston mackerel, spanish mackerel, and
other baitfish that will separate your spread from the next guy's.

·        Go fly a kite.  Fishing a bait dangled from a kite can be a deadly tactic
for large king mackerel.  This method of fishing takes some practice.

·        Jolly Mon = Jungle.  When in doubt about where to try your luck for the
Jolly Mon, head for the Jungle.

Forrest Taylor- Team Furuno- 1998 SKA national champion

  • Preparation is key.  Carry various styles of rigs made for a variety of sizes of baitfish.  In addition, thoroughly check rods, reels and lines and double check electrical connections on your boat to be sure everything is working.  “One thing I don’t overlook are my baitwell pumps.  They have to work perfectly, thus I double check their connections and carry spare pumps in case of emergency.”
  • The quality of bait is key.  “It is essential to have a drain at the bottom of your live well which constantly siphons off the ammonia that can build up at the bottom of your tank.”
  • Don’t overload your baitwell.  “I put 36 Menhaden in my 55 gallon tank to insure their freshness.”

Rube McMullan- Whimper Snapper Whoopers-  old-time gooroo

I would like to use this opportunity to present my special super secret tips to catch the tournament wining King Mackerel. The way things work on our Carolina Contender Fishing Team, I come up with the nutty ideas, Brant and Barrett look at me like I'm crazy, and 5 years later these crazy ideas become an integral part of our tournament repertoire. The problem here is as I get older, having to wait for 5 year cycles to incorporate my tourney winning ideas has gotten to the point that I'm not willing to wait out the 5 years. Therefore, if I make public these ideas, and you go win the tourney, maybe Brant and Barrett will go ahead and pick up these ideas now rather than later. So here goes...... 

  • "Lite em up". On your ribbonfish rig, take a "lunker light stick" and place in the mouth of the ribbonfish. When you close his mouth with the nose hook, the light stick will be secured in his mouth. Works best on cloudy days[red is best color].He'll be breathing fire, which will be a challenge to the biggest badest of the King Macks. 
  • "Smell em skirts". Skirts are an important part of everyone's arsenal but this takes it to the next level. Take a hollow squid and rig like a normal skirt. Inside of the skirt, take a section of your wife's kitchin sponge and stuff into the hollow squid. Fill the sponge with pogy oil. Put your live pogy on and he'll put out a smell line that will attract Kings from far and wide.

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Winning the Jolly Mon King Classic- originally printed 2004


Winning the Jolly Mon King Classic

by Capt. Brant McMullan

 It's Jolly Mon week so the question everyone wants to know is..."how do I win the thing". Surprisingly the answer is fairly simple...GET LUCKY! Which of course leads to the next question, "how do I get lucky" or put another way "what can I do to make luck?" So....here's what I would do to try to make "luck".

 

-scout out the bait the day before so you'll know which way to head tourney morning

-pen up a few baits the night before and in the morning fish those baits while you wait for the sun [and pogys] to show up

-use a quick sinking net[like my custom made nets] so you don't waste time TRYING to catch bait

-look at history; the tourney will mosy likely be won at the Jungle/90/90/Myrtle Beach Rocks/Lighthouse Rocks/410/510...most likely in the 65 foot water depth.

-don't hesitate to try something different than all the boats slow trolling...anchor and heavy chumming definitely works

-downsize your tackle for tourney fishing...43lb wire/#4 or #6 trebles/20lb flourcarbon leaders/30lb Spro swivels

-run double [and triple] pogies; run a bluefish or spanish if possible[big bait/big fish]

 And then be patient, pop a cold one, and GET LUCKY! That's all that's required to cash that $25,000 check waiting for you.

-run ribbonfish down deep   

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