By Peter Krause
There are many divisions of sportfish, and as many as there are, there are more fanatics who chase them. Over time, some fish species develop a reputation which eclipses others in their division, and these species become known as king.
Along Florida's near-coast waters, the largest species of mackerel is the king mackerel, though the name is usually shortened to kingfish. In taste, fighting ability and reputation, they are the kings of nearshore sportfishing.
Schooling kingfish average around 10 pounds, though the largest members can reach over 90 pounds. They are migrating pelagics, which technically means they spend their entire lives offshore. Practically, this means they eat voraciously to keep their strength up for long journeys.
Many types of baitfish are part of the kingfish diet, from mullet to pinfish, as well as their smaller cousins the Spanish mackerel, who may be feeding in the same schools. Since schools of these baitfish tend to congregate around structure such as wrecks or reefs, these areas are prime places to hunt kingfish.
Kingfish prefer to follow the baits that live near the shore, which makes them a wonderful fish to target with the current gas prices. On calm days when the water is clear, they are caught within sight of land. Murkier water will push them farther offshore, but 150-foot depths approach the edge of their comfort zone.
Fishing usually consists of a medium troll, with live baitfish or rigged ballyhoo. Due to their sharp, gnashing teeth, the standard kingfish rig is a hook in the front of the bait and a hook near the rear, tied together with a wire leader.
When hooked, kingfish will produce several long adrenalin-inducing runs. The largest kingfish are called smokers, and though some believe this is because the largest fish taste best only when smoked, there is a strong and vocal faction of anglers who believe the nickname describes the smoking reel when a 40-plus-pound fish pulls a couple hundred yards of line off the reel in what seems like seconds.
On the west coast of Florida, kingfish winter in the Keys and migrate up the Gulf Coast as the water warms. On our coast, the migration is the opposite, due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. Spring and summer are great months for kingfish, as they migrate south to spawn in southern waters. Hatchlings are then carried northward by the strong current.
Though trolling is the preferred method for kingfish, some anglers have luck keeping a flatline with a live or dead baitfish on the surface a good distance behind the boat while bottom fishing for snapper or grouper.
Whiting are sometimes known as southern kingfish, and for surf fishermen looking for a reliable, good-tasting meal, they are indeed the king of the surf. Use shrimp or smelly baits like clams to get a bite.
Warm evenings and cool mornings are perfect snook fishing times. Use bucktails or live finger mullet around mangroves or docks to hook one of these hard-fighting fish. Snook season is currently closed, so all snook must be released.
While lake levels are low, look for residential canals or ponds to hold bass. Fish soft plastics or rattling lures around weeds or plants in these areas for best results.
Peter Krause has fished throughout Florida since his childhood, when he pulled bream out of the Everglades canals. He has fished Brevard waters for more than 10 years. Peter can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictures of great catches can also be sent to him at that address.