Outdoors | Tampa Bay teeming with big kingfish

Special to the HeraldApril 20, 2014 

Kris Norman, Shelby Ladd and Jack Vasilaros show their winning kingfish from the Old Salts Rotary Kingfish Tournament. PROVIDED PHOTO

If you're in the mood to catch big kingfish, they may be closer than you think.

Over the past few weeks, big kingfish have been caught inside Tampa Bay. In fact, during last week's Old Salts Rotary Kingfish tournament, winning team HookedForLifeCharters.com and Capt. Jack Vasilaros caught their 33.7-pound kingfish in the shallow waters within sight of the Skyway Bridge.

"There were a lot of 25- to 29-pound fish caught right off the North Skyway Fishing pier," the 24-year-old captain said. "It's not as exciting with as many fish as offshore, but the bay has proven itself time and time again to be a place that holds monster king mackerel when conditions are right and the bait is in the bay. It is a sure spot to land a tournament contender if you put in your time."

Fishing around the Skyway fishing piers can at times be better than offshore waters. With the strong west and northwest winds this weekend, Vasilaros said the bay is the way to go.

"The beach will probably be dirty for a week or so following the strong winds. Kingfish like cleaner water, and the deep waters of the shipping channel clean up much faster than the beaches due to all the water flow that comes in and out of the bay."

Not lacking confidence, he said he could guarantee a 25-plus-pound fish despite the winds this weekend.

"There are a few keys," Vasilaros said. "Fish big baits for big fish, mainly 12- to 18-inch ladyfish and mackerel. Keep your bait clean; even a small piece of grass will turn down a bite. Keep your bait fresh; lively is better. Most importantly fishing in the bay, make sure you're fishing around the tide changes with tide movement. There is a 30-minute window at these times where the fishing is the best."

To know when these windows are, check the major and minor feeding times on tide tables.

If you're looking for more action around the bay and bridges, whitebait, spoons and jigs will provide that. Mackerel have been all over the fishing piers, and anglers fishing from the bridge have been catching kingfish as well. Smaller bait get more action with smaller fish.

Even without a boat, anglers fishing from the pier still catch kingfish. Regulars say that Easter is the best bridge fishing time of the year for mackerel and kingfish in the bay.

With action hot at the Skyway Fishing Pier, it can be difficult to find a spot on the bridge. To fish for kingfish, the prime end-of-the-bridge fishing spots are coveted by pier regulars. Get there early if this is your plan to ensure your chance of success. Even then, with so many fish in the bay, it's a great time to fish near the bridges and in the bay where mackerel can be caught from the north or south pier.

"The whole channel is crawling with fish," Vasilaros said. "It's awesome to catch such big fish so close to the bridges."

Vasilaros can be reached through his website at hookedforlifecharters.com.

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