By NICK WALTER
Local kingfish anglers are frothing at the mouth, awaiting the arrival of the king smokers. Soon enough, kingfish will be following piles of bait that already are covering the Gulf and flats.
There are reports of kingfish outside of Boca Grande, and with nearshore water surface temperatures hovering around 71 degrees, expect the kingfish to come through within the next week. Kingfish are sensitive to the water, preferring waters between 70 and 74 degrees.
Many anglers begin targeting kingfish at the Skyway shipping channel, a channel that averages about 45 feet in depth, with shallower waters on either side, and extends about 12 miles offshore.
Bait is funneled into the channel and makes for an enticing feeding spot for the kingfish. As of this week, kingfish were too far offshore and in too few numbers to be targeted.
Anglers can begin trolling for kings at the end of the channel, known as “The Whister.” Another effective technique is to troll circles around marker No. 1 and No. 2 at The Whistler.
If winds are strong and out of a westerly direction, offshore waters will be stirred and muddy, conditions that kingfish don’t prefer.
Nonetheless, some anglers prefer a bit of a breeze because it tends to scatter the water and make lines less visible to the kings. The best winds for catching kings are of an easterly direction.
Head upwind of your target direction and troll as slowly as possible.
There are many ways to catch kingfish, but the most popular method is trolling. Anglers can try a setup such as a St. Croix rod with PENN International 975 bait casters, 20-pound braided line and five-foot strands of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader with a kingfish rig. A kingfish rig consists of a small piece of wire and two hooks (bait runner and treble).
Popular baits are big white baits, threadfins or cigar minnows. Spoons also work well for trolling.
Kingfish are one of the fastest gamefish, so get plenty of line on your spool. Smokers can peel up to 400 yards of line in one run. Anglers should keep their rod tips up, because if they let the rod down and in a straight line with the pole, the line could snap.
Anglers can hook a threadfin at the bridge of the nose, but cigar minnows should be hooked through both lips to prevent it from slipping off.
With two rods, an angler can prevent line-tangling by letting one line out about 50 yards and another about 30.
Other anglers will bottom fish for grouper, and let out a free-lined bait and chum with a chum block or live bait.
Kingfish frequently are caught up to 50 pounds and five feet long.
Norton I. Thornton landed the all-tackle world record kingfish, a 90-pounder off Key West on Feb. 16, 1976.
Nick Walter, outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.