Capt. Alex Crawford
October 5, 2005
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report
KINGS OF AUTUMN-- CHUM AND GET 'EM ON THE FORGOTTEN COAST
The foot long mullet was greyhounding across the blue-green surface of the Gulf of Mexico attempting to escape a ravenous king mackerel. Just off the starboard bow, we watched in awe as a four foot long torpedo sky-rocketed in a total breach and engulfed the frantic mullet. Simultaneously, the amidships stick went off like a rifle and the game was on. The angler watched the escape dance, the take and was directly connected to one of the fastest fish that swims in our oceans, a fall-run, smoker kingfish. Without panic, the angler calmly lifted the 30 pound class outfit out of the gunwale rod holder and expertly inserted the gimballed butt of the stout graphite rod into his Braid fighting belt. Keep the rod tip high and hang on I shouted, as I pivoted the boat to allow the wide-eyed fisherman some advantage in the long fight ahead. Oh, the sweet string music of a burning drag against the heavy load of a lit up king on his first run for freedom. If you fish and this does not get your blood running, consider a change of hobbies. The largest Shimano spinning reel was loaded with 300 yards of new Ande 30 line. And we would need it.
KING OF SMARTS
The crew, the rod man and I immediately focused in unison on the spool of the spinner, as line disappeared faster than greased-lightening. I was a nanosecond from chasing the fish with some quick rpm's when the run stopped and the angler started the smooth pump and wind drill to gain some wraps on the large spool. Then the fish unexpectedly ran right to the boat, as big kings sometimes do to gain their freedom. But the angler was well-seasoned in the art of capturing the big speed-burners of fall. Having been there, done that, this experienced angler immediately understood the king's tactic and used the fast retrieve of the reel to take up the slack that many times allows fish to come unglued. Steady tension on the line is vital with kings because they have super-hard mouths and are famous for spiting hooks. The fish goes zipping under the boat and is hard into the second scorcher run. I can't help myself, as I do a quick drag adjustment on the reel. Light drags of around 3 or 4 pounds are optimal to prevent pulled hooks on larger fish. One can always tighten down on the drag as the fish tires.
After the second run, the angler gained more purchase and the king came to the surface shaking its head violently. This is crunch time. Being members of the tuna family, kings always go into their death-spiral routine. These fish are professional escape artists at the boat. They will find a way to break off. Remember this is only a sporting challenge for us addicted anglers, it is life and death for Mr. Kingfish. They don't get big without some very smart survival skills. Just a few of the tricks include getting fouled in another line that should have been cleared on a big bite, cutting you off in your marker buoy line, getting into the anchor line during a lap around the boat, pulling the line under the stern where props, transducers and swim platforms provide perfectly sharp line cutters. Or, probably the most common way to lose a bragging-rights king is an errant gaff shot.
The angler presented a completely exhausted fish slowly on the surface and parallel to the gunwale.(perfectomundo). The expert gaff man knew the drill. A quick, decisive shot to the shoulder was the winning maneuver. No frantic, erratic motions with the gaff. Just a controlled shot with a stick-in-your-thumbnail sharp, quality gaff and, in one smooth motion, its over the side and directly into the 160 quart fish box. Another crew member/cheerleader closes the door on the fish box faster than double-triggers. All crew members know their individual jobs and practice makes perfect. The wheel man keeps the boat oriented for maximum fighting advantage, the rod man is the quarterback barking out orders to the wheel man, gaff man or wire man on releases. Sometimes I have observed the rod man even give the cheerleader crew members some very direct and profanity-filled directions, like, "get the %$# out of my way you idiot, can't you see I have a trophy fish on here." In the heat of battle that dialog always brings a big smile to my face. At the end of the day at the dock the accolades are shared by the whole team for accomplishing the mission, putting a giant king of autumn on the scales. HOORAH!
Professional guides on the Southern Kingfish Association circuit employ a few basic tactics to bend the odds their way. First, they use the best live baits they can get. Fall-run kings have fattened up during summer and are following the huge bait schools south to winter in the Florida keys. A super healthy fall mullet or the biggest hardtail jack (blue runner) you can catch is the best of the best baits for monster kingfish. Pros bridle these live baits on 60 pound wire leaders with a 2/0, heavy steel Owner nose hook and two stinger treble hooks, one in the dorsal and one swinging free behind the bait. The next and almost universal method is to slow-troll the baits over natural bottom in 60 feet of water or more. Hard, live bottom of coral or limestone ledges hold a consistent food source, see cardinal fishing rule numero uno-- fish where fish ARE!!
Another successful technique is to preset your drags at the dock lightly to a few pounds and let the fish have his head on the first run.
Live bait is always best, but what to do if it is not available. You can trick big kigs with lures, like large trolling plugs (Rapala CD 18s, Mann Stretch 30s, as well as jigs, like big white turtle jigs and diamond jigs.) In fact, the commercial kingfish boats pull flashy, silver jigs and score some huge catches. Also, slow- trolling a fresh cigar minnow on a duster rig is the most accepted pattern for kings from Texas to Florida.
CHUM AND GET IT
But THE very best, most important tactic for super kings is what this writer/captain calls "chum and get 'em." Pure menhaden(pogy) oil or milk is irresistable to kings. The science is that menhaden shad are a primary forage fish in the Gulf and their oil is very heavily-flavored; kings come to it from great distances. Hang a standard chum bag on a stern cleat with dry dog food and pogy oil. Disperse the oil through a controlled medical IV drip bag. Soak fresh chunk baits like jacks in pogy oil and pitch a few overboard at regular intervals. Some pros use scent capsules that allow a dial up dispersal rate that is attached to the leader. Some lures take a pogy-oil soaked sponge. The world of high-tech fishing continues to evolve, Remember, fall kings are not the small, snake kings of spring, these fish have shoulders and their biological eating clocks are in the pre-winter mode. Plus, the bait is migrating and they stay with the bait.
The migration is driven off of offshore, not inshore water temperature and normally starts when the water cools to about 70 degrees. The reverse of this migration happens around the second week of April on the Fogotten Coast, when the water warms to about 70. Find the bait and the fish will be there. Mild temperatures in fall will keep the fish offshore longer, sometimes into late November, but generally the best bite happens in September and October. Where else in the world would you like to be than on the Gulf coast in the fall of each year? The operative adjective here is IDYLLIC, as in weather. Come to the fabulous Forgtten Coast in autumn-- chum and get it.
The OAR (Organization for Artificial Reefs) produces a great chart of excellent kingfish numbers on the Fogotten Coast. This organization is very proactive in deploying artificial reefs and their chart is a Bible for anglers who need good locations to find kings and other highly-prized bottom species like snappers and groupers. Yes, they are all locations available in the public domain, but we can not fish them all in two lifetimes. Have fun, catch fish!
Till next tide, may the sun shine brightly on your face, the wind be over your shoulder and your fishing lines always be tight,
Captain Alex Crawford is a full time guide who has fished the Florida Panhandle offshore for 26 years. He specializes in grouper and snapper trips with light tackle on live bait. Custom trips for companies with multiple boats will be arranged.
Inshore trips targeting specific species and custom eco trips are available for birding, gator watching, shelling, picnics and barrier islands.
Contact Captain Alex for a fun and productive trip on Florida's Forgotten Coast.