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Tampa Bay Anglers Anticipate Coming of Kings

If warm weather pattern remains steady, look for a relatively early appearance of one of bay area anglers' favorite targets — the king smoker.

In the waters off the Fort Myers beaches, kingfish reportedly are ripping their iridescent scales through warming Gulf waters, hitting anglers' baits and tearing away for those line-smoking runs.

They're runs that quench the itch of any Tampa Bay big-game fisher.

And any day, the king smokers, which migrate in schools from south Florida waters before spring, are likely to be in our area.

Extended warm temperatures begin a chain of piscatorial followers. First, the warm water temps entice the bait. That food source, in turn, triggers a thick invasion of toothy Spanish mackerel, now a pest in the bays, cutting leaders weighted for inshore trout, snook and redfish.

Finally the kingfish stumble in like a partner late for a Valentine's Day date.

Barring a cold front the next two weeks – and it doesn't appear as though one soon is coming as a cold front remains isolated to the north of Florida – anglers can count on kingfish to be the newest bay area target.

And we'll be reminded why this is the sport-fishing capital of the world.

“I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them real soon,” said Race Tyson, manager of the Sunshine Skyway fishing piers.

Kingfish usually don't appear in the area until mid-March. But a harsh winter could turn to an early spring.

The point: Be rigged and ready for that day when the kingfish come.

Kingfish are typically targeted at the north and south piers with threadfins, blue runners or spoons.

But the heavy kingfish action comes a close as a mile of the beaches, and as far as 30 miles offshore.

A effective method of catching kingfish is by trolling. One rigging method is using a pair of St.Croix rods with PENN International 975 bait casters set in rod holders at the stern. Attach 20-pound braided line and five-foot strands of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader to kingfish rigs, which consist of small pieces of wire and two hooks (bait runner and treble).

Anglers can let one bait (say, a cigar minnow) out 50 feet behind the boat and another (try athreadfin) about 30 feet.

Be ready to set the hook as the line is let out – kingfish are known to strike as line is fed, possibly because the bait fish are given slack and allowed to swim naturally.

Threadfins should be hooked through the nose, and cigar minnows through both lips to prevent slippage.

Do not increase boat speed past an idle to allow for a natural presentation.

As far as the best weather conditions, think in terms of blues music — kingfish can tolerate a bit of Lightnin' Hopkins, but they flee from Muddy Waters.

Target artificial reefs, idling back and forth to cover the entire area. Or look for birds diving on schools of bait.

Regulations on kingfish are two per person, per day, and must be at least 24 inches in length.

Don't forget about the abundance of Spanish mackerel. Although the oily macks are an acquired taste, they are good eating (to some) if prepared the day of the catch. Most fish lovers will warn not to freeze the mackerel.

An easy way to prepare mackerel is to fillet them with skin on one side and spread a thin coat of mayonnaise and garlic salt across the top. Squeeze lemon juice across the fillet and broil them about 8 inches from the top of the oven on low for about 10 minutes, or until the crust is crispy.

Regulations on Spanish mackerel are 15 per person, per day, and must be at least 12 inches in length.

If you plan on fishing in this weekend's beautiful weather, you can stock up before you cast a line at some of Sarasota's bait shops: 

  • , 1505 Ken Thompson Pkwy
  • , 6018 S Tamiami Trail
  • , 1249 Old Stickney Point Rd

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