The Fall Kingfish run has started on Florida’s west coast, and will continue to get better with every passing cold front. Every tournament angler knows this is the time to prepare for the largest Kingfish tournament in the world, the Old Salts King of the Beach. With a purse exceeding $100k to the winner, it’s no mystery why teams travel from all over for a shot at the title. I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert on the subject but have fished for king’s in the Tampa Bay area my entire life, with boundaries set for KOTB, I tend to break down our fishery into four main areas with different techniques for each one.
Let’s start with Tampa Bay itself, that has more productive hot spots within it that one can cover in a day or even a week. Way up in the bay there are several points and channels that come together to provide great fishing. These areas can definitely be fickle and typically a one bite deal, but that bite is usually a smoker. This tournament has been won way East of the Skyway numerous times. If you plan on fishing this area, or anywhere in the bay for that matter, the key seems to be big baits, preferably the biggest, liveliest ladyfish and Mullet you can find. Slow trolling is the go to for the best teams. Tides and water clarity are the main obstacles more so than offshore as weeds and murky water can make it difficult to keep a clean spread. The Skyway itself is another area in the bay that’s worth a look as tons of bait and plenty of structure make the bridge itself a magnet for kings. From there, the main shipping channel itself can be productive, take some extra time at the 90’ hole just off Egmont before working along the numerous channel markers and out to the whistler buoy. Bait stacks up along the markers and channel edges providing a likely hangout for hungry kings.
Next we have the beaches from Boca Grande to Anclote Island. Plenty of big kings will be lurking in the schools of Spanish mackerel that like to feed on the smaller bait schools that load up along the sand bars. The conditions for beach fishing are best with an East wind and a clean, but not too clean, water clarity. The favored bait is a live Spanish mackerel, we like to have one angler up on the bow constantly casting for bait with a number 16 sabiki or small jig. Having rods ready with stingers will help get them back in the water fast, as they won’t last long in a live well. Even when you have a spread out it’s best to constantly refresh, as they aren’t as hardy as a blue runner. Mullet, ladyfish and bluefish are also good beach baits. There are several spots along the beach that have historically produced, but the likelihood of having them to yourself is slim during a big tournament and too much pressure can definitely shut down a big fish bite. I know many great Captains that find a desolate stretch of beach with a pile of bait working that consistently catch big kings.
Then there’s the artificial reefs, most of the time we don’t pay too much attention to them because of the fishing and diving pressure that’s usually hammering them every weekend. However, these areas hold bait and in turn, Kingfish. Some of the more popular reefs; St Pete Beach, South County, Madeira Beach, Indian Shores, Rube Allyn, Veterans and Clearwater Reef. Finding the one holding Blue runners, Sardines and Threadfins is a must if you plan on catching kings there. Pre fishing days before the tournament will help decipher which reef will be best. If nothing else they are a great place to load up on bait the day before the tournament. Along with these artificial reefs there is miles of hard bottom and more pronounced ledges that can produce. Again the key to these areas is scouting days before and finding which ledge or piece of bottom is holding bait. Slow trolling runners is the best bet in these areas, sardines and threadfins are also good but you will most certainly deal with a lot of smaller kings.
Lastly the offshore wrecks are a good bet and with boundaries getting there first is going to give you a huge advantage, as there seem to be fewer secret wrecks than ever before. Blue runners slow trolled are hard to beat, as that’s what the bigger kings are targeting offshore. By working the outside of a wreck you can mitigate bites from Cudas and other unwanted wreck dwellers. Anchoring and chumming can also be a deadly technique on wrecks for big fish, there’s are a handful of great Captains that have this method down to a science, the details vary but it usually involves a very early wake up time and a lot of glass minnows and chum.