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June 15, 2011

Kite Fishing Tour

Seven great kite fishing spots coupled with local experts' tricks that you can employ for success

Costa Rica Roosterfish
Jeff Schatman grew up fishing kites in Miami, but he’s spent seven years running a 60-foot Bertram in Costa Rica (­ “In places like Negritos, on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, the roosterfish lay right up on the rock,” Schatman says. Notorious currents there plus an onshore breeze often keep him outside casting range. “With the kite, I can get a bait right where I want it: against the rocks,” he says.

Even in open water, Schatman often doubles his roosterfish catches from five or six to a dozen or more in a few hours of fishing by using live herring on a kite. “Where I could fish only one bait before, with the kite we fish two lines, one on the kite and a flat line,” he says. “The first day I tried it, as fast as we could get the baits out, we’d hook doubles.” On days he can anchor, Schatman drops a third line deep with a 4- to 8-ounce lead sliding above the leader’s swivel, and he often hooks roosterfish triples. On his best afternoon, Schatman caught 18 roosterfish and three cubera snapper.

Like all pros contributing to this feature, Schatman says kites don’t always outperform traditional methods, but he believes fishing for a species using many different approaches increases his knowledge of those game fish, particularly with kites, where the bite is consistently in view on top.

South Carolina Redfish and Tarpon

A particularly unusual kite technique comes from Charleston, South Carolina, flats guide Jamie Hough ( In the waters Hough fishes, ­bottlenose dolphin routinely stalk redfish in as little as a foot of water, pushing reds into the marsh grass at high tide and keeping them in shallow water at low tide. “I draw 10 inches, but sometimes those fish are in three or four inches of water. If the water covers their lips, that’s all they need,” Hough says. “I saw a bunch of fish laying in there at low tide for a whole week, but I just couldn’t get to them.” Calling on his nine winters as an Islamorada charter-boat mate, Hough set a kite and dropped a finger-mullet head into the shallow water. Success didn’t come at first, though, as the long drop back from the kite resulted in few hookups. “It turned out, I had to make the kite clip as tight as I could,” Hough says. “We let them eat it for a second. When we come tight, we’re setting the hooks. Then, when the line comes out of the clip, they’re already on.”

Hough uses a variety of live or dead baits, and even slowtrolls artificial grubs from the kite with the boat in deeper water, prospecting for fish in poor visibility. “When it’s blowing 30, most people consider that a washout. You’re not going to be poling around looking for fish in water that looks like chocolate milk,” Hough says. “Use that wind. Put the kite up and drive around until you find a school.” Hough also uses kites when kids who can’t sit still spook fish close to the boat. He warns to be aware of sun angles, though, as a kite’s shadow will scatter an entire school of redfish.

Hough uses the kite for tarpon as well, to hook fish ­otherwise missed because the large, 12- to 15-inch-long mullet often are the smallest available. For better hookups, Hough puts one circle hook just ahead of the mullet’s eyes and attaches a stinger circle hook to the tail with a black rubber band. “I paint the hooks black, but with all that tackle in the water, we don’t get as many bites,” he says. “With the fish on the kite, up on the surface, there’s foam, there’s splashing, there’s wake — there’s more for the tarpon to focus on besides that terminal tackle.”

Hough’s anglers can also use kites to keep baits away from sharks by cranking baits up, out of harm’s way, and he gains the ability to cover more water by positioning a bait off the side of the boat when others are taken astern by current. “You can still cast and do all the other stuff while the kite’s out,” he says. “It’s just one more bait in the water.” There is one more plus: The surface bite of a 200-pound tarpon is spectacular. “It’s unreal. They come out of the water full force, like a skyrocketing kingfish,” he says. “As many times as I’ve seen it, I still freak out a little bit.”

Brett Wilson uses a variation of Hough’s redfish technique in Massachusetts’ Cape Cod Bay when striped bass nearshore lie in water too shallow for his boat. A less-obvious advantage Wilson sees in using a kite: It appeals to a different class of angler. “A lot of people just want to fill their coolers,” Wilson says. For those clients, he’ll use wire line trolled slowly along the bottom or similar standard striped bass techniques. “The kite offers a chance to fish light line, to do something different,” he says. “Kite-fishing for stripers is for the elite angler, the light-tackle enthusiast.” This advantage of kites is likely true for anglers pursuing any species that will bite on the surface.

Florida Tarpon, Swords, Reds and Bones
It seems clear the kite-fishing pandemic originated in South Florida. Most kite pros I’ve spoken with fished professionally at one time or another in that 70-mile stretch from Miami through Islamorada, Florida. Any in-depth look at kite-fishing wouldn’t be complete without considering the unique insight of pros fishing here.

Ray Rosher, one of the top sailfish tournament and charter captains in South Florida (, understands and exploits the advantages of kites whenever he sees a sensible opportunity. For example, while drifting for tarpon, Rosher puts out one to three baits on one side of the boat under the kite, depending upon kite-flying conditions, and two more flat lines drifting off the other side. “I noticed we’d get a bite on the long kite bait first, then the short, and then the flat lines,” he says. As he drifts over a body of fish, anglers get more shots at them.

Rosher hangs three different baits from the kite for tarpon. A live threadfin herring goes on the long clip, fished near the surface. A live crab on the middle clip is treated a bit differently: A 3- or 4-ounce lead at the top of the leader is kept very close to the water. “Hook the crab in the side like normal, but you want to tow it through the water sideways,” Rosher says. The shrimp’s sinker similarly stays just above or below the water’s surface. He attaches leads near the top of wind-on leaders with rubber bands and adds a light stick as a kite marker at night. If there isn’t enough wind for the kite to support that much weight, Rosher gives it extra lift with a helium balloon.

When nighttime swordfishing, Rosher drifts with five lines out on the windward side of the boat — typical of South Florida swordfishermen. But he also uses the kite to get an extra line 150 feet or so off the lee side of the boat. With a rubber band, he attaches a 3-ounce lead and light stick about halfway down a 30-foot wind-on leader. “Keep that light right around the surface. Above or below the water doesn’t really seem to matter. When you get a bite, that light stick goes streaming across the surface. Reel to bring in the kite as fast as you can,” he says; otherwise, the tight kite clip might drag the kite into the water.

Bouncer Smith, another well-known Miami charter skipper (, often fishes along Miami-Dade County beaches that are buoyed to prevent boats from traveling where bathers swim. When beaches aren’t crowded, Smith says, “we’ll use the kite to get live baits to tarpon and snook that follow the bait schools in to where we’re not allowed to go with the boat.”

Similarly, he uses kites to reach bonefish and redfish on flats in Biscayne Bay, where water is too shallow for his 33-foot open fisherman. “We can see them from the finger channels but can’t cast to them,” he says. “I’ll put a bag of cut-up shrimp on one clip and a live shrimp or pilchard on the other,” he says. “I use a split shot on the kite line to hold one kite clip so the live bait is only about five feet from the chum bag.”