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Florida anglers are plain spoiled with the number of kingfish available off the east coast of Florida. Prevalent just about every month of the year, king mackerel are voracious biters and fighters that hang in 20 to 200 feet of water regularly.
The tactics and exact locations vary depending on the month, but local captains such as Capt. Joey Spoerle, of Cocoa Beach Sporfishing charters in Port Canaveral, have the fish dialed in all year long.
It’s just a matter of intercepting them along their migrations. Kings head north in the spring and fall to North Carolina. Then, it’s back down south from May through August to spawn in southeast Florida waters.
“In the summer, the action is hot right off the beach,” says Capt. Spoerle. “These fish all tend to be bigger–15 to 40 pounds–compared to the schooled up kings in the winter. We’ll use live pogies to target them.”
To get a rundown of the fishery off east central Florida, I caught up with Capt. Joey Spoerle after fishing with him this past winter.
Peak Season: All year long, with highlights in the early summer and during winter. Summertime brings larger fish closer to shore, as the kings shadow pogy (menhaden) pods that hang off the beach. In the winter, smaller kings tighten into massive schools near structure outside Port Canaveral. “The end of July and into August slows down some,” admits Spoerle.
Time of Day: “We’ll pick at ’em all day long in the summer,” says Spoerle. Expect to average about three to five fish in one trip, ranging from 15 to 40 pounds.
Where to Look: “These fish aren’t schooling like they do in the winter,” says Spoerle.” They’ll spread out with the warmer water.” Start looking at the mouth of the Port and follow the buoy line east. If that’s not happening, head north or south toward New Smyrna Beach or Fort Pierce respectively. Look for menhaden schools; catch a few baits and start slow-trolling them near the bait schools.
**Baits: **Baits are easy to catch along the beaches in the summer. The top baits are menhaden. “We’ll castnet baits right along the beach in 12 feet of water,” says Spoerle. “Right away, we’ll toss some baits out near the schools. Usually, we’ll get bit somewhere between 20 and 50 feet of water. That’s the depth we’ll fish the rest of the day.”
Tackle: Spoerle likes to use No. 4 treble hooks and No. 4 wire at the bitter end of his rigs. “I’ll tie about 8 inches of wire,” says Spoerle. “The fish are more picky in the summer. Sometimes, I’ll even use a section of 30-pound fluorocarbon–you get bit off more, but you get more bites.” For setups, Spoerle uses lighter conventionals such as the Shimano TLD 15. He’ll spool up with 20- to 30-pound main line.
Technique: Top techniques are drift-fishing and slow-trolling. “Just make sure to troll fast enough to keep your lines tight,” warns Spoerle. “If the pogy swims forward of the leader, a kingfish hit misses the wire leader and slices right through the mono main line.”
Regulations: Two kingfish 24 inches or longer (fork length) per person, per day. State size and bag limits mirror regulations for federal waters, and you can’t combine the two. Some closed seasons in federal waters may occur each year.
Captain Joey Spoerle
Port Canaveral, Florida
For more information on fishing Florida, go to Visit Florida.