“Can I have a pogy report? We have been looking for an hour and have come up empty-handed,” can commonly be heard coming from the VHF radio during a hot summer morning.
I have listened to kingfishermen on the VHF radio as late as 11 a.m. still looking for live baits, and this takes away some of the best early morning hours for catching the speedy king mackerel. However, saltwater fishermen can speed up their fishing by first checking the day before with other fishermen for the location of large schools of menhaden. If there is a lack of menhaden, kingfishermen would be better off filling their coolers with dead kingfish baits and heading straight to their favorite kingfish grounds.
Such was the case Saturday, when Mitch Fields, Brad Reece and Keith Williams checked with area fishermen for reports of menhaden schools. The reports were not very promising, so they decided not to take a lot of time looking for live baits during the next day of fishing.
“We had on board a couple of boxes of frozen cigar minnows as a backup this past Sunday as we headed out offshore,” Fields said. “We did take a few minutes to look for menhaden, but when we were not able to locate any, we headed straight offshore. We did see a nice kingfish skyrocket, which was very encouraging.”
Once the local fishing party reached FA live bottom, it hooked up to a pair of speedy kingfish. The choice to bring along dead minnows and not waste time trying to cast net live bait proved successful. Fields shared his deadly dead bait trolling technique for kingfish.
“I typically speed up my trolling speed to 3 1/2 knots when trolling with dead baits,” he said. “I rig my dead cigar minnows with a 1/2-ounce boxer-style led head jig barbed in the nose of the bait followed by a 4-4X treble hook that is barbed in back of the dorsal fin. I will also use 44-pound coffee-colored colored wire.
“I also use a brightly colored skirt attached to the jig to give the dead bait swimming action and effects. Two dead cigar minnows are fished from my downriggers, and I use eight-pound weights. My preferred depth is 30-35 feet of water. Next, two dead baits are fished from my T-top, and finally a Rapala X-Rap is trolled right in the prop wash.”
The offshore fishing party was fishing aboard Fields’ 24-foot Sportsman’s Master center console fishing boat.
May has provided cooler air temperatures and somewhat choppy seas. Normally, fishermen will board their offshore fishing boats with light southeast winds and air temperatures in the 80s. However, several fishing days this month have seen Northeast winds and cooler air temperatures in the 70s during the morning and 80s during the afternoon.
Live menhaden have been difficult to locate as well with the discolored ocean waters caused by north and easterly winds. A few weeks ago, there were plenty of live menhaden along the beaches. In fact, I had planned to search for live bait offshore the day after good reports of menhaden were reported. But, that next morning we were not able to locate a single school of menhaden, also known as pogies.
When you are running either Amelia Island or Cumberland Island beaches for schooling menhaden, look for diving pelicans or sport fishing boats navigating real slow or tossing a cast net. Large brown mud spots in the water also indicate there is a large school of menhaden holding close to the bottom. It’s a good idea to keep a close watch on your fish finder for large clouds of bait fish holding close to the bottom.
If you do not have on board a couple of boxes of frozen cigar minnows, it’s a great idea to carry a pair of bait catcher rods outfitted with Sabiki bait catchers. These are small feathered hooks that, when slowly dropped down into a school of offshore live minnows, will typically produce enough live bait for a day of kingfishing.
Attach a two-ounce weight to the bottom of the bait catcher, but don’t drop it too quickly into the school of minnows, because the minnows will quickly tangle your bait catcher rig.
Always have fellow fishermen you can call for the latest reports on where menhaden are schooling. Carrying dead baits and bait catcher rigs will always save your day of kingfishing.