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Although the world record for kingfish is 90 pounds, the average weight is less than thirty.
It is a super game fish on 12 to 20 pound test line. Unfortunately, trolling heavy line is the most accepted method of fishing for kings and in rough water; it is about the only way you can fish for them. When a king hits on a fast troll, by the time you get the rod into the angler's hands, there is little left to do but reel in the dead weight all the way back to the boat. Then the best you get are a few short, hard pulls if he has some size.
Light tackle does not mean less fish or smaller fish. On the contrary, light tackle in the 20 to 25 pound test line with live bait was the preferred commercial method before netting. It is still the best method for tournaments, if the weather cooperates.
Most of the kingfish runs will be fish of 10 to 20 pounds and 12-pound test line will work well. Once the fish start getting over 20 pounds, you might want to step up your line test because there is a good chance for smokers up to forty pounds. And one more reason is that 12 pound test line on spinning tackle is only good for about two fish over 25 pounds. Conventional reels will give much better line wear, but will require more skill for flipping live baits. For terminal tackle, I double the end of my line with a Bimini twist and add 4 to 5 feet of 40 to 60 pound test monofilament. I like to use a 3/0 to 5/0 Lazer Sharp hook with six inches of number 3 to 5 coffee colored, solid wire leader and a black swivel. Instead of a swivel, to achieve a less conspicuous rig you can use an Albright knot to attach wire to mono. It is also very important to replace the wire leader when it becomes kinked or curled, the straighter the better. The size of the hook depends on the size of the bait.
When I can, I castnet for large pilchards before I leave the beach, but I get my best bait, when available, on the offshore reefs with the gold hook bait rigs. The kings will hit hard, but may run at you rather than away, especially on a slow drift, so you need to be ready to reel fast to catch up before setting the hook. After a hookup you can expect three good runs before you get the king close to the boat and he should be a lot stronger at the boat than they are when caught by trolling.
I do not like to anchor when fishing with light tackle because when I first hook a king, I like to work the boat and the fish away from any structure that may hold barracudas or snags. The first run is your best chance to clear these areas.
If you are fishing on a windless day and you do not have any drift, you can put the boat in gear and slow troll the bait. To slow my troll down, I put the engine in and out of gear and stay prepared to give it some gas if the strike is coming towards the boat. When I am going to drag bait or just have a fast drift, I will hook the bait in the lips. If I want to make the bait run from the boat, I will hook it on the back under the dorsal fin. If you keep your bait lively and let it run free and fast, you will increase your number of pickups. In other words, change your bait often!
I keep many extra wire leaders made up and on hand. I often cut the fish loose and remove the hook and leader after the fish is dead. You can save time and fingers this way and most of the time the old leader is kinked any way. When using wire, you need to keep it straight. If you find the kings are hitting slow, take off the wire. I have saved the day many times by tying the hook to the line, or at least it picked up the action.
If I need to troll artificial lures due to sea conditions or to locate a school, I start light. I flat-line with a plug or spoon and only 60 pound monofilament leader (no wire) on 20-pound tackle and hold the rod. There is nothing better than to have the rod in your hands instead of the rod holder when you get the first long hard run of a kingfish. You can also have your eyes on him when he rockets out of the water.
Enjoy and protect!