Capt. Chris Lemieux had been fishing for about a minute when a kingfish grabbed one of the two bonito strips that he was trolling behind his boat.
That was followed by another kingfish, and, as soon as Lemieux put out the next bait, another one.
That’s how good trolling for kingfish can be this time of year.
“Generally we get the spring run right now and catch a lot of kingfish,” Lemieux said. “June and July are good, then it’ll kind of slow down and pick back up in August or September.”
Fishing on a sunny afternoon in 90-110 feet of greenish water just south of Boynton Beach Inlet, that first kingfish got off and so did the second one, but the next king, about an 8-pounder, made it into the boat. That was followed by a kingfish double-header featuring a slightly bigger king that I caught and a 13-pounder that my father, Lloyd, reeled in.
We also caught four bonitos, which are members of the tuna family that don’t taste anywhere near as good as their relatives. The hard-fighting fish are a challenge to land, and as my dad labored to reel in his second or third bonito, Lemieux joked, “Lloyd, are you trying to let that fish get bigger?”
Lemieux kept those bonitos to fashion future strips, which consist of a thin layer of meat on the fish’s shiny skin cut into the streamlined shape of a baitfish. Fished in combination with a flashy, feathery lure known as a Sea Witch, bonito strips are especially effective this time of year.
We fished the strips behind planers on heavy two-speed conventional outfits spooled with 80-pound braided line that were trolled from rod-holders on each side of the stern.
“You catch them this time of year on the planer, the smaller ones,” said Lemieux, , a Boynton Beach firefighter who, on his days off, runs trips on his Conch 27 center-console for everything from snapper, tuna and dolphin to sailfish, sharks and swordfish. “I’ve caught kingfish on planers everywhere.”
Lemieux rigs a bonito strip on an 8/0 long-shank J hook. He slides a Sea Witch down the leader so it rests atop the strip, giving it the appearance of a flying fish or other baitfish. This day, Lemieux used a blue-and-white Sea Witch and a pink one. Both colors were effective.
He trolls with planers to get the strips well below the surface. Essentially a weighted, rectangular piece of metal, a planer dives to a range of depths depending on how much line is let out. Lemieux fished a No. 4 planer on the long line, which he let out for 40 seconds, and a larger No. 6 planer on the short line, which he let out for 20 seconds, so both strips were down 30 to 40 feet. Staggering the strips prevents tangles.
One end of a planer is attached to the main line and the other is attached to the leader. Lemieux used 80 feet of 60-pound fluorocarbon, which he pulled in by hand after we reeled the planers to the rod tip.
“Some guys use a lighter leader, some guys use heavier, it just depends on your preference,” he said. “When the fish are biting good like they were today, I try to get a little heavier on them. When it’s a real slow, picky bite, you can go down to even 40-pound if you want to.”
As the sun dipped lower, Lemieux ran north looking for clean, blue water to live-bait for tunas. He eventually stopped off Palm Beach, where the water quality was only slightly better than where we’d been trolling.
He put up a fishing kite with three lines baited with live goggle-eyes on Fin-Nor Marquesa Pelagic 40 conventional reels with 20-pound monofilament main line, 40-pound leader and a three-foot piece of wire leader attached to a 6/0 hook. Lemieux also put out three flat-line live baits on spinning outfits.
The tunas never showed, but my dad and I had plenty of fun. We were in about 200 feet off Mar-a-Lago when what turned out to be a 43-pound kingfish ate the kite bait closest to the boat. Moments later, my dad was hooked up to a huge bonito that took off with a flat-line bait.
The big king dumped a bunch of line, but I was able to gain most of it back. As the fish got closer, I followed it around the boat twice as it seemingly tried to break the line on the bottom of the hull and Lemieux’s twin outboard motors. By the time I finally got my personal-best kingfish close enough for Lemieux to gaff and lift into the boat, I was sweating and breathing hard and thrilled.
“There’s always a few smaller ones around like we caught trolling and there’s always a few big spawners around,” Lemieux said after filleting one of the smaller kings, which my dad and I broiled for dinner. “If you have access to live bait, you’re going to catch bigger fish on the live bait. We saw that today.”