Smoking Carolina Fall Kings
Fall is here and many fishermen have turned their focus to the big kings that roam the Carolina Coast each fall. Suddenly those 30 pounders that were exceptional fish during the summer are just other fish in your catch and the interest begins with 40 pounders. Still, everyone knows there are some 50 pounders around and even a few that will reach 60 pounds and more.
There is some luck involved in catching these big fish, but there is also a lot of skill and preparation. Luck will go a long way, but it isn’t the only ingredient for success. being prepared, having the proper tackle, line, baits, equipment and a good double handful of knowing how to use them all, is what puts fish in the fish box.
Capt. Mark Henderson fishes with his family on the Liquid Fire Fishing Team and they have been finding big kings and bringing them to tournament scales for more than a decade. Mark was gracious enough to sit with PCF and talk about some of the things he believes are important to finding big Tar Heel fall kings, convincing them to bite, and getting them to the boat and in the fish box. It was a very interesting conversation and hopefully PCF readers will find it both interesting and helpful.
“I don’t want to say anyone overlooks their equipment, but by the fall you have been fishing with it for the whole season and there might be some little things you have gotten used to that really should be taken care of,” Henderson said. “It could just be that maybe you’ve taken a little line off a reel often enough that is shorter than you would like, or maybe the line has just been in the sun long enough the UV rays have weakened it. Line is the critical link between the fisherman and the fish and it needs to be at its best for larger fall kings. Sometimes there is a nick or chafing up the line you don’t notice when changing rigs. Take care of your line and replace it as necessary.”
Henderson said that some fishermen gear up a little for the larger fall kings. They go to one size heavier leader, switch from size 6 or 4 to size 4 or 2 hooks, and also switch to a little heavier line. The baits are bigger, the fish are bigger and they’re more aggressive too, so these changes provide a little extra cushion when catching larger kings.
Henderson said he likes the black nickel finish hooks. They stay sharp and handle salt water exposure better than bronze. He said you should always use 4X strong hooks and this is when hooks will get tested, so be sure to check them.
Henderson also pointed out that a good gaff is always important, but this is a time when fish are larger and it’s important to have a gaff that is sharp and in good shape. Check the connections on multiple piece gaffs, check the hook insert to be sure it’s solid and this is a good time to be sure your gaff is sharp. Don’t get lazy there – a sharp gaff is more important than you think, but most people don’t realize it until it slides off the side of a big king instead of biting and digging in.
Henderson said it is a toss-up between whether having good bait or knowing where the fish are is most important. The truth is: you’ve got to have both to score. He said local knowledge of how winds and tides affect bait location and movement for menhaden is key. Bait schools aren’t at the same place all the time. Sometimes they get spooky too and it’s important to know how to approach menhaden to get within cast net range. Even sun angle and water temperature affect menhaden and that is something you need to know.
Sometimes it is wise to catch bait early and have it in a pen to be able to put lines in as soon as the tournament begins rather than chasing fresher bait for an hour or two. Conversely, sometimes fresher bait is better. Sometimes different baits are better too.
“I like bluefish for bait, but sometimes they can be hard to get,” Henderson said. “Kings eat bluefish all year, but it seems like they become preferred once the water begins cooling. I want to have some menhaden in the live well too, but I really want some frisky bluefish.”
Henderson said catching bluefish has become very important. When he finds a school, his crew begins casting to them with a variety of lures to see what they like that day. His favorite bluefish rigs are Clarkspoon and Sea Striker Mackerel Trees. With some practice, they can be cast as well as trolled and they have multiple hooks for catching several at once. Sometimes Y0-Zuri lures work well too.
Henderson said when they don’t locate an obvious school he trolls around the inlets for bluefish. This can be as simple as a Clarkspoon behind a Sea Striker planer and he often uses the Mackerel Tree rig behind the planer as it will catch multiple baits there too.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have good quality baits,” Henderson said. “When you’re competing in a crowd, you want to have the best looking baits. I also like to have several different baits. Sometimes the kings prefer one over the other. Bluefish and menhaden are my staples, but kings also hit cigar minnows, blue runners, ribbonfish and more.”
“Fishing is where it all comes together,” Henderson said. “You put out your spread and work your spot. The first thing to remember is to not get lazy if the bite is slow and keep checking baits and change them if they get weak. Many times fish are caught right after switching a fresh lively bait for one that has been out a while and is getting tired.”
Henderson said everyone has their preferred spread and their reasons for it. The Liquid Fire has dual downriggers and there will always be a bait behind at least one downrigger. He believes in covering the depth spectrum of the water, whether in 30 or 100 feet. The Liquid Fire’s downrigger bait will be a bluefish whenever possible.
Another tip Henderson offered is to position the longest surface line very far back whenever possible. You can’t do this in a crowd, but whenever possible it is a good idea. Henderson said the long line often generates strikes from a big fish that is boat wary. He said to put a big frisky bait on it and let it back. You’ll smile when the reel starts screaming.
Henderson’s last fishing tip was not to be greedy. He didn’t say it exactly that way, but said, when the bite is on to reduce the number of lines you are fishing. He said all kings run quickly, especially early in the fight, and bigger kings in cooler water like to burn it down right after they feel the hooks.
The problem comes when running kings tangle with other lines before they can be cleared. The good end to this is landing a nice fish and having to spend a long time untangling lines. However, the bad end is the tangle is bad enough to break the line and a potential tournament winning fish gets away. The fish tale doesn’t count at the scales.
Hopefully some of these tips will work for PCF readers. There is no doubt they work for the Liquid Fire Fishing Team. Good luck this fall.
NOTE: Team Liquid Fire is made up of Capt. Mark Henderson, Audrey Henderson, their sons Joshua and Crockett, Chris Waters and occasional guests. They are based from Cape Carteret, N.C. and have fished the SKA kingfish Trail since 2004 and in 2005 became the Liquid Fire Fishing Team. They have enjoyed lots of tournament success from the Carolinas to Louisiana, winning a handful of tournaments and the coveted “Angler of the Year” title on the SKA Pro Tour in 2008. For more information on Team Liquid Fire, visit their website at www.fishlf.com.