Ruler of the kingfish

Published: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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There is an art to deciphering an ocean full of water and pinpointing the small stretches most likely to surrender a trophy-sized king mackerel.

TIM TUCKER/Special to The Sun
Dave Workman Jr. knows kingfish. Big kingfish.
Few anglers can match his uncanny ability to decipher an ocean full of water and pinpoint the small stretches most likely to surrender a trophy-sized kingfish. He has proven it time after time when there was big money on the line.
The saltwater pro is the owner of Strike Zone Fishing in Jacksonville and one of Florida's most accomplished tournament anglers. His penchant for finishing in the money in nearly every tournament has enabled him to become a past champion and three-time Top Angler of the Year on the highly competitive Southern Kingfish Association circuit. Through years of competing in tournaments throughout the south Atlantic region, Workman seems to have perfected the art of catching bragging-sized king mackerel.
"One of the biggest problems anglers seem to have in catching large king mackerel is in trying to locate them," said Workman, who has fished extensively along the coasts of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. Wherever he travels, "I make it a point to stop in local tackle shops, purchase a fishing chart and study the bottom contours.
"I'm interested in ridges, hard spots, wrecks and any other irregular hard structure that has the potential to hold bait and king mackerel. I also inquire about the spots where these kings are traditionally caught. A lot of guys won't give away their honey holes, but you'll learn about the most heavily fished locations, and that can be a big help."
Another strategy involves maintaining contact with local fish houses to learn about the various schools of fish migrating through the area.
"I'm not really interested in locating school fish, like a lot of people might be," he said. "I want big fish. By learning the average size of kings comprising a school, I can narrow down my search. I realize my odds of catching a 30-pound-plus king will be far greater from around a school of 15- to 20-pound fish then they will be from trolling around a school of 10-pounders. That makes a big difference.
"Water temperature is also very critical. Before each tournament, I receive a water temperature analysis from Roffers Ocean Fish Forecasting Service in Miami. This will tell me precisely where the preferred water temperature might be. Sometimes the prime water temperature might be right along the beach. Bait and king mackerel could be plentiful.
"Then the wind blows for a few days, causing some upwellings. The bait and kingfish seem to have disappeared from where they were before the blow. The preferred temperature that's conducive to bait and king mackerel could have moved offshore more or farther along the coast. A water temperature analysis tells you precisely where the best zones are. It eliminates a lot of searching."
All of these factors help Workman decide where he will be start fishing each morning.
"Everyone knows a lot of big kinds are caught around inlets and tide lines," he continued. "But if the fishing is slow there, or there happens to be 60 boats fishing the same water, I'm off and running to another spot that I feel has the potential to produce fish."
Workman's knack of locating and fooling big kingfish has obviously been honed by years of experience and experimentation. Like most kingfish enthusiasts, he is a firm believer in light-fighting drags and ultra-light terminal tackle. Most of his fishing involves 15-pound test line.
It doesn't end there, however. Workman is meticulous about keeping his terminal rigs "view-proof." Between his line, leader and hooks, there isn't much that could trigger a king's suspicions. His dual treble-hook rigs begin with 22 inches of No. 3 wire. He inspects each individual package of wire and only purchases the darkest colored coils. "Even though the wire is the same brand and strength, certain batches come out darker than others," he said. "By using only the dark or purple-tined wire, my rigs won't reflect sunlight like a brighter wire will."
Both his lead and stinger hooks are usually No. 6 trebles (with No. 4 hooks reserved for larger baits). Most rigs are tipped with a King Buster skirt, and all are capped with a No. 10 (30-pound test) swivel that seems immune to snagging weeds and debris. Workman fishes a six-line spread in an attempt to create an attractive illusion of anxiety in the water. One productive trolling spread involves placing the farthest bait (a single-skirted porgy) about 100 yards back. Since the rod is fished from the center T-top, that bait has a tendency to swim deeper during a turn, which enhances its action. The starboard T-top rod pulls a double-porgy rig about 50 yards back, while a single bait rides 30 yards behind the boat off of the portside T-top.
To create the illusion of a predator chasing its prey (which strikes fear in the live porgy fished off of the portside T-top), a ribbonfish is free-spooled 25 yards back and then deployed 40 feet down on the portside downrigger. Given the slight angle of the downrigger line at that depth, the ribbonfish flutters away underneath and just behind the porgy.
A second ribbonfish is also fished on a downrigger positioned 10 feet back and 10 feet below the surface. Workman prefers this bait to swim near the fringes of the prop wash. The middle bait, which is fished 15 feet back, involves either a single- or double-porgy rig.
Workman possesses an amazing ability to locate, catch and then slowly troll large baits. He has developed some special techniques that have helped him locate baitfish that are larger than average. In order to tilt the odds of catching big fish in his favor, he also relies on specialized chumming and trolling tactics.
Tim Tucker is an award-winning outdoors writer who lives in Cross Creek. E-mail him at

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