TEXAS SALTWATER by Calixto Gonzales

February 25, 2017
JAWS BREAKERS by Danielle Sonnier
February 25, 2017

Stinging the King

T he South Texas Coast, most notably from Aransas Pass at the top to the Coastal Bend, to Brazos Santiago (“The Arms of Saint James”) at the mouth of the Lower Laguna Madre, has long been the haven of the Mosquito Fleet.

This is a euphemism for the swarms of small (sub 22-foot) bay and flats boats owners who take advantage of the unique blue water fishery the region offers beginning in spring and on until the first major cold front in November. When waters start to warm in spring, they start reappearing.

Steady southeasterly breezes and a prevailing current push blue Gulf of Mexico waters very close to shore, often right up to the mouths of passes and into adjoining bays. With the clean, nutrient-rich waters come a plethora of pelagic gamefish, including bonito, Spanish and cero mackerel and, the prize of the small boater, large kingfish.

King mackerel can be found temptingly close to shore from the mid-Texas coast south, making them a prime target of the “Mosquito Fleet.”

“There are some nice kings out there starting in spring,” says Joe Montemayor, owner/operator of Joe’s Tackle in Pharr. “You don’t have the big tankers that you find way offshore, but you have plenty of nice, solid 36 to 44-inch class kings, and you will get lots over 48 inches when the water gets into the 80s in the summer. In a 22 foot BayQuest, with three fishermen and a bunch of rods and tackle, a 42-inch king can be plenty big enough.”

Kayak devotees also get involved in the fun, often putting in right off the jetties or a nearby beach and paddling out the short distance where Texas kings lurk. There are times where kingfish will actually roam farther in and actually be caught in the passes themselves (it is not uncommon on the Lower Laguna Madre for an angler chasing trout and redfish near Brazos Santiago to suddenly have their reel burned by a scorching king run before the leader parts)

Although there can be several days where flat-calm conditions prevail from dawn to dusk, as the spring and summer days warm along the South Texas Coast, the southeast wind tends to pick up, and by late morning, mid-afternoon, the seas around jetties and passes can start to stack up and get a bit sloppy, which makes for tougher fishing conditions. The upward velocity curve of the wind necessitates that Mosquitos make plans for an early trip, usually from gray light to whatever time the wind and waves begin to be more than they can comfortably handle.

If Captain Chad Kinney is going to chase kingfish for his clients for a bit, he’ll get to the Mansfield Pass early and troll a few baits on speck. He’ll work farther from the jetties and more toward the one mile buoy, where the water is deeper.

“I’ll usually bump troll with plugs or ribbonfish,” says Kinney, “but I’m always scanning for some kind of activity on the water, whether it’s a bird working or fleeing fish. I want clues to where there may be active fish and what they might be doing. I’ll investigate anything that looks out of the ordinary. You never know.”

Another favored pattern that Kinney uses on Mosquito Fleet kingfish is casting topwaters. Remarkably, he uses many of the same topwater plugs that he will toss for inshore species such as speckled trout and redfish. Kinney has thrown Bomber Badonk-a-Donk minnows, Super Spooks, Spook, Jrs, and a variety of other walk-the-dog topwaters with great success. 

“It’s pretty exciting when you see a big king just shoot straight up out of the water 10 feet with your plug in his mouth,” says Kinney. A short wire trace, usually about 12 inches long, prevents bite offs from the snapping jaws of an agitated king (see “Knot a Wire Issue”).

If you intend to try your hand at throwing a topwater at a Mosquito king, make sure you’re properly equipped. Popping rods should be in the upper range of what you would use for redfish, preferably in medium to medium heavy, and a high capacity reel is also a must for the long runs a belligerent mackerel can make. My typical nearshore top-water rod is a TFO Tactical GISSWC 705-1 with a Calcutta 200 B loaded with 30 pound PowerPro Blue. The outfit can handle a one ounce River2Sea WideGlide (my favorite topwater) and still have the backbone to snub all but the most belligerent kingfish.

Farther south, around Brazos Santiago, attorney Oscar Garcia also used live bait a great deal. He prefers to net six to eight-inch mullet, which he believes is the primary forage for jetty kings, and slow troll with them around the points of the jetties and along the adjoining beachfront. Rather than the typical multi-hook kingfish rig that most anglers use, Garcia prefers a single 10/0 Eagle Claw 190 Off-set Circle hook. He may miss more fish than other anglers who use the multiple hook rigs, but Garcia believes that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

“First, I don’t miss that many fish,” says Garcia. “I may have an occasional fish bite a mullet in half, but if I drop back and give it a chance, he usually comes back around to get the other half. The single hook doesn’t tear up a fish. Finally, the last thing you need in a small boat is three or four treble hooks hanging from fish, even one you’ve whacked a couple of times and are holding with a gaff. It’s a safety issue.”

Garcia adds that that the live mullet swim better with a single hook through the nose (floss rigs might work, too, but the jury is still out on how to mitigate the fragile nature of the connection in the presence of sharp teeth).

Trolling tackle for nearshore kings is a tad lighter than the bigger stuff that’s popular for the huge smokers. Garcia uses Penn Squall 20LW conventional reels loaded with 25-pound Ande matched to seven-foot Ugly Stik Conventional rods. Kinney prefers spinning reels, usually a Penn Fathom open faced or a 6500 SS. Line choices on the spinning reels are either 20 pound Ande or 30-pound braid. The braid allows for greater line capacity, but Kinney prefers the monofilament to prevent line burns when a big king takes off for the horizon.

They aren’t called smokers for nothing.

Email Cal Gonzales at

[email protected]

Progressive Casualty Insurance Co.



Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]


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