THE 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 colloquialism for swarms of small (sub 22-foot) bay and flats boats. Their owners take advantage of the unique blue water fishery the region offers beginning in spring and on until the first major cold front in November.
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.
Some nice kings are out there starting in spring. You don’t have the big tankers that you find way offshore, the 40 to 45 pounders. However, 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. Sometimes 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.
There can be several days where flat-calm conditions prevail from dawn to dusk. Then, as the spring and summer days warm along the South Texas Coast, the southeast wind tends to pick up. By late morning to 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 Mosquiteers make plans for an early trip. This will usually be from gray light to whatever time the wind and waves begin to be more than they can comfortably handle.
If you hope to chase a few kingfish early in the morning, get to the Mansfield Pass out of Port Mansfield, and set up a troll. Begin a slow drift-troll of the point of the jetties and work toward the one-mile buoy, in deeper water.
An effective technique is to bump troll with plugs or ribbonfish. Never stop scanning for some kind of activity on the water. Whether it’s a bird working or fleeing fish, or fish tearing into bait schools, direct your troll in that direction. Sometimes, it may be a school of bonitas or Spanish mackerel, but it can also be some smoker king causing all sorts of trouble.
Another favored pattern that experienced captains such as Chad Kinney use on Mosquito Fleet kingfish is casting tipsters. Remarkably, you can use many of the same topwater plugs that you toss for inshore species such as speckled trout and redfish.
Popular choices are the Bomber Badonk-a-Donk minnows, Super Spooks, and the Mirr-O-Lure Dog and Pup family. Kingfish are known to launch themselves clean out of the water and high into the air going after a plug.
If you intend to try your hand at throwing a topwater at a 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. A high capacity reel is also a must for the long runs a belligerent mackerel can make.
My typical nearshore topwater rod is a TFO Tactical GISSWC 705-1 with a Shimano Tranx 400 loaded with 30-pound PowerPro Blue. This outfit can handle a one-ounce River2Sea WideGlide (my favorite topwater) and still have the backbone to snub all but the most belligerent kingfish. The Tranx 400 has enough line capacity that only the biggest kings have a chance of dumping it.
Sometimes, the kingfish prefer meat. In that case, natural baits are good to tempt them. Ribbonfish is always popular, but a horse mullet in the 8- to 10-inch range is tremendously effective.
Be sure to use a stinger hook toward the rear of the bait. Kingfish prefer to bite prey in half, come back around, and finish the job. The stinger will prevent them from leaving you with half a mullet.
Farther south, around Brazos Santiago, natural bait is also very popular. Many anglers slow troll with ribbonfish or mullet around the points of the jetties and along the adjoining beachfront.
Rather than the typical multi-hook kingfish rig that most anglers use, Some anglers prefer a single 10/0 Eagle Claw 190 Off-set Circle hook. This might miss more fish than anglers who use the multiple hook rigs, but a few believe that the benefits far outweigh the costs.
When using smaller live mullet, Use a single-hook rig with the hook through the nose. With a mullet in the five- to six-inch range, kings tend to engulf the bait rather than bite them in half.
Trolling tackle for nearshore kings is a tad lighter than the bigger stuff popular for the huge smokers. A combo such as the Penn Squall 20LW conventional reel loaded with 25-pound Ande matched to a Squall trolling rod is economical and very effective.
A large spinning reel in the 6000 range loaded with 30-pound braid is also a good choice. Even bay tackle such as the casting and spinning outfits used for trout and redfish will work, but again, you run the risk of getting stripped of all your line.
Then all you can do is stand there, mouth agape.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]