King run has begun off Anna Maria Island shores
|King-sized catch of yore
Pictured in 1934 are, from left, Victor Hullinger of Hullinger Music of Bradenton, Capt. Merle Tinkham, Bob Dowling and Bob Haley, manager of Firestone in Bradenton, with their catch of kingfish. According to Manatee County historical archive records, total weight of the catch was 750 pounds from a 2 1/2-hour trip in the Gulf of Mexico 5 miles west of the southwest channel. Their boat was a 28-foot cabin boat, "The Uncle Bill," built by Capt. Bat Fogarty.
Season changes are subtle in the Sunshine State.
Our northern neighbors have a slam-it-in-your face change from spring to summer to fall — oh, those leaves! — to winter. In Florida, we sneak into each season with sly indications.
For spring, for instance, we’ve got an offshore king mackerel run in the Gulf of Mexico to herald the true beginning of our long summer season.
King mackerel are big, fast and tasty fish that are found throughout the Gulf and Atlantic Ocean, ranging from Massachusetts to Brazil. According to University of Florida researchers, “The Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic populations migrate separately, with the division lines being in Volusia-Flagler counties of southeast Florida in November through March and in Monroe-Collier counties of southwest Florida during April through October.”
They’re moving now on their spring run to the northern Gulf, where they join with the Panhandle college breakers to spawn before moving south in the fall. There are some “resident” king mackerel off our coasts, though, with catches reported pretty much all year. It’s spring and fall that the big reports surface.
And they’re big fish. Record sizes are more than 74 inches in length at about 100 pounds. Kings are also pretty long-lived for fish, with females living up to 14 years, males to 11, although some studies indicate that ages for both sexes could double.
And king mackerel are carnivores, with primary food being other fish. “They prefer to feed on schooling fish, but also eat crustaceans and occasionally mollusks,” UF biologists report.
Chum, cast where the birds feed, and reel in kingfish. Short version.
Seriously, look for bait schools or any stirred up water offshore. Trolling allows fishers to cover more water more quickly for any errant kings moving around.
Artificial bait, like silver or gold spoons, is a good technique to catch the big ones.
And don’t forget to take a picture of your fish before you filet to get to The Islander newspaper.
There is a warning, as with seemingly everything in Sandscript these days, regarding king mackerel and bad stuff from the flesh of the fish.
“There have been some reports of ciguatera poisoning” in kings, UF experts report. As you may remember from other columns, “Ciguatera poisoning occurs when humans eat a fish that has eaten a toxin produced by the dinoflagellate Gambierdiscus toxicus. Coral grazers ingest this toxin, passing it up through the food web and finally to humans. The symptoms of ciguatera poisoning may last as long as weeks or months, beginning with gastrointestinal symptoms within hours of consumption, followed by neurological and cardiovascular symptoms.”
In short, it’s a rare occurance, but if you feel funky after eating a kingfish steak, get it checked with a medical professional.
Changes in harvest
Our neighbors have a new fishery ban to deal with, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service has instituted a king mackerel commercial fishing ban from March 27 through June 30 this year.
The ban runs from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Alabama-Florida line.
The agency “has determined the 2008/09 western zone commercial quota of 1.01 million pounds of king mackerel has been reached.”
Southwest Florida waters, however are spared from any limitation.
Whiting, those fish that frequent the offshore slosh zone of our beaches, are formally known as kingfish. According to “McClane’s Field Guide to Saltwater Fishes of North America” under the category “kingfish,” “The kingfish, regionally known as whiting, are of minor importance to the sport fisherman mainly because the adults are small, seldom reaching over 1 foot in length. However, they are good eating and are fished commercially in the Chesapeake Bay area.”