Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips Catching kingfish and other panfish in the surf...
Catching kingfish and other panfish in the surf...

“What can I catch in the surf in August?”

Summertime surf fishing means pan fish! Kingfish (also called whiting or sea
mullet), croaker, Norfolk spot, small “spike” trout, very small snapper
blues are generally the fare. The biggest mistake anglers make is trying to
fish the surf like they do in the spring and fall. If you go out there with
a big ol’ hook and a big slab of bait, you may catch a big shark or ray, but
the likelihood of a nice striper or big bluefish is “slim.”

“They are small and silver with a few black stripes and a turned down mouth…
We’ve been tossing them back… What are they?”

Kingfish! And they are wonderful to eat!
There are two varieties of them in the surf, thus sometimes they look a
little different at times. The Northern kingfish has a long spine on the
first dorsal fin and a barbel on its chin. It has dark, irregular bars or
stripes on its body. The first two bars form two distinct V-shapes. These
bold markings and a dark longitudinal stripe behind the pectoral fins
distinguish it from other species of kingfish. The markings on Southern are
not as prominent and do not form the V-shaped pattern. The Southern Kingfish
does not have a long spine on the first dorsal fin and can run a little
larger in size. The Northern Kingfish averages 10-14 inches and rarely gets
much over a pound and a half.

The Southern Kingfish has indistinct bars, stripes, or blotches on its sides
and can run up to two pounds. Both varieties can run together, and
personally, I think the Northern ones taste a little sweeter, maybe because
they have been in cooler waters up north! But regardless of the variety,
whether Northern or Southern, they are both absolutely delicious. It is one
of my absolute favorite fish both to catch and to eat.
“How do you catch them?”
First of all, the kingfish have small turned down mouths. Big hooks won’t
cut it! Get yourself a pre-made kingfish surf rig made with size no. 6 or
no. 8 hooks and little surf floats. There are several of them on the market.
Sea Striker makes a couple of them that work just great. I like the one with
the two little wide gap gold hooks with the little round balls. It is called
an SSSKF-2 Spot, King and Mullet Rig. Another one Sea Striker makes is
SSSKF- Kingfish/pan fish surf rig made with #8 hooks. This rig is made with
Pacific Bass hooks (long shank hook) and one-inch floats. This rig has a big
loop that you slip your sinker into. The rig with the round balls has a snap
for your sinker that I like a little better. I also think the wide gap hooks
hook the fish quicker.
Use whatever amount of sinker weight that just barely holds the bottom. Use
a pyramid or hurricane type sinker in the 2 to 3 ounce range to start. Then
use heavier if need be.

Bait up your hooks with bloodworm, Fishbite Artificial bloodworm, and
little pieces of fresh or fresh frozen bunker, or small strips of California
box squid. You can also use combination baits of bloodworm or Fishbite
Bloodworm with a little strip of squid or fresh cut bunker or spot. Kingfish
also like shrimp, so bait shrimp, fresh shrimp bought off one of those
trucks on the side of the road boasting fresh shrimp from North Carolina, or
Fishbites Shrimp strips will also work (I like the pink color.) Some people
swear by the Fishbites clam in orange too. But when it comes to Fishbites
for kingfish, the all time favorite is the Bloodworm flavor. If you buy
another flavor use it in combination with the bloodworm ON THE SAME HOOK.
It’s like an ice crème sundae. You can buy a cup of vanilla ice crème and
that’s OK. And you can buy a jar of hot fudge and that’s OK. But when you
but them together IT’S WONDERFUL! Almost all fish LOVE combination baits.
That’s two baits ON THE SAME HOOK! Worm and squid… Bunker fillet with some
Fishbites Bloodworm Alternative… Shrimp and bloodworm…. Be creative!
“Sometimes shrimp works for the kingfish and sometimes only worms will
That may have something to do with the variety of kingfish you are catching.
Southern kingfish are more likely to take shrimp or cut bait, while Northern
Kingfish are more likely not to take those baits and prefer bloodworm,
Fishbite Bloodworm Alternative, or crab such as fresh peeler crab. Some
days the two varieties run together and other days you will only catch one
or the other!
The other advantage to using bloodworm or Fishbites bloodworm alternative as
one of your baits in the surf is Norfolk spot. Norfolk spot run with the
kingfish and REALLY like worms. They are also great to eat if they are big
enough to fillet or dress whole, but they also make GREAT fresh bait. Scale
and fillet the spot and cut into small strips. Put it on with the worm and
you have a really good fresh bait to put on your hooks. Small sea trout
especially like fresh spot fillet and worm combinations.
“How far out should I cast?”
Kingfish and other pan fish are often close in, just beyond the first
breaker. What I do is this. Cast out as far as you can, then very slowly
bump your rig back in towards shore. This way, you can find out where the
fish are biting and then when you get bites you can cast to that spot. The
“bite” can change with the tide as well. On the high tide, the fish can be
in VERY close, but as the tide goes out, the fish can move out further.
“My line went slack!”
Kingfish have a tendency to run towards the shore when hooked. If you get a
bite then a slack line, start cranking! There’s likely to be a fish on the
end of the line!

Kingfish and other pan fish tend to bite better early in the morning and
towards dusk. In the heat of a hot sunny day, the “bite” can quit. Always
try to get up to the beach as early as you can, especially for kingfish. Sea
trout and croaker can be nocturnal and tend to bite at dusk and after dark.
After dark, it is best to have some cut bait such as fresh spot, frozen
squid, or fresh or frozen bunker to add to your worm. The larger croaker in
the surf seem to be biting primarily after dark. Fish for them the same way
as you would for the kingfish and you should be in luck!
If you have one of those cloudy drizzly days, the fishing can be good all
day as the sun does not come into the shallow water and scare the fish to
the depths. Also, a light easterly breeze is ALWAYS the preferred wind on
the beach in the summer. It brings in slightly cooler cleaner water, it
brings the fish closer to shore, and it keeps the biting flies in the
marshes where they belong!
If you wonder why fishing one day is GREAT and fishing the surf another day
at the same tide or time of day is totally DEAD it probably has a lot to do
with the way the wind is blowing.
“Are croaker as good to eat as kingfish?”
They are good but have a lot more bones. Their meat is not as white and
flaky and they have more of a fishy taste than kingfish. Kingfish and spot
are a whole lot easier to fillet for sure! Croaker have a large head and a
large rib cage. Even though kingfish may look smaller, the fillet is
“Do I need a big long surf rod?”
Actually no. In the summer, a lighter 8 or 9 foot rod with a reel strung
with 12 to 15 pound test is all you need. These fish are small and are more
fun to catch with a lighter rod. You can even use your bay spinning outfits,
BUT keep them out of the SAND!

Good fishing…

Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 June 2009 13:45