Key West Kingfish

    By Terry Gibson

    Anglers refer to big king mackerel as "smokers," because once hooked they make runs so long and fast that they'll burn up a reel's drag. They're built like missiles for maximum speeds – "fusiform" is the scientific term for the build that allows them to swim in excess of 30 mph.

    This time of the year, large schools of big fish are literally rocketing out of Keys waters. When they feed near the surface, they often vault 15 feet or more from the water. Right now, the big kings are wreaking havoc on baitfish throughout the Keys, especially down around Key West, where the Gulf meets the Atlantic.

    Here's a top destination for anglers intercepting the two populations of king mackerel, the Gulf and Atlantic stocks, which intermix, especially this time of the year as they're rounding the horn, so to speak.

    The Gulf population is as strong as any on record in more than 30 years and the Atlantic stock is in great shape. In other words, it's an excellent year to catch "smokers" in excess of 40, 50 or even 60 pounds. The world record is 93 pounds!

    When the big kingfish migrate to the waters around Key West each winter, they prompt a similar migration of tournament anglers and go-fast center console boats. The top event is the annual Key West Harbour King Mackerel Tournament.

    The 2012 event is set for Friday through Sunday, Jan. 20-22. It is the famous Key West Harbor Kingfish Tournament, part of the Mercury Outboards Tournament Trail. This is a division 10 Southern Kingfish Association event held at Key West Harbor Yacht Clubs on Stock Island. First place takes homes $10,000, while second and third places take home $4,000 and $3,000, respectively.

    If you're a hardcore tournament angler, this is one event not to miss. If you're headed to Key West this time of the year, it's the best time of the year to enjoy this electrifying light-tackle fishery. The Saltwater Angler down on Front Street is a great place to seek out a top local guide.