The Noble Kings

The Noble Kings

Jason Ozolins, author’s brother, also enjoyed the challenge of paddling offshore for kings.

I've spent many hours and days targeting king mackerel, after gaining appreciation for them more than fifteen years ago. I learned to respect the noble kings not while standing on the deck of a boat or the planks of a pier, but while sitting atop a specially designed piece of floating plastic, during the dawn of the age of fishing from kayaks out beyond the breakers. The speed and intensity with which kings strike and fight rank them near the top of the list of highly sought Texas sportfish.

Targeting these slender, silver speed-demons from a kayak provides plenty of thrills, while posing several inherent risks. First, the anglers must often navigate through foaming breakers near the beach, sometimes dodging curious sharks along the way. Then, they must remain afloat on their craft during the process of fighting and landing these toothy critters. To this day, I feel a rush of adrenaline every time I hook a smoker king from a kayak, and each battle with one etches an enthusiastic grin on my face.

The largest mackerel in the Gulf of Mexico, the streamlined kingfish can attain weights in excess of eighty pounds. These voracious predators show a fondness for places where structures break up the monotony of a homogeneous bottom, often found around oil rigs, reefs, rock piles and other anomalies where prolific numbers of smaller fish gather in schools. While they're often encountered by anglers many miles from shore, hungry kings sometimes venture much closer to the beach. Jetties and piers attract roaming kings within range of land-bound anglers in the Lone Star State. I've landed more than a few from the relatively shallow waters of the surf.

On my early kayaking adventures devoted to targeting king mackerel near Corpus Christi, I visited all the jetties from Port Mansfield to Port Aransas, as well as many of the nearshore rigs. In my youthful years, I displayed a fearless streak, often venturing many miles offshore on solo yakking missions. I enjoyed multiple activities on these wild quests, often starting off by tying my kayak to a rig and diving off to spear some mangrove snapper and spadefish. Back on the kayak, I'd usually drift ribbonfish around the rigs. These slim, shiny baitfish have long been acknowledged as irresistible to kingfish.

Though I caught many limits of kings by drifting and paddling ribbonfish around the legs of drilling platforms, my interest changed after a couple years, and I began to incorporate more technology into my efforts. I installed a GPS unit with a fish-finder so I could see what lurked in the waters below my kayak, and began to visit coordinates I'd gotten from shrimpers, to see which ones might feed my growing appetite for wrestling with monster kings. At several locations within sight of Padre Island, I found places with ample structures on the bottom, where I'd catch everything from snapper to grouper to ling. Sometimes, I could read the messages sent by frantic baitfish at the surface and anticipate king mackerel in attack mode launching themselves entirely out of the water.

This spawned a new idea, one which caused me to abandon the somewhat boring efficiency involved with targeting kings with ribbonfish. Seeking a new challenge, I realized I could probably entice the feisty predators to attack topwater lures. Operating under the big bait/big fish mantra, I learned to stand up on my Hobie Pro Angler kayak on calm summer mornings and toss hefty poppers designed to target tuna and attract the attention of giant kings.

When I didn't make these trips solo, my good friend Kevin Eager often accompanied me. While we both acquired a taste for catching kings on topwaters, he began to make lures specifically designed for use on kayaks, putting custom paint jobs on long pieces of hand-lathed wood. After plenty of experimentation with shapes and sizes, we learned the most productive plugs created loud, obvious splashes. We hit lots of home runs targeting smoker kings on those flashy lures back then, landing some big enough to appear on leader boards in the S.T.A.R. Tournament.

Clearly, South Texas produces some of the largest kings in the Gulf, so Kevin and I had to redefine what we thought of as a smoker. We consistently landed fish weighing more than fifty, even sixty pounds. Eventually, I evolved, and acquired admiration for a species I'd once labeled as a trash fish. With new-found respect for these regal speedsters, Kevin and I began to release most of the king mackerel we caught.

I've released as many as 28 kings from the back of a kayak on a single day. For me, the thrill of a fight which involves being dragged around like a kid on a sleigh never wanes. I also developed a love for working to improve my ability to capture quality photographs of these impressive fish. One memorable effort involved mounting a video camera on a rod holder and making many casts with a topwater in the frame, hoping to capture footage of an aerial strike.

For several years, Kevin and I and a select few others had the rocks and reefs in the nearshore waters close to Padre Island mostly to ourselves. The dog days of those summers developed a repetitive, satisfying rhythm. We'd paddle our kayaks out and throw lures or troll while the morning sun hung low and the kings prowled actively, then transition to targeting snapper and ling. These days, other obligations prevent me from participating in that old, familiar routine, but I still thoroughly enjoy all the chances I get to do battle with the noble kings.