Black Salty Kingfish: A Long Wait for a Short Haul

Twelve days. Two hundred and eighty-eight hours. Any way you measure it, that’s a hell of a long time to wait for the weather to get cooperative enough to allow for a single offshore fishing trip.
But wait we did. Capt. Frank Houser, a veteran Rockport, Texas-area fishing pro, had retrofitted his boat, a classic 1978 20-foot Wellcraft with a 175-horse Mercury outboard, and assured me that if I brought the baits he’d make the run out of the Port Aransas jetties.
So I did. And, after a great deal of anticipation, we cleared the jetty mouth early in the morning and ventured a relatively short distance offshore to enjoy some outright outstanding action for hard-hitting king mackerel. Wave heights were 3 to 4 feet, but compared to what things had been throughout the previous week it was as good as calm in our book.Black Salty Kingfish
It’s not entirely unusual at this time of year for Port Aransas-area anglers to take kingfish from the rocks of the jetties. Accordingly, it wasn’t surprising that we found significant numbers of feeding fish inside of 10 miles offshore. A total of eight big ships, tankers and freighters from all over the planet, were anchored up in the area. Their massive metal hulls cast long, dark shadows, every one cloaking a hungry school of the speedy, razor-toothed predators.
In between ship stops, Houser, his old friend Bob Thomas and Yours Truly slow-trolled 1-1/2-ounce gold Rat-L-Trap plugs with amazingly consistent results. The big and shiny tight-wobbling lures were virtually irresistible to kings in the 10- to 14-pound range, and in my humble estimation are as good a king mackerel trolling lure as you’ll find anywhere. Had we wished to duke it out with smaller kingfish the entire morning we could have easily done so. Our long-awaited mission, however, was to drift XL-size live Black Salty baitfish next to the looming steel hulls and selectively extract larger fish.
The results? Mission accomplished.
It was only one of a half-dozen or so recent fishing trips I will profile in the weeks to come (My extended absence from this site as of late is due to said field research.) But of the lot, the outing with Houser and Thomas was as unique and enjoyable as any.
Big live bait, big fish, or so the theory goes. Once again, it was supported by rod-bending results.
I’ve been an enthusiastic “mosquito fleet” fisherman since my early college years, when I just about broke my bank account with the partnership purchase of a 19-1/2-foot Grady White and a big Chevy Blazer to pull it. Difference was, we did our fishing out of Galveston and Freeport, Upper Texas Coast ports from which it is virtually mandatory to run at least 25 miles offshore in order to reach productive water.
One of the many great things about fishing out of Port Aransas is the proximity of quality fishing within close range of the shoreline. Aboard a small center-console in the midst of a thunderstorm-prone summer afternoon, the close-to-shore factor is a major consideration. Furthermore, with gas pushing $4.25 a gallon, the short run seems all the better nowadays.
This was the second time I had ridden in this particular rodeo. Two years ago, fishing with Houser and fellow Rockport-based pro and friend Capt. Chris Fortin, we executed the same basic drill. That trip, another Black Salty field-testing expedition, yielded just as many but slightly smaller kingfish, but it more than made up for it with a 35-pound ling and a 34-inch Spanish mackerel that weighed in exactly one pound shy of the Texas state record.
This go-around, the bigger kingfish stole the show.
A 20-pound king mackerel is not about to take first-place honors in the average Texas offshore fishing tournament. Nonetheless, battled on light to medium tackle, the fighting characteristics and blistering initial runs of the silver-sided gamefish will win your heart. I had been looking forward to trying out a brand-new Woodee tarpon rod, and the long-handled graphite stick did not let me down.
Think “trout rod on steroids.”
Attached to the rod was a Penn International 975 levelwind reel spooled to the brim with 30-pound-test yellow Suffix monofilament. A heavy black barrel swivel held 50-pound-test Vanish fluorocarbon leader and a 5/0 Daiichi Circle Chunk Light red-plated hook affixed to a loop knot. This is, bar none, the most versatile, effective  and fun-to-use fishing combo I have yet to apply to offshore waters.
For one thing, throwing the Black Saltys up close to the ship hulls felt a lot like pitching a jig into a brushpile. For another, the sensitivity factor is stunning.

Knowing when you get a strike is one thing. Knowing before you get a strike that a fish is on the way is entirely another.
The Black Salty is a super-lively critter, and a 6-inch-long baitfish being eagerly approached by a hard-charging king mackerel with dinner on its mind is a veritable transmitter. Fifteen seconds or so prior to the hit, the bait began to vibrate like an out-of-control cell phone. With a reasonably tight line and my hands firmly gripping the Woodee tarpon rod (the Model 1530, 7-foot, medium taper), I was able to predict the strike as the thrashing bait attempted in vain to escape the oncoming predator.
From that point it was a simple matter of giving the fish a few feet to run, lifting the rod firmly and letting the circle hook do its job. If you can learn to abandon the habit of “setting the hook” and instead let the barb of a circle hook curve through the predator’s jaw with gradually increased pressure, you’re very unlikely to miss a strike. The fish not only stays on the hook, but being hooked in the jaw provides two distinct advantages: 1) the hook position greatly reduces the likelihood of leader cutoffs; and 2) if catch-and-release is the name of the game, circle-hooked fish are almost invariably not injured by being hooked deep inside the throat.
As a conservation tool, the circle hook is without parallel (which is why they are now required gear for red snapper enthusiasts … a whole ‘nuther story).
Knowing you’re about to get a strike before the strike occurs?
That kind of anticipation lends a lot to a fishing trip …. almost as much as the anticipation of waiting close to two weeks before the waves finally settle down enough to allow for a run that ultimately turns out to be a great success. Late summer, the weeks prior to Labor Day, traditionally bring bigger-than-average king mackerel surprisingly close to shore (As an example, my biggest king to date, a 43-pound fish, was taken in September of 1990 within sight of the San Luis Pass toll bridge between Galveston and Freeport).
Capt. Frank Houser knows his stuff. Whether it’s aboard his airboat for a journey to the flats of San Jose Island on Aransas Bay or an offshore trek for kingfish and ling only a short run outside the mouth of the Aransas jetties, Houser can handle the assignment. Contact him by calling 361-229-2527 or send email to
For information on how you can have your own supply of Black Salty live baitfish shipped direct to your door via Federal Express overnight shipping (Tuesday and Friday deliveries) check the Web at or call 1-877-GO-SALTY (467-2589). And, to view out a video that shows, literally in-hand, the three different sizes of Black Saltys, log on to and type in the search words “Black Salty.” While at it, you can also find a detailed video on Black Salty care and handling.

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