Kites are an indispensable part of today's offshore arsenal. Originally used by islanders to set their baits away from shore, kites are now used much in the same way and keep baits away from the boat and up near the surface where they attract more attention.
Kites work best when fished along the edge of a drop-off or along a current rip or temperature breaks that game fish follow.
"Rips define differences in current," says Miami's Capt. Bouncer Smith. "Most anglers fish the fast-moving, clean-water side. But in the spring, when sailfish head south to spawn the current is slower and they'll be on the dirtier, green water side of these rips. So if I'm fishing three baits, I position my boat so that one bait sits in blue water and two are in the green. My bow still faces into the wind. I use just enough power to buck the current. Move too fast and sails ignore your baits."
A captain will move the boat into position over a given feature or rip line and ease his throttles back to idle, while a mate or crewmember launches the kite. Baits are then added to the kite using release clips.
Capt. Bouncer says he often drifts while fishing a kite, heading out to 250 feet of water and drifting inshore to the 100-foot mark. "That's on a typical southeast wind," he says. "My kites stay downwind, the direction I'm drifting. This lets me deploy flat lines and possibly, a bottom rig behind me."
Sometimes Smith anchors up-current from a wreck and lets his kites carry baits downwind to the action while he drifts back flat lines and/or weighted rigs. He'll also troll with kites when the wind's barely puffing.
"When I find broken-up weed, the kind that makes trolling a nightmare, I rig a single-hook ballyhoo, which I dangle from a slow-moving kite," Smith says. "I'll adjust it so most of it stays barely out of the water. Now I can skip it along on top of the weed, beneath which the mahi are swimming."
Today's kite-fishing set up includes a specialized rod and reel. The rod, a veritable pool cue that's both short and stout, stays in the rod holder where the electric reel has access to power. The reel is spooled with heavy braid and there's a snap at the end that hooks to the kite.
"Some anglers spool up with 60- or 70-pound braid, although we recommend 100-pound," says Andy Novak, proprietor of LMR Tackle in Ft. Lauderdale.
Daiwa and Shimano offer electric reels with enough power to bring the kite in quickly. Novak custom-builds the short rods in his shop Aftco Unibutts and Winthrop blanks.
Using a series of increasingly-larger barrel swivels that are designed to accommodate release clips, crews can fish up to three baits off of each kite. The swivels are small enough to pass through the rod guides and are set at premeasured distances to scatter the baits, starting with a tiny # 10 and continuing up to a #5. There are three corresponding release clips that are sized to stop at the three swivels.
According to Novak, the clips should be spaced out with the first 90 feet from the kite, the second 75 feet from the first and the last clip about 65 feet farther down.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL KITE
Kites are available in a variety of models and sizes that range from "light wind" to "heavy." Most boats elect to fly two kites once they get the hang of it. Figure each kite will support a maximum of three baited lines. To change the flight pattern of a kite, which may help to keep the two kites from getting tangled, apply #3 split shots to the outboard struts of the kite.
Kites, which aren't cheap, come in kits that are easily-assembled. Plan on paying $100 or more for a serviceable model. Like all of your tackle, make sure to take care of your kites. "Be sure to wash and dry yours each time you use it," Novak says. "And if it dives into the water, don't try to recover it by winding, which will only break the struts. Instead, crank-up your engine and rush to the scene of the crash and gently retrieve it."
Some fishermen place a float on their kites to make downed kites more visible. You can also purchase a kite repair kit, which is a good investment.
Occasionally, balloons filled with helium are attached to kites on windless days. The boat may then have to keep moving, barely above idle, to generate enough "wind" to keep the kite flying.
Kite fishing is a team sport. After putting the bait in the water place the line in the release clip and the reel in free spool to move the bait up the kite line. When the bait is out, place the rod in a rocket launcher and watch your line. It's a constant game of adjustment to keep the slack at a minimum and the bait in the water. Brightly-colored floats that bob in the air are added above the bait, help anglers keep track of their line.
Each bait needs to be constantly monitored. Whenever a the kite rises or dips, lines and baits must be quickly adjusted by reeling in or feeding out line to keep baits at or near the surface. Hook the live baits in the back just ahead of the mid-point so their noses and gills remain in the water and they don't end-up fighting the kite. Goggle-eyes are the hands-down favorite kite bait, but mullet and pinfish are also popular. It's also worth noting that kites make the most of less-active baits like pinfish by showing them off to maximum advantage.
When a fish takes a bait, you'll see it. After a sudden explosion the line will pop from the clip and come tight.