You don’t need a boat to catch kingfish, Skyway fisherman says. He caught 3 from pier

In three weeks, hundreds of boats will take to the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay in search of one large kingfish that could win them over $100,000.

This year’s 31st Annual Old Salt Fishing Foundation Spring King of the Beach has $300,000 of cash and prizes on the line. It has shallow boundaries to even the playing field and on tournament day, April 27, many will fish within sight of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

Based on what pier angler Jay Cross has experienced, big kingfish can be caught from the land-based structure that would be big enough to take home prize money.

“Most of the big fish are caught by regulars who have the right gear and know what they’re doing,” said Cross, who works at the piers. “The small rigs and people fishing for mackerel will occasionally hook a big fish and they usually get spooled or broken off.”

Before a strong midweek cold front brought northwest winds, the water in the bay was extremely clean and there was ample bait around the bridge and fishing piers of the Sunshine Skyway. These prime conditions had Cross and friends out in search of kingfish.

“We use a trolley rig with big 8- to 14-inch blue runners. The trolley rig is a big weight we cast out then slide the baits down with a clothespin on a conventional rod. On Saturday, we got three big ones, the biggest 40 pounds, another 38 and another 30. Three weeks ago, there was a 48-pound kingfish caught!”

When hooking fish from the high structure, there are many challenges. Sometimes it’s the fish and how far they’ll run, requiring hundreds of yards of line. Other times, it is the boat traffic and humans who aren’t paying attention to pier anglers.

“Those big fish hit and run 200 to 300 yards on the first run. On the 40-pounder, we hooked it at 6 p.m. and there were two boats and four jetskis who ran over the line. We wave at them and try to get their attention, but they either just don’t care or are clueless. We hold the line down as low as possible and hope they don’t cut it,” the frustrated Cross explained. “There isn’t much courtesy. Weekends can be tough with the boat traffic.”

Then getting the fish up to the bridge is another challenge the anglers have adapted for. Cross has made friends at the piers and fishes with a group of anglers known as the Skyway Misfits on social media. After a 10-minute fight on the 40-pound kingfish, he and fellow Misfit Shaine Mridha worked together to land the big fish with a custom-made gaff for the long distance to the water.

“We attached a gaff to an extending crab net frame and through-bolted the extensions to reinforce them. It works well and we haven’t had any problems yet even on the big fish,” Cross said.

After the wind dirtied up the water, Cross says the big kingfish may have gone further up the bay or offshore to find cleaner water. But with the amount of bait around the bridge, he says it shouldn’t be long before they return again for another run. Winds switching to the south and east tend to clean up bay waters.

“We’ll probably get two more good runs this year at the pier. They came in pretty early. But I’ve got friends who got big fish off Venice earlier this week. Those fish will move up the coast to us in the next week or two,” Cross said.

“And we’ve had some of the biggest mackerel I’ve ever seen as well as bluefish that are as big as any people have ever caught on this coast. It’s been a good year and we never know what we’ll catch.”

Cross and his fishing adventures can be followed at or by searching Skyway Misfits on social media.