How to Catch Kingfish: Part I - Trolley Rig

This article is the first of a three-part series, about three different rigs used to catch kingfish from shore; from North Carolina to Florida.

This article is the first of a three-part series, about three different rigs used to catch kingfish from shore; from North Carolina to Florida.

Kingfish are toothy sea creatures and make an appearance along the coastlines in a ritual migration in the spring and fall. Coming up from the tropics in the spring - with their return in the fall months - kingfish are following a stew of baitfish that the warm waters of the gulfstream produce. Kingfish cause a fever from the boards of Florida fishing piers to the decks of many-a-boat. This fever comes from either just the simple thrill of the catch or the contest of a lifetime in mega-dollar tournaments. The most common practice in catching kingfish are afloat in a drift or trolling, but when it comes to shore anglers there are but three methods in which to catch a kingfish: trolley rig, an Anderson inline float, or a fishing kite.

Rigging the Trolley

Where you live and the pier regulations of where you fish may be the deciding factor of you catching (or not catching) a kingfish. On some piers, trolleying for kingfish is a way of life twice a year; whereas, on others, trolley rigs are prohibited and each angler must figure out the best way to reach the kings without crossing others fishing lines. My Anderson inline trolley rig does the trick from both the pier or beach using a fishing kite!


The most popular rig for catching kingfish from a pier was developed in North Carolina, called a trolley rig. The trolley rig engages the usage of two fishing rods and allows your bait to cover more ground than inline fishing. This will better your chances for a hook up while securing your bait in a straight and narrow path to swim freely. The rod is generally a surf rod with a sand anchor attached to the end of the line and a trolley rod.

Using the "Anchor"

These anchors are homemade very easily and can be made in every sort and size. They consist of a weight, claws made from clothes hangers, and are held together by electrical tape. Usually I use a four to six ounce weight that has four to six pieces of clothes hanger wire taped to it. The wire is then bent and the anchor resembles a grappling hook. The best I have seen made was a segment of re-bar cut three inches long with the wire attached. The anchor is attached to the surf rods line and cast out as far as possible off the end of the pier, in as straight of a line as possible because one wishes not to cross another trolley. After the anchor is on the bottom try to get the anchor "hung up" with a number of slow deliberate strokes (pulling the rod downwards).

Once the anchor is hung up, the rod is secured to the pier in an upward position. This is achieved by placing the butt of the anchor rod in a three foot section of three inch wide PVC pipe that is tied to the railing boards of the pier. A homemade clip or a downrigger clip is used to attach the trolley rod to the anchor rod. The trolley rod has its live bait attached anywhere from three to five feet below the trolley clip. The bait is released as the trolley reel, the reel on the trolley rod, as the reel is thumbed in freespool out to where one wishes its bait to dangle. The passing kingfish hits the bait, hopefully takes the hook, and the clip on the anchor rod releases, as the fight ensues. It is a simple method that catches everything from Spanish mackerel, kingfish, tarpon and very large sharks.

Kingfish Trolley Rig Setup

It took as much time to find the right image as it did to write the story, but this is a basic trolley rig ready to catch kingfish from a pier, seawall, or structure near you. Most years, the biggest fish we see are caught on or near the bridges, the beaches, and the piers. This little-known way of presenting baits to these cruising biting machines will produce when all else fails.

Kingfish Trolley Rig Setup on Fishing Pier

The problem of fishing with a trolley is that it takes up a lot of room; you must use two rods per person for one bait. Many piers have a rod limit of two rods per person. If Trolley fishing, once your two rods are up, you need to catch baits; then a third rod is needed.

Careful of our Winged Friends

Signs on fishing piers state not to feed the birds for a reason; birds and fishing lines are a nasty mess, usually a death sentence if not removed. They fly back to the nest at night. The fishing line becomes entangled in the branches. The bird is stuck in the bush; it starves to death! If the bird is hooked, the hook -- if caught in the bird -- rusts away and falls out over time. Hooks do not kill, it is that hanging piece of line that puts them down and trolleys are notorious for fouling birds, because when they dive on the splashing bait below, they see neither line; the anchor line or the trolley line. You also could totally lose your anchor and trolley rig if a bird gets caught in it.

Kingfish - Bird caught in fishing lineBird of Prey caught in rigging. This one gets help! Notice the wire leader (left upper screen), pulling it to safety.

The bird flies off with his last supper. This is the reason many piers either strictly enforce the "Two Rod Rule" or the "No Trollies Allowed Rule". The easy fix to this madness would be for people not to feed the birds. The other fix would be for all piers to place a plastic oversized Owl on the end of its pier. For some reason, it keeps most birds away, as they wish maybe not to be eaten. The last fix comes down to responsible angling. By running free-lined clips down the trolley with colored strips of surveyors tape in strips of a foot or so, in front of the baits and behind, the fluttering of the tape in the wind scares the birds away. With many piers succumbing to either new rules set by enviros or the need for more space, catching kingfish on a trolley is slowly becoming an extinct animal but with the invention of my inline float system, angling for Kings will continue to be an all-time fun sport for those fishing from shore! Look for part II of our kingfish trilogy from The Online Fisherman, where information and education is our way of giving you the entertainment for all to learn by.

LadyfishBest Trolley baits for catching kingfish include ladyfish, blue runners & bluefish.

"FISH ON!" Gary A. Anderson "The Mentoring Angler"

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