Kite Fishing Tips, Rigging Techniques, and Essential Gear

 

Miami Sailfish caught while Kite Fishing off Miami breaching by the boat

A Miami Sailfish Caught While Kite Fishing

Some of the absolute best kite fishing of the year is about to happen. Several cold fronts have pushed through in the last few weeks and the temperature has taken a dip a few times in a row. Jumbo threadfin herring are piling up at the bait grounds and the sailfish bite is just starting to pick up.

While maintenance kept us onshore for a few days, I took the time to inventory our kite fishing equipment and thought it would be an excellent opportunity to provide some direction on kite fishing tips, rigging techniques, and our most essential gear for the impending sailfish season.  Kite fishing is absolutely my favorite ways to catch sailfish off Miami in the wintertime…and it’s definitely a skill set which keeps you on your toes.

The  rigs you use are equally as important as the hardware – and there are lots of choices when it comes to big league kite fishing gear. For that matter, breaking fragile (and expensive) kite fishing equipment  is inevitable and in most instances alot more goes wrong than right when it comes to flying two kites in rough seas.

We’ve learned to kite fish in practically any fishable condition, and my goal here is to illustrate several of the techniques we’ve utilized with great success through the years.

Kite fishing Miami - tips, techniques, rig

The Standard Miami Kitefishing Rig

This was the original kite fishing rig that has been used since the late 70s (and variations well before that). Essentially, it requires minimal rigging in a world where technical know-how can mean the difference between hooking fish in tough sea conditions or going home empty handed. The rig is simple, effective, and reliable.  It can be fished from a spool or a penn senator and doesn’t require much effort to use it effectively.

Basic Kite Fishing Rig
Basic Kite Fishing Rig

Now first of all, don’t use Aftco products when you’re setting up your kite fishing rig. I know its a popular brand and lots of recreational anglers use their kite fishing gear effectively – but it will fail on you with time and the release clips are worthless IMHO.  Whether you’re rigging a line with two or three baits – you need to use high quality release clips, a strong main line, and the strongest swivels you can get. Kite Hunter and Blacks make excellent kite rigging kits that you can buy at just about any reputable tackle store in Miami, Florida.  If you invest in quality release clips and strong swivels, you increase the likelihood of the rig lasting you an entire season or more.

The best way to set up this rig is to purchase a kite line rigging kit like this, buy some strong braided line ( I like dacron personally, but it weighs down the kite in light wind scenarios) and then follow these steps:

  1. Spool your kite reel with at least 100 yards of braid
  2. Pull 80 ft of line off the reel (measure this carefully) and then cut it (keep track of the 80 ft mark
  3. Tie in the smallest swivel using a uni knot or a tuna knot
  4. measure another 60 ft and then cut the line again – tie in your second swivel (the medium size swivel in the kit)
  5. Measure another 60 ft and then cut the line again – tie in the largest of the three swivels
  6. Wind everything back onto the reel, slide on the release clips in the specified order (clip with the largest pre-drilled hole goes first).
  7. Slide a tri bead on the line and then tie on the snap swivel (this will be the kite connection – tie the strongest knot you can think of).
…and that’s basically it!  Some might balk and say three baits is a bit much to manage…but MAN UP!  Most charter boats fish SIX baits at any time…so learn to fish three.  It’s not that hard once you practice and get used to the routine of sending out the baits and adjusting the tension on the release clips to match the wind.

Professional Charter kite fishing rig

Charter Boat Kite Fishing

If you’ve chartered offshore before or have fished with seasoned kite fishing pros on larger sportfishers you’ve likely observed the impressive methods a skilled crew utilizes to run the lines. Most large charter boats and pro-rigged center consoles fish two kites with up to six baits, flying kites off the riggers using stainless steel rings to keep the spread wide and controlled. It takes some doing to build a set up like this for yourself, not to mention a full inventory of kite fishing equipment and expensive electric reels (most popularly the Daiwa Tanacom Bull or Krystal XL 601). Still, there are many lessons to be learned from this orientation and if you’re up for the challenge, you can build a tournament winning spread for just under $3000.00.

If you’re dead set on fishing like the pro’s, you will need to invest in the gear first.  Rigging the kite lines is essentially the same, but the orientation of the gear within the boat and how you run the lines is the key difference. Aside from an assortment of kites for different wind conditions, you will need to mount two electric reels near your riggers.  Most charter boats mount holders adjacent to the outriggers so the kite line can be passed through a stainless steel ring which is long line clipped to a segment of the outrigger line. When flying your kites off the riggers, the trick is to hold the kite with your hand while sliding the stainless steel ring up the outrigger line so its away from the boat.

Kite fishing outrigger steel ring

A Stainless Steel Ring Used to Spread the Kite Line

Once the boat is positioned into the wind, you can stand at the stern of the vessel and extend your arm with the kite, holding it by the cross bracket at the back.  Once you catch the wind the kite will swing away from the boat and begin flying back behind the boat.  If you weighted the kite properly so it will fly out away from the boat in the direction of the rigger, you’ll be in good shape. It looks something like this:

Your kite fishing rods must be positioned in a uniform holder or mount in the middle of the boat – or from stainless triple rod (or double if you’re fishing two baits) rod holder mounted inside the boat. Most charter boats use an orientation like this:

Kite Fishing Rods aboard the Top Gun of Miami, FL

This allows you to manage up to six rods once they are fully deployed.  The long line goes out first and must be clipped into the first release clip facing away from you (think logically about how the line will flow most naturally out and away from the boat). While keeping the long line rod  in free spool (with the clicker on), slowly let out the kite line so the bait carries out and away from the boat.  Essentially, you’re repeating this process for the rest of your spread…over and over again. Once you finish putting out one side of the spread, put out the other side and you’re all set to manage six kite lines at once. Good luck!

Tournament Kite Fishing Rigging

Tournament kite fisherman are maniacs about rigging.  Every professional crew has a slightly different way of doing things…and each crew will tell you they do it the best. From the knots they use, to the swivels, to the size of the weights (even the corks) each little detail plays an important role in how a bait will present when deployed.  Remember, the overall goal here is to present a very frisky bait at the surface without the fish really being able to see the leader while keeping the hook exposed in a way that is most likely to set when a fish grabs hold and makes a dash for the horizon. There’s a few subtle tricks i’ve learned fishing with different crews through the years, so here’s a few tips that i’ve picked up along the way:

  • Use Fluorocarbon
    • Now this may seem like a no-brainer in a tournament environment, but you’d be shocked at how many Captains are so cheap they won’t invest in this stuff.  We ALWAYS fish flourocarbon leaders on our kite lines…it makes a tremendous difference. Yo-Zuri Pink Fluorocarbon, particularly, is completely transparent in the water. This gives you the upper hand in eliminating the leader material from the list of variables that might spook a shy sailfish.  Typically, we use 30lb or 40lb fluoro when kite fishing for sailfish – this is strong enough to handle the pressure from the fish but light enough to be virtually invisible in the water. Make sure to use perfection loops or uni loops when connecting your hook and making a loop to the swivel on the kite line.
  • Bridle Big Baits
    • In tournament conditions, it’s likely you will be fishing goggle eyes or big threadfin herring.  In the Keys and off Jupiter to West Palm they will also use ballyhoo.  Make sure you can bridle a bait quickly using super strong bridle bands.  Use a fresh pack…once saltwater gets into the bridle band pack they quickly deteriorate and you don’t want bridles popping on you when fish are pulling at them.  You have to be gentle and swift when you’re bridling a bait – it’s the most effective way to keep the bait healthy and the hook exposed. Sailfish chase the bait around before they eat it, which usually presents a slight opportunity for the bait to freak out and occasionally break free from its bridle.  Take the time to learn how to bridle a bait effectively and you’ll be glad you did when your hookup ratio begins increasing.
  • Be meticulous about weights on the kite line
    • Its important to use the right amount of weight on the kite leaders for the wind condition you’re fishing. While it might be an arbitrary debate in some instances, using the right amount of weight to “balance” the line with the wind has everything to do with how effectively you present your baits at the surface.  Too much weight and the bait can’t swim naturally…not enough and the line gets blown around and its difficult to keep your bait in the water. No weight at all and, well, its nearly impossible to really control the bait in any wind scenario. The trick here is to make sure your weights get progressively smaller.  Use high quality barrel weights that are not jagged on the edges (that way you won’t chafe the line, weakening it) and place a tri bead between the bottom of the weight and the knot to the swivel. Your short line should use the smallest possible weight you can fit on the line (bearing in mind its doubled). I prefer to use minimal weights for my kite lines unless the wind is really blowing hard…but its a balancing game. Buy a series of barrel weights up to 1 ounce and and experiment with variations to see what gives you the most control.  It can be a pain re-rigging different weights in varying sea conditions, but eventually you will find a balance that works right for you.  If you’re fishing big heavy baits like goggle eyes, you can get away with minimal weight…but if you’re fishing pilchards…you have to compensate. Tournament teams swap out weights on the kite lines depending on the wind of the day…so don’t be afraid to rerig each time you head out. The extra effort can make a big difference in your presentation.
  • Use high visibility line markers
    • It can get tough to see the line markers after they wear down. Swap these out regularly.  most pro teams use the smaller egg shaped corks because they don’t put up much resistance in the wind or water during the retrieve.  They also reflect more light when they’re freshly painted in neon pink – the brighter the better. Steer clear of the using ribbon on the line – it can tangle and the flapping can actually disturb fish that are rising to the surface to eat the bait (looks like a bird fluttering above the surface). Do not use weighted corks – these are clumsy and cannot be modified depending on the wind condition.  I like to keep all my corks the same color but some anglers prefer to fish certain colors for the long, mid, and short so they can easily pick them out when a trike occurs. It’s a matter of preference…just make sure you use something BRIGHT that can be seen from a significant distance regardless of where the sun is.
  • Use stainless steel split rings instead of ceramic
    • While the performance of the rings is basically identical…stainless/aluminum split rings have one great quality over their ceramic counterparts – they dont break! When a ceramic ring breaks, you have to rerig the kite line before you can use it again…which can cost you time when the bite is on.  The owner stainless rings are small, smooth, and don’t bust.  You can use them over and over again and they will not where out.  It’s a subtle trick but all the pro teams are using these.
  • Use wax thread for kite spacers instead of swivels
    • The most common thing to break on a kite fishing rig are the spacer swivels used to deploy the release clips. Salt water + constant pressure will eventually wear away on the strength of the spacer swivels to the point where they will break. You can usually get by for a season if you’re not fishing every week – but in a tournament scenario this will cost you everything. If a kite line breaks, you lose your kite, your clips, your baits get tangled and you cost yourself an hour or more – not something you can afford to do if you’re fishing competitively. In order to prevent this from happening, most tournament crews remove the swivels from the occasion and use wax thread wound over the line to pass through the release clips.  Essentially, you’re wrapping wax thread to different thicknesses around the line where you would normally place your spacer swivels. This is done by measuring out the intervals of line on the reel and then suspending the segment between a “dummy” reel and the actual kite reel. The short spacer gets four to six wraps of wax thread, the middle gets six to eight, and the long (last one) gets eight to ten wraps. By the time you’re all said and done – you’ll have three spiraled wax slugs where the swivels would normally be – then its a matter of smoothing them out over time so they pass easily through the release clips. There are pro rigging shops in Miami that will do this for you or you can likely pay a mate on a professional boat to set you up for a rigging fee. With a bit of practice you’ll get it…we are considering putting together a video on how to do this and will probably film the next time we rig our kite lines.

Gerry Rigged Kite Fishing Rig When All Hell Breaks Lose

It’s bound to happen at some point.  Your kite line will snap, you will dunk a kite, a release clip will break, or something will prevent you from getting your kite rig deployed when you need it the most.  When it comes to getting back in action quick – you can’t always take the time to rig things properly. Ingenuity can be  saving grace on the water and your nearest tackle store might be miles and miles away – not to mention you’re likely in the middle of the ocean when a kite rig fails.  There are lots of strategies to get back in action, but here’s a few tips that we’ve used to improvise our way to getting a kite rig back in the air:

  • One of your swivels broke but you were able to salvage the kite, line, and have spare clips
    • So you obviously don’t have time to respool an entire kite reel while you’re at sea, but you’ve got a kite, some release clips, and a bunch of frisky baits in the well.  How in the hell are you supposed to keep the release clips separated and send them out on the line? The best thing to do is dig into your terminal tackle and find some split shot. Crimping a split shot on the line is actually a decent way to space out the release clips and keep them in place on the line without having to tie the swivels back in.  If you lost a lot of line when the swivel broke and you don’t have much left on the reel, this technique allows you to control the distance between the release clips – so you can fish two, or even just one bait in a pinch.  You do have to manually remove them when you’re bringing the line back in…but hey…it works.
  • “I don’t have any split rings for my kite lines!”
    • That’s your bad – you forgot this one critical ingredient at the tackle store.  Not to worry, there are other pieces you can use to make this happen.  Instead of a split ring, try a barrel swivel or a three way swivel.  Thread the line through one end of the swivel and put the other over the pin in the release clip.  Not the smoothest way to make things happen but its better than clipping the line into the clip by itself (its most likely to tangle with the main line that way).  We’ve also used rigging wire spun into a spacer with a loop at either end (think christmas ornament hanger with closed ends).  All you really need is something that will allow line to pass through smoothly and can be clipped into the release pin.
  • “My Kristal Electric Reel broke (or your power failed) and I can’ retrieve my Kite Line!”
    • The bigtime downside to the Kristal electric reel is that it doesn’t have a handle.  So if you lose power or the reel fails – you are forced to retrieve the kite line by hand.  But even though your reel is busted or you don’t have power – you’re day of kite fishing isn’t over yet.  Odds are you have a spare leader spool in the boat somewhere.  Grab that leader spool and start winding.  Even though it’s slow and tedious – it prevents the line from stacking up on the deck and will keep the line clean and knick free. Once you’ve got the kite line wound on the spool, you can secure the spool by wrapping it around a cleat.  Now you can deploy your kite line and keep it at whatever interval you want. It’s a terrible way to go about things but its better than not kite fishing at all!
Again – the key here is improvisation and ingenuity.  There are hundreds of things that can go wrong when you are kite fishing, so carry a backup for your backup. We carry enough tackle to rebuild a rig at sea and get back in the air, but that doesn’t mean you have to.  Plan for the worst and make sure that you have enough spare parts to finagle a rig together if something goes wrong.  The best alternative to a busted kite rig is to have another one ready to deploy. In a pinch, a tride and true penn senator rigged with two release clips can salvage an entire day of kite fishing when things goes wrong.  It may not be the most glorious way to go about kite fishing, but it will get the job done. Sometime going back to basics is the best thing to do when technical tackle rigging gets fouled.

Salvaging a Damaged Fishing Kite

Fishing kites are anything but cheap.  And the fishing kites that are cheap are worthless.  You should be buying SFE or Bob Lewis kites only – anything else just isn’t up to par. The quality of the fabric and the strength of the spars is what you should invest in…anything made from cheap parts will do what all cheap things do in time – break.

It’s inevitable that your fishing kites will suffer damage.  These are extremely fragile pieces of equipment tossed into one of the harshest fishing environments available.  Wind pressure, line pressure, corrosive saltwater, being tossed around in rough seas…there are dozens of scenarios that can lead to a kite breaking.  In most cases, it’s the spars that will break on you first…and in most instances its difficult to repair these.  The best thing to do is to keep spare kite spars on the boat in a durable tube – but hey, sometimes you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.  Here’s the most common “breaks” your kite will endure during its service and a few tips to get them back in the air:

  • My Kite Spar Broke
    • If its an SFE or Bob Lewis Fishing Kite – replacements are readily available…but keeping a kite spar repair kit on board is a great idea.  My kite spar repair kit consists of super glue (zap a gap), scotch tape, waterproof medical tape, and thin twine. If a Kite spar fractures, you have to fasten a splint to maintain the integrity of the spar. Line up the fracture the best you can – in most instances the break will fit back together.  Seal it up tight with super glue then wrap the twine around it nice and tight. Once the super glue begins to set, the twine will hold in place and begin to stiffen up. Now wrap the waterproof medical tape or scotch tape around the “splint”.  Put an additional coating of super glue over the tape to make sure it holds tight.  Once it dries the splint will be light, strong, and thin enough to go back into place and get back in the air. Ultimately  you will need to replace the spar, but this is a reliable on the spot technique to repair a spar when the nearest tackle store is very very far away.
  • My Bridle Line got Cut or Snapped
    • In the off chance this happened, it’s important to keep the length of the line which broke the same.  If you tie a knot, it will likely consume more line and those bridle lines were measure to a very specific length before they were tied off. The best thing to do in this instance is to lay out the line as if it were in the air (don’t just let it dangle). Gently hold the back of the kite and hold the bridle swivel tight to see the proportional length of the line. Using a blood knot – tie two additional segments of line to either end of the break.  Leave some length to work with – you can always trim it down.
    • The other option here is to use a very very thin strip of tape to join the two pieces back together temporarily. These strips have to be very thin (think sandwich) otherwise they will flap in the wind and will throw off the kite’s ability to fly straight. In the past, we took a strip of duct tape and cut it in thirds, then used a third strip, laid the two lines as close as they were before (barely touching) then folded over the tape.  This worked for the interim but made the bridle flap and buzz a bit.  We had to counterweight the kite using split shot on the opposite side.
  • I have a tear in the kite!
    • This can be a deal breaker.  If the tear in the kite is larger than two inches – you’re pretty much sunk. You can’t stitch it back together and using tape on the backside of the kite (side facing away from the wind) will cause a “pinch” that will make the kite spin and hit the water. If the tear is small, the best thing to do is use flexible gauze like tape (available at CVS – we carry a small spool in our repair kit).  This tape is porous like the kite fabric itself but strong enough to deflect most of the wind.  When you apply a “patch” for a kite, it’s important to do so on a flat surface.  If the fabric is wrinkled it will make the kite fly irregularly and will damage other areas of the kite.  Basically, once you tear a kite its pretty much done for, but you can salvage it for a day with this technique.  Try to keep the patch as small and evenly placed as possible to reduce the amount of surface area it covers. You will likely have to counterbalance with split shot to make up for this. If its a light wind day – forget it!
  • My Kite Spirals Like Crazy After Taking a Dive
    • Even the most seasoned kite fishermen dunk a kite once in a while.  It usually happens while its being deployed or when the wind dies. It’s unavoidable and will happen eventually. When you do dunk a kite, its imperative that you wash it off thoroughly with freshwater and allow it to dry completely before putting it back in the air.  The salt immersion is usually what leads to the deterioration of the fabric, ruining the aerodynamics of the kite in the first place.
    • The first thing to do if your kite is spiraling out of control is attempt to counter balance it with split shot.  In most instances, the kite is spiraling because it is stretched or the wind does not flow evenly over the fabric for one reason or another. When wind escapes over one side of the kite more than the other, it will rock back and forth in the air and will dive to one side or another.  Counter balancing with split shot must be done incrementally, which means you have to place one or two split shot at a time to make sure it pulls in the opposite direction of the uncontrolled spin. Try affixing small split shot as close to the corner as possible on either side of the spar, and then add additional split shot as needed on the side of the kite (at the corner) where you want it to pull.  Using the right amount of split shot can correct an uncontrolled spin…too much will cause the problem to switch sides. Most charter boats or tourney boats that fish two kites use split shot on the corners of their kites to increase the width of the spread and keep the kites well separated…use this principle to your advantage if your kites are spinning when you’re deploying them.  If you’re using a kite that’s too light for the wind, it will spin no matter what you do, which is why its important to have a kite that is rated for the wind speed you’re fishing.

Rigging Kite Leaders with the Pros

The leader you use is actually the most critical ingredient in the entire process of kite fishing for sailfish off Miami. The material must be strong, durable, and shock resistant. You never know exactly what might grab a kite bait when you’re fishing off Miami, Florida.  From Swordfish to Blue Marlin…it’s happened.  On several occasions, these encounters have been caught on film and well documented.  When we rig our kite leaders, we plan on catching the fish of a lifetime.  Every leader is crafted meticulously when we are not rushed, because it could mean the difference between a stunning victory and a devastating defeat. The knots which form loops are the most critical but investing in the RIGHT materials for the situation is quintessential.

Kite Fishing Leader Material – Fluorcarbon vs Monofilament Kite Leaders

  • Fuorocarbon
    • Buy it.  Buy lots of it.  Buy as much as you can afford. When I started in Kitefishing, the boats I worked on and fished recreationally used mono because it was cheaper and they went through ALOT of leaders.  I started bringing my own Fluorocarbon on trips because I preferred to fish it – and it made a difference almost every time.  It is more durable than mono, can withstand some teeth abrasion (whereas mono can afford none), doesn’t stretch as much as mono, and it’s almost completely translucent in the water. It gives you the ability to present a frisky bait in a natural state without any reflection from the leader. Sailfish and Tuna have big eyes, which means they can see just about anything in the water within range of their mouth.  Sailfish and Tuna fishing experts all agree that fluorocarbon, as light as possible, will increase your catch ratio. The preferred brands are Seaguar and YoZuri – although Mamoi and Ande are fine alternatives. For kite fishing, it’s best to use 30lb or 40lb test – although some anglers fish lighter leaders when pelagics are being extra picky.
  • Monofilament
    • Tride and true, readily available, affordable, and generally resilient leader material that has been a staple in offshore fishing for decades. It’s a suitable leader material for dolphin, sailfish, tuna, and just about anything else without teeth. Once you step into the toothy category (wahoo or kingfish for example) fishing monofilament on your kite leaders is risky business. The advantage to fishing monofilament is that it has excellent elasticity – it acts as a buffer, a strong shock leader that can withstand violent headshakes and blistering runs. Keeping a spool of pre-rigged monofilament kite leaders is a necessity for offshore fishing…and if you’re targeting dolphin on the kite its certainly standard issue rigging.  We prefer to fish monofilament for dolphin on pitch rods and utilize it regularly for general purpose fishing.  It does cut down on costs significantly when you go through lots of leaders but can also deteriorate with time (especially when it sits in a saltwater environment all the time).

Essential knots for Creating Kite Leaders

There are three knots you need to know when creating kite leaders. Essentially, you need to create a loop at one end of the leader which will attach to the swivel on the main line and a loop knot which connects your hook to the leader. The critical go-to knots include the Uni Knot, The Perfection Loop, and the Uni Loop Knot. Master these and you’re ready to create tournament ready kite rigs.
A loop connection to a swivel should look something like this:
Kite loop for kite fishing
A loop connection to a hook should look something like this:
Uni Loop knot for kite fishing
If your entire rig is something to this effect by the time you’re all said and done with rigging, you’re in good shape:
Kite Hunter Kite Leaders

Kite Fishing Hooks

This is often  subjet of great debate and selecting the right hook for the conditions or target species can make all the difference. For most general purpose kite fishing, a 6/0 or 7/0 circle hook is used. The Mustad Demon Circle is the most widely utilized tournament hook but Owner and Gamakatsu also find their way into the mix. The advantage to fishing circle hooks on kite lines is that you can let the fish run with the bait and there’s often a significant amount of line between you and the fish.  Reeling like a maniac to get tight on a running fish leaves alot of time for a J hook to fall out of the fish’s mouth, and still requires you to set the hook once you get tight.  With a circle hook, you can pretty much just wind till you’re tight and the fish will be hooked in the corner of the mouth.

Mustad Demon Circle 6/0 Kite FIshing Hook

The Mustad Demon Circle in 6/0

Picking the right hook for the species you’re targeting is a crucial point of success, because when fish eat kite baits they are usually moving very fast.  If you’re kite fishing for tuna, for example, J hooks are often preferred because they are likely to set deep inside the fish (tuna are ram feeders – they use speed to inhale the bait since they can’t exactly swallow).  Sailfish on the other hand are not usually aggressive feeders – they rise up to the bait and engulf it…then run like crazy when they realize something isn’t right.

The hook you select for your kite leader should also match the bait you’re fishing.  Using a small circle hook on a medium or large sized goggle eye provides alot of opportunity for the bait to get stolen or cut off. While the age old rule of “match the hook to the bait” still applies here, you also have to consider the species you’re targeting and that particular species’ feeding habits.

Bridling Live Baits

This is a technique which takes some practice but makes for an improved presentation in the water. Bridling a live goggle eye or jumbo threadfin also improves the life span of the bait as it’s less strenuous for the hook to be resting on the bait’s back as opposed to constantly pulling and tearing into flesh. Some baits are hearty and you don’t neccesarily need to do this (big pilchards for example and goggle eyes are troopers when it comes to surviving with a hook in their back), but bridling a bait also helps keep the hook exposed – allowing for a more solid hookset. When a fish swallows a bait that has a bridle rigged hook, the sharp point of the hook is completely exposed and more likely to set properly.

Regardless of the technique you use to bridle a bait, the trick is to do this fast.  As quickly as possible.  Get the bait back into the water swiftly in order to maximize its chance of remaining frisky on the leader. Pro kite fishermen can bridle a bait in under five seconds and have it deployed in the water.

How to bridle a goggle eye

 

How to bridle a threadfin herring

bridling a live threadfin herring | Hw to Bridle Live Bait

While many professional kite fishermen employ a variety of tactics to affix the bait to the kite leader, a bridle rig is a surefire way to increase your hookup ratio.  Use super strong bridle bands, a sharp rigging needle, and master the technique.  After you’ve bridle rigged baits about 100 times – you’ll be an expert!

Which Kite to Use for the Wind?

SFE Kite Fishing Kites

It’s a bad feeling to see a kite buckle because the wind is too strong, or to see a kite gradually fall out of the sky because it’s too heavy for a light breeze. It is critical to use a kite purposed specifically for the wind you are fishing. While there are dozens of manufacturers who produce an entire selection of kites rated for particular wind speeds – you will need a set.  Even if a fishing kite claims it can be flown in all conditions – this is rarely the case.  You have to keep a full selection of kites available to fish any wind condition.  Here’s the best selection of kite’s we’ve found for specific wind conditions.

Light Wind Fishing Kite

My absolute favorite light wind fishing kite is the Bob Lewis Xtra-Light. This kite uses a white fabric, weighs basically nothing, is smaller than the SFEs, and has floats on the back of the spars.  It is easy to deploy and can suspend two – three baits in a 5 to 8 knot wind with no trouble at all.  A gentle breeze is enough to get this kite in the air…and to keep it aloft. While it’s fragile and anything more than a 8 knot wind will cause it to “pinwheel” and crash – it’s an ideal kite for one of those days where the breeze is subtle and somewhat inconsistent.

Light to Medium Wind FIshing Kite

When you’re fishing a wind of 10 to 15 knots, it’s hard to find something better than an SFE all purpose kite. The red and green kite’s are interchangeable – there is no distinct difference between them at this time. SFE kites use a quick dry fabric as well, so if you do happen to dunk a kite it will be ready to deploy in just under 15 minutes. These kites are made very sturdy – strong spars and a relatively tough center piece which connects the spars.  The craftsmanship on these kites separates them from the rest of the manufacturers – take one glance at the corners and you’ll see why.  While these kites are expensive at $100 – $120 a piece, they are an excellent an investment and a must have for kite fishing in Miami, Florida. These Kites can also be fitted with a Kite Thong so you can easily attach a balloon on light wind days – or days when the wind is basically non existent.

Medium to Heavy Wind Fishing Kite

The SFE’s will get the job done in this situation but it’s about the extent of their wind rating.  If its blowing a steady 13 to 17 knots – you’ll be in pretty good shape and this kite will preform exceptionally well…but if the wind picks up to above 20knots…it’s too much pressure.  You can adjust the bridle to make the kite fly higher and handle the wind more effectively, but we’ve seen them buckle in 20knots…and that’s not a good time. It’s a fine line once you hit the 20knot wind speed…as it’s hardly enough to keep the hurricane force kite’s in the air, but a little too much for the SFE Green or Red.

Heavy Wind Fishing Kites

If you’re extremely persistent in heavy wind fishing offshore, these Kites are necessary. If you’re game, big seas can bring solid sailfish bites in the winter. Reports of quad sailfish bites in rough seas are consistent in the wintertime and if you fish professionally you have to go when the customer wants to go. The SFE Extra Heavy 52 hole kite is difficult to get in the air when the winds are less than a steady 20knots, but will fly in literally any condition beyond 20 knots.  This kite is designed to withstand wind gusts of 40mph, which is basically fishing in a tropical storm. While you may never find yourself fishing in 25 to 30 knot winds as the seas which accompany those gusts often exceed 8 ft – if you fish consistently in 20knot to 25 knot winds, this kite is worth the investment.

Buying Fishing Kites

You get what you pay for when you’re buying fishing kites.  There are dozens of manufacturers delivering quality products on the market today, but if you go the cheap route you will pay the price in performance. Kites manufactured by Aftco and Tigress do not perform well in my experience.  The Aftco material is basically plastic, stiff, and cheaply made (which is why its the least expensive fishing kite you can buy).  The Tigress kite, while made out of fabric, wanders back and forth no matter how you counterbalance it with split shot. Again, if you’re planning on kite fishing on a regular basis, it’s important to invest in quality fishing kites that can stand up to harsh conditions and the inevitable user error.

It all really boils down to investing in Bob Lewis kites for light wind applications and SFEs for general use in 15knots for more. Lewis brand recently launched an improved model in both Extra Light and Light wind models which fly extremely well in anything less than 10knots. in 10 to 15, SFE’s perform flawlessly (Green or Red cloth) and when the wind kicks up over 20knots – the 52 Hole SFE will hold its own.

You can expect to pay ~ $110 for a Bob Lewis Kite or an SFE All Wind Kite.  You will need to purchase these from a quality tackle store like Capt Harrys or Crook and Crook.  Bass Pro does not carry SFE kites, at least in MIami they don’t.  Bob Lewis Kites are available just about everywhere fishing kite’s are sold (they basically perfected the technique in the first place). Buying online is a great option, but bear in mind these kites are fragile and shipping is something to consider.  Occasionally you can find used fishing kites for sale on craigslist or the Florida Sportsman Forums, but make sure you know what you’re buying. Fishing kites endure tough conditions during their lifetime…and salt will take its toll.  Some kites are doomed to never fly again once saltwater corrodes the fabric, which is why they must be rinsed thoroughly if they take a swim.

The bottom line is, invest in quality fishing kites and you will reap the rewards!

Kite Fishing Electric Reels that last vs ongoing Kite Fishing Reel Repair

There’s really not much debate remaining about the “best” electric kite fishing reel on the market today.  The Daiwa Tanacom Bull is the most commonly  utilized electric reel for kite fishing by the Miami charter fishing fleet.

Daiwa Tanacom Bull Kite fishing reel rigged

This reel is basically bomb proof and doesn’t die. It has the durability of a DeWalt power drill and a rotor which does not quit.  When hooked up to a power source, it will run continuously and does not over heat.  Eventually, after heavy use, the drags will wear out, but the drive mechanism is solid. While you may never use its multitude of pre-programmed settings (like jigging), this reel is designed to handle punishment and keep going. It also has a level wind which keeps the spool even (unlike the Kristal counter parts) The other unique feature to this reel is that it has a handle…sounds basic right?  Makes a huge difference when the power goes out! Even when you don’t have power, you can still manually retrieve the kite line and that can save a day of fishing.

Kristal Electric Reels where the mainstay in the kite fishing industry before the Daiwa’s hit the market. The XL 601 was the most commonly used electric kite fishing reel, but these reels are poorly manufactured and tend to burn out rather quickly. The drags are not built to take inordinate pressure over time and the motors burn out easily if you put stress on them.  They are variable speed, but they are large, bulky reels that do not have a level wind. The price of Kristal electric fishing reels is the only thing that makes them attractive.  They are a 1/3 less than the Daiwa’s which is a significant factor if you’re on a tight budget.

Kristal XL 601 kite fishing reel

Aside from electric reels, its always a good idea to keep a tried and true penn senator on board rigged with two release clips. Having a manual kite reel on board can save a day of fishing when your kite line snaps, an electric reel goes overboard (could happen!), or a drag mechanism burns out and you can’t retrieve your kite line. There’s something to be said for pure mechanical reels – and that something is “reliability”.

Kite Fishing Rods – Which one should you buy?

This is a matter of preference in most instances, but every rod manufacturer will tell you theirs is “the best”. Some professional kite fishermen swear by Biscayne Rods, others won’t touch anything other than Key Largo Custom. If you ask Tom Greene of Custom Rod and Reel – he’ll tell you straight up his hand made rods are the best in the industry and anything less is a waste of time. Both Capt. Harrys and Crook and Crook produce excellent kite fishing rods in a variety of sizes/weights.  So what’s the real deal on picking a set of kite fishing rods that will handle the test of time and provide the ability to subdue a sailfish without breaking the bank? Well, the solution is simple – buy the best quality blank you can afford as long as its 7′.  🙂

We fish Key Largo Custom Rods and Tom Green Custom Rods almost exclusively. In my opinion, these rods provide enough rigidity to put leverage on sailfish without feeling like you’re draggin the fish to the boat. They are responsive high quality blanks fitted with Aftco and Fuji guides that handle just about anything we can throw at them. My only complaint with these rods is their vulnerability to customer abuse…but that’s inevitable and has nothing to do with the manufacturing.

Sailfish caught on a key largo custom rod
Key Largo Rod vs Miami Sailfish

Here’s a few links to “the best” kite fishing rods on the market:

When you buy a kite rod for your electric kite reel – the only limiting factor is the tip.  You need to make sure your kite rod has a smooth tip that looks like this:

Smooth Kite Rod Tip

It makes a tremendous difference and will not snag a swivel or space in the kite line. Invest in one of these and you can ensure a smooth steady retrieve regardless of any condition.

Selecting a Kite Fishing Reel

This is a critical step in finalizing your arsenal of kite fishing equipment. The reel is the centerpiece of your outfit. It must be smooth, compact, have significant line capacity, and be durable. Almost every reel manufacturer has an open face reel designed specifically for kite fishing and the options are basically limitless.  We’ve fished a variety of reels over time and don’t limit yourself to these choices when you head out shopping.  Bear in mind you will need to purchase at least four of these reels to have a complete kite fishing spread (most charter boats fish 6 if you’re north of the Keys) so package deals and combos are a great way to go.

Penn 12V International

Penn 12v international kite fishing reel

We have fished the 12v Internationals aboard the Marauder for about a year now and they are nothing short of amazing.  They are slightly larger and less smooth than their Shimano and Daiwa counterparts – but these reels have torque and drag power. They are smooth enough to balance the lines and have a drag that will put the breaks on any runaway sailfish.  The adjustable clicker knob is an amazing feature that enables the angler to control the resistance on the spool when maintaining the kite baits. This is a slick feature as some baits are so frisky that they’ll pull line constantly if left in free spool. With an impressive list of technical specs and a X:X retrieve ratio – if you’re willing to drop the cash you absolutely can’t go wrong with a set of 12vs for kite fishing off Miami, Florida.

Shimano Tiagra 16s

Shimano Tiagra 16 kite fishing reel

We fish the Taigra 16s aboard our friend’s boat on a regular basis.  This is the go to kite fishing reel for tournament anglers in south florida.  These reels are super smooth, super tough, and the two speed advantage is awesome when cranking down on tough fish. Tiagra’s are legendary for their unstoppable drag components and these reels are nothing short of the legend.  You can get more precision/technical with the drag settings on this reel than just about any other. To top it off, they are compact, lightweight, and come stock with a giant handle which is very comfortable in the hand. If you’re ready to go luxury, or professional, investing in a set of tiagra 16’s for your kite fishing setup will ensure years of reliable sailfish whooping.

Shimano TLD 20

Shimano TLD 20 kite fishing reel

The go to charter boat special.  I learned to kite fish on these reels and have used them for everything from Sailfish to Bluefin tuna.  The drags are tough, the frame is light, and you can’t beat the price. These reels are usually sold in combination with a rod, which makes outfitting a boat easy. Parts are readily available and the lever drag is sturdy enough that you’ll rarely encounter trouble. The two speed advantage here is key and you can’t go wrong. If you’re investing in your first set of kite fishing reels and looking for a balance between durability, practicality, and affordability – the TLD series is where its at.

Daiwa Saltiga Hyper Speed

Daiwa Saltiga Hyper Speed Lever Drag

A cadillac class kite fishing reel. The retrieve ratio on the Saltiga’s makes them a potent kite fishing reel for sailfish and other pelagic predators.  The reel feels light but has the torque to stand up against the toughest rival. The drags are silky smooth and the oversized handle gives you total control over the retrieve when the fight is on. In addition to being smooth, these reels have the best stopping power of nearly any open face reel on the market.  They are certainly not an affordable option, but for discerning anglers who demand premium stopping power, featherweight frame construction, and uncompromising performance – Daiwa steals the show.

 

Avet Raptor Series

Avet Raptor Series Kite Fishing Reel

It’s rare to even see a set of these in a tackle shop.  For the most part – you have to special order them directly from Avet.  I had the pleasure of fishing with a set of these earlier this year and it would be impossible to describe these reels as anything other than spectacular. These reels are bomb proof, have the toughest drag i’ve seen on a kite fishing reel, and are customized to meet your style requirements.  These reels are HOT! With technical specs like X:X for a retrieve ratio and weighing in at XX – an investment in Avet is the last set of kite fishing reels you will ever buy.

Fin Nor Marquesa

Fin Nor Marquesa Kite Fishing Reel

Another cadillac class kite fishing reel that is popular among the Miami fleet.  These reels are built with legendary durability and a tough as it gets drag system to boot. Their retro look makes them appealing to anglers who crave a composite of style and functionality.  With a slightly smaller line capacity than the Saltiga or Avet, the Fin Nor can land you in some trouble if you’re chasing tunas or pacific sailfish, but for general use in Miami waters these are some of the finest kite reels you can buy.  They are extremely corrosion resistant – more so than just about any other reel on the market.  While it’s a bit tough to find them in tackle shops, they are readily available from online retailers and often matched with custom rods.

Okuma Makaira

Okuma Makaira Kite Fishing Reel

I have never fished the Makaira’s but a fellow charter Captain in the Florida Keys has been fishing them without any issues for months. They are a much more affordable option than Avet’s, Shimano’s, or Penn but you do compromise the integrity of the reel.  These reels are lightweight, but don’t feel as solid as other reels in their class.  The drag mechanism is strong but the retrieve ratio is considerably less than reels like the Saltiga or Marquesa. This is an excellent entry level reel that provides you with an anodized frame, but the drags just aren’t very sensitive from what i’m told.  Not bad for charter fishing because the trick is to keep the drag loose most of the time, but when you need to put the pressure on the stopping power just isn’t there.  Overall, these are great reels for the price and a great way to get started in the sport.

Other Essential Kite Fishing Gear

Aside from Rods, Reel, a Bulk Spool of your favorite 20lb hi-vis green monofilament, fishing kites, assorted tackle (hooks, weights, rigging kit, leader material, hi visibility corks), electric reels, and a boat to fish on -there’s not much else you need to go kite fishing off Miami! As you’ve undoubtedly gathered from reading this article, kite fishing is an equipment intensive sport requiring significant technical skill and tremendous attention to detail.  The nuances of kite fishing can only be learned with experience, but the gear you purchase and the rigs you employ have everything to do with your success at sea.

If you really want to get technical on those light wind days (or no wind days) purchase some helium, a few specialty balloons, and float those kites up high. Kite fishing is a tactic that works year round for just about any species that feeds at the surface.

Kite Fishing Resources

In case you didn’t get your fix from this article, here’s a list of the kite fishing resources i’ve found online that truly stand above the rest. Remember, you can study as much as you’d like but there is no substitute for time on the water.  Kite fishing can only be learned through consistent practice and fishing in a variety of conditions. Once you get the basic routine down, you’ll be well on your way to learning the intricacies of the sport.  Never be afraid to test new ideas or customize your rigs to specs you feel are necessary to get a bite.  Ingenuity can pay off big time when you discover a trick that fellow anglers have yet to consider.

 

 

 

 

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Captain at Miami Fishing Charters LLC
Capt. Charlie Ellis of Miami, FL has 25 years experience fishing for big game species like Bluefin Tuna, Sailfish, Swordfish, and Sharks. Capt. Charlie is also an avid scuba diver, world traveler, writer, and entrepreneur.
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