Capt. Billy Miller was seven years old when the Old Salt Fishing Club’s King of the Beach tournament was founded. Two decades later, on November 9, the Tampa Bay guide topped the field of nearly 400 boats with a 44.5-pound fish to claim the crown at the most tenured kingfish competition on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
The winning fish ate a live ladyfish on a downrigger. Prior to this event, Miller’s largest king was a 43-pounder, so this personal best could not have come at a better time.
“I can’t even get my mind around it,” the captain said. “Winning the King of the Beach is huge, but the 20th anniversary event is really special. It’s definitely the highlight of my career.”
Miller’s mother, Debbie, handled the rod duties. She and her son were joined by Capt. Billy’s wife Ashley and media personality Capt. Bill Miller, of “Fishing with Bill Miller.” Debbie said she was delighted that a long-time family tradition delivered big results.
“We always fish this event as a family, so it was very special to win this tournament together,” she said. “And seeing my son crowned King of the Beach brought a tear to my eye. I was very proud.”
Billy Miller said his smoker king formula is something like planning a family picnic: You need a favorable location and a nice spread of groceries. He and his team set up shop in the Egmont Channel between the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Egmont Key.
They hooked their fish in 15-20 feet of water in a tide rip where converging currents piled up the baitfish and presented a briny buffet line. This, the captain noted, created a predictable target zone that he knew would interest toothy predators.
“You have to find something to attract the fish,” Miller said. “It’s just like a tree line. A deer will walk that tree line rather than prancing around out in the middle of the pasture.
“The other thing is big baits. If those really big kingfish are going to use all that energy to go get something, they want it to be worth their while.”
Timing was also essential. The winning fish bit at 7 a.m. and that’s just what Miller expected.
“I always believe in the daylight bite,” he said. “That first hour or so of the sun being up is definitely a time to be in your prime spot. It’s a transitional time when the kingfish can first start to see well enough to feed.”
Debbie Miller said the fight took approximately 10 minutes and her husband, Capt. Bill, subdued the king with a clean gaff shot. Only dicey part, she noted, was the balancing act. Windy conditions made for a rough day on the water, so Ashley stood behind her to ensure stability throughout the fight.
The lady angler credited her teammates for clearing the remaining lines, securing the gear and providing her plenty of room to work the fish to the boat with a steady, patient technique.
“Everybody had a role, so when it came time, we all knew what to do,” she said. “We were lucky that instead of running around (channel markers or crab trap) buoys, he ran out into the channel, away from the buoys and away from the Skyway (bridge). We were lucky he took the right course.”
For more on Capt. Billy Miller, visit www.captainbillymiller.com.
Image courtesy Wes Crowell