I remember when I was about 15 years old and caught my first big King Mackerel. I was on a drift boat out ofMiamimarina and was drifting a dead ballyhoo on a large feathered jig in about 100 feet of water over a deep reef. What I remember most was the initial strike as I made the mistake of keeping my reel in free spool with my thumb as the only tension on the line. Man! Did that burn when the line began ripping off the spool. Since then I have caught more King Mackerel than I can count and always suggest them as a great entry in to ‘kind of’ offshore fishing for those friends who have just gotten their first boat or just started upping their game when it comes to salt water fishing.
King Mackerel, also called Kingfish make there way up and down the coast ofFloridaand depending upon where in the state you are you can be pretty sure about what time of year the King Fish run in your area will take place. In the summer months the northern Gulf of Mexico and areas near the panhandle will have good numbers of fish, while during the winter monthsSouth Floridaand the Keys are prime King Mackerel fishing regions.
These members of the Tuna family are great fighters and I can definitely confirm from my first ever King Mackerel hook up that they will peel line off your reel at an amazing speed. Because the are usually found in good numbers and in relatively shallow water (60-250’) off South East Florida’s reefs and wrecks, (the gulf side might require a bit more running to find deeper water and structure) they are a very popular quarry. Trolling and drifting baits are the most common methods to catch King Mackerel with live bait fishing being my favorite.
Trolling spoons or feathers rigged with Ballyhoo are generally the most used methods but rigging the ballyhoo properly is the key to being successful using this method. It is vital that the bait resembles a fish swimming normally and not spinning. There are many products on the market that can assist you in getting a rigged bait out with a natural action or you can also buy pre-rigged frozen ballyhoo and just put a skirt (plastic or nylon covering) over it. Spoons and other types of deep running lures can work as well. Many people use planers, downriggers or various types of weights to work different areas of the water column when trolling. You can also troll live baits, but its very important to remember that you are now slow trolling for Kingfish and may even consider bumping your engine into neutral from time to time to let the bait swim and drop a bit deeper. When trolling or live baiting for Kings you also have the chance of catching numerous other types of game fish including sailfish, Dolphin and lots of other fun creatures.
Since I mostly do catch and release fishing when it comes to King Mackerel, I prefer to use a 2/0 to 3/0 circle hook, this can vary a bit depending upon the size of the fish that have been reported but it allows me to pretty much let the fish hook itself and is much easier to unhook as well. It’s very important to use a few a length of wire leader to your hook, at least 6-12 inches (although people prefer even longer) as Kings are known for their razor sharp teeth. Connect the wire to your monofilament with a small barrel swivel. If you are drifting dead Ballyhoo then just try and hook the bait through both lips or sideways through the bony part of the nose after you have snipped off the beak. The key is to have it drift naturally and almost like a wounded baitfish. If you are using live baits such as Pilchard, Pinfish or the like, the three most common hooking points are through the lips, sideways through the nose or just in back of the where the gills and body merge underneath. Keeping this bait lively and swimming is key. Some people like to place what’s called a stinger hook on a piece of wire attached to the main hook and then into the bait near the tail for fish that bite short. Since I practice catch and release, I’m not a big fan of this method.
These fish can range anywhere from a few pounds over 50 lbs so the range of tackle used can be wide. My preference is to use pretty much anything that can handle a good amount of 20-30 lb test line. Some people prefer heavier spinning rods while others like more conventional type tackle. With the stronger thinner lines available now no matter what your choice you should be able to have enough line to handle deep diving fish without sacrificing strength. If the fish seem to be finicky you can try lighter leaders and shorter wire. For trolling a good 30lb class outfit should serve you nicely.
To find fish, just always keep searching the horizon for birds diving on bait, this is always a good sign that fish are near. Tide lines and changes in water color are also a great place to try. Just remember to take notice of the depth, direction and area your are fishing when you do hook a fish as King Mackerel are likely to hold over a certain structure or water feature. Keep an eye on the GPS fish/depth finder so you can return to a spot that is producing and better understand the patter that is working. The same goes for drifting baits at certain depths and bottom will hold more fish.
Lastly, be very careful when unhooking or gaffing these fish as we have stated they have incredibly sharp teeth and can get a bit nutty when brought on board. Many a fisherman has suffered a nasty injury from a berserk Kingfish. These fish are great sport and reasonable table fare but not my first choice, great when smoked which is why large Kings are called smokers. If you want to get out and try some entry level off shore fishing of the coast ofFlorida, King Mackerel are a great way to begin.