Catch a Rod-Doubling, Line-Smoking King Mackerel

There I was this past Sunday, 8 miles offshore in our 23′ center console vessel struggling to hang on to the spinner rod as a 30lb King Mackerel on the other end kept ripping off line, running at blazing speeds to try and escape my hooks. Just a few moments earlier, my husband and I had been simply piddling around the boat getting ready to drift over and bottom fish a structure out of Destin. We had two spinners set up because we had been catching small Kings all morning. A smaller reel would mean more action and fun with smaller fish than a conventional trolling reel. My husband put a rig out with a live threadfin as bait. I put it in the rod holder in the back of the boat and went to putting on sunscreen and doing other things. My husband dropped his butterfly jig down to the bottom.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!! One of the spinner rods bent over double and line was rapidly disappearing. I managed to gain a few yards back and the King ran again and again and again. With only a few wraps of line left, my husband had to start the boat up and chase the fish down. I gained a lot of my 20# test line back, but off the King went again. I circled around our boat three or four times before the strong, hearty monster stayed near the stern of the boat. Thirty minutes later, I pulled and reeled with every last bit I had. The King surfaced. We gaffed and brought him in the boat to weigh before we released him back into the blue waters. Thirty pounds of pure muscle, strength, and speed it was, and I have three bruises to prove it!

Would you like to catch one of these big tournament-winning fish from your own boat? Here are some proven tips in helping you succeed. It takes practice and sometimes lots of patience when Kingfishing. Sometimes you will “catch em up,” and other times you will come home empty. Whatever the case, just have fun!

When fishing for King Mackerel, you typically either slow troll or drift for them. Slow trolling is the most popular king-capturing technique on the North Carolina coast. It is done by putting out three or four lines from the back of your boat. All lines should be at different lengths, so you don’t get them tangled. Your closest line should be far enough behind the boat that its beyond any wake or churning water. Typically, they will be set at 25 yards, 30 yards, 35 yards, and 40 yards. Keep your boat going forward at about 2 to 3 knots. You will want to gradually and slowly make circles around the fishing spot. If you are going to be slow trolling on a hot day and the water temperature is above 80 degrees, one to two rods should have a planer or be put on a downrigger with live bait. The best live bait to use are menhaden, threadfin herring, cigar minnows, or bluefish. We do this because when the water is this warm, the fish are going to stay down deep in cooler waters. (Also keep in mind that larger kings tend to follow 78 degree water, though it’s not ALWAYS the case.) Live bait typically picks up more Kings.

Artificial lures are good to use in rough waters or cooler temperature water. Yo-Zuri Deep Divers as well as Clark Spoons work well in slow trolling for Kings. You can also use dead bait such as frozen cigar minnows, ribbonfish, and ballyhoo. If you add a colored skirt to the dead bait, it will appear more appealing to a King. I recommend putting your dead bait on a Hank Brown jig head with a skirt.

On days when you don’t want to sit and troll all day, try drifting. Locate the reef, structure, rock bottom, etc. on your fish finder. You are going to want to position your boat so that the current will move your boat back over the spot. Drifting is very popular on the Florida Panhandle. During our warm months and 90 degree waters, cutting the motor can produce the biggest Kings of the year. With drifting, you use live bait. If you run low, you can always bring out a Sabiki rig on a light spinner and jig the bottom for baitfish.

Chumming is a good idea to attract fish, though not particularly necessary. It takes around 20 minutes for the chum to have any effect. Once the fish start on it, though, get ready because that King will make his way up and grab your bait!

Good, dependable rod and reels to use while King fishing are Penn GS Performance reels on a 6’5″, medium-heavy class rod. You want your rod to bend somewhat at the tip, but not too much. Make sure you spool the reel with at least 300 yards of 20lb test monofilament line. Otherwise, you may have to chase the fish down to gain your line back, or too light of line will cause the fish to break loose. Keep your drag set at 5lbs to begin with. If there’s too much drag, your line will pop. If there’s not enough drag to slow the fish, you can gradually increase it while you’re reeling it in, but increase it just a little at a time.

Wire leaders are a MUST when King fishing. This is a must because Kings are toothy and will bite through normal mono line. You can either buy these already made at your favorite tackle shop or you can make your own. The wire leader needs to be 3 to 4′ long using #4 to #8 wire. Remember to use only small, black swivels (a king may hit the swivel instead of the lure). Pre-made live and dead bait rigs are also a time saver.

King Mackerel are very fun to catch. The bigger they are, the faster and harder they run. Be prepared with a fighting belt so you don’t bruise your lower stomach area like I have, too! One more word of advice, smaller Kings are quicker to boat than larger ones. That means the smaller Kings won’t be as tired and will still have some fight left when you boat them. Be careful because they like to flap around and could accidentally hurt or bite you.

Good luck on the water and Tight Lines!

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