Fishing for king mackerel is without doubt one of the most popular types of fishing along the Florida Panhandle. The kings usually arrive in late March when water temps reach 68 degrees and stay until mid-November. They are relatively easy to catch with some good techniques. They can be caught trolling or drifting. You can catch them on live, frozen baits and with a variety of lures.
Where and When
We catch kings at depths from 20ft to 200ft deep. Kings like to hang out on natural bottom, reefs, wrecks, edges and FADS. Kings hang out in any area that hold bait fish. Kings bite throughout the day; exceptions to this are full moon times. On the full moon, they bite best the first two hours of daylight, the last two hours of daylight, and right in the middle of the day when the moon is exactly opposite the sun. On full moon days, the mid- morning and mid-afternoon can be the slowest times of the day.
Rods and Reels
There are many options and no single one is correct. A mid-sized conventional reel on a 6.5 to 7ft light to medium light rod works good. If using a spinning reel, outfit with a 8000 size reel on a 6.5 to 7ft light to medium light rod. If you are using mono line, 30lb is good. If using braid, 30lb to 65lb is great.
Shimano Torium and Tallus rod.
Shimano Stradic and Tallus rod.
Penn Squall on Ally rod.
Penn Battle on Squadron rod.
For years the way to catch kings was a duster rigged with a frozen cigar minnow. Most people trolled four rods; two on the surface and two down deep on planers used to take the bait 15ft to 40ft deep. If you choose to fish this way, use lighter colored dusters on the surface or flat line rigs and darker colors on the deep running rigs on planers. To rig the planer run 12ft to 15ft of 100lb mono behind the planer with a snap swivel to attach the duster rigged with wire to that.
Today most anglers mostly fish hard baits like Yo-zuri Crystal Minnows or live baits caught on Sabiki Rigs. Whether fishing the Yo-zuri baits or Live baits I would still follow the pattern of fishing two surface rods and two deep running rods. Instead of a planer I would use trolling leads. For the spacing on your rods, put the two flat lines the farthest back behind the boat and the two deeper rods much closer to the boat. This way your rigs will not tangle when trolling a circle around the reef or wreck. We rig the Yo-zuri lures with 5ft of 100lb mono leader. We run the small lipped lures the farthest back and deep lipped lures closet to the boat. On the farthest back rods, I run 4oz trolling leads ahead of the lure or bait and 8oz trolling leads on the rods closer to the boat. [back to top]
Deep running planer.
Yo-Zuri lures and leader.
There are several live baits that work well. The most common live baits are cigar minnows and herring. We rig the minnows on a Carolina live bait rig. This is basically a 40-60lb wire leader, 18-36 inches long with a #2 treble hood and a 2/0 single hook to hold the bait on. Hook the minnow through the eye socket with the single hook through the eyes and the treble hook in the minnows back about 3/4 way back.
When tournament fishing most people move more to hardrails, bluefish or ladyfish for bait. These baits don’t produce as many fish but a much better quality size tournament fish.
To catch bait look just inside the pass and just outside the pass for schools of bait fist flipping. Use a Sabiki rig to catch the bait fish. Most of the time a regular Hayabusa bait rig works great, Sometimes during a full moon the bait fish can be very finicky and difficult to catch. During this time you may need the Fluorocarbon Hayabusa bait rig to get them to bite. One of the things most people hate about catching bait is how to store the Sabiki rigs at the end of the day. I cut 4 or 5 pieces of pvc pipe 5ft long and zip tie to attach them to a leg of the T-top, I slide the bait rig lead first into the pvc pipe and hook the last hook on the edge. This way the rigs does not just stay tangled on the rod at the end of the day. [back to top]
During the hottest summer months the kings will bite all day, but during the hottest part of the day sometimes planers and trolling leads just don’t get deep enough to get bites. When it gets this hot, a downrigger will allow you to fish as deep as you need to get bites. Many days we find we need to be fishing 50ft to 100ft deep to get bites. You’ll need to get a downrigger ball 8lb-10lb.
The downrigger will come with a downrigger clip that you attach to the ball and the clip to hold your line. Most clips are spring loaded. To adjust the tension on how hard the fish needs to pull to release the line, place it towards the front of the clip for the least amount of tension and further back on the clip to make it harder for the fish to pull. If you are trolling larger baits you may need to wrap a rubber band around the clip to add extra tension. [back to top]
Rod holder mount.
Just for the fun of it, you can drift fish for kings with live or frozen cigar minnows. Also any time you are out bottom fishing it does not hurt to throw out a drift line. Most anytime you are bottom fishing you should be in a good area to get king mackerel. [back to top]
After the Catch
Once you have caught some kings, proper storage on the boat will make a huge difference in the quality of the catch later. Kings are one of the oiler fish and have a softer flesh. Most people would just throw it in a cooler of ice. While this does a good job, it can help to make a small slit just under the pectoral fin to bleed the fish out. Then, put the fish in a cooler that has a slush of ice and saltwater to keep the fish much colder (the saltwater drops the freezing point and makes the ice colder).
Kings are good fried and excellent smoked and made into fish dip.
Also, don’t use too big a gaff, something with t 2 and not more than 3-inch hook works best for king mackerel.
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 2 cups Ketchup
- 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1 can beer
- 1 tablespoon red pepper
- 2 or 3lbs fish
Wash and dry fish, Smoke fish over hickory chips. Once you have the fish smoked let cool and crumble the fish with your hands into a bowl and add:
- 8oz sour cream
- 1 cup Duke’s Mayo
- 1 large onion sauteed
- 4 tablespoons pickle relish
- Pepper to taste
If you like it kicked up a little, dust the fish with Jerk Seasoning or Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning before you smoke the fish. [back to top]
This tip was provided by our own fishing expert Tim Broom, Half Hitch Destin. Get the PDF here: GCSSS-kingmackeral.pdf