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Hot Techniques for Rod-Busting King Mackerel

For the inshore Atlantic and Gulf fisherman in the southeast US with access to either a small boat or a long pier, the King mackerel are often the target of choice from April to November.  With some simple techniques, these high speed beasts can be captured by anyone. Here are three techniques that have proven effective for me.

From a Pier

 The most economical way of getting to the 'kings' and many other near-offshore species such as tunas little tuny and blackfin), tarpon, barracuda, cobia, spanish mackerel, bluefish, and Jack Crevelle is by finding a long pier.  Any pier that reaches to at least 20' of water in the Gulf or Atlantic.  Between April and November many anglers crowd the deeper portions of public piers to wait anxiously for schools of pelagic beasts, including kings.  Pier fishing (like most fishing) is a game of feast or famine, and for the pier regulars a 'run' of kings will result in quick phone calls to their compadres.  The conditions that usually bring kings within reach of the pier angler are: a strong incoming tide, an inshore wind, and an oncoming cold front.   Once you are out on the pier, keep two rigs available, one rigged with a bait and a light drag setting (see Bait below) and one with a lure rigged with a 24" wire trace, drag set just below surge break-point.  Unless the fish are visible from the pier, drift the bait rig out about 30 yards out from the pier with the current and hold onto the rod.  Once the bait is taken, wait for the fish to begin its run (you will have absolutely no doubt of when this occurs-simply, your reel will begin to sing!) and set the hook with two or three light jerk with the rod, remember to yell 'FISH ON!!!' to warn your fellow anglers.  Once the action gets heavy, and reels are screaming on all sides, the fish will usually take a lure retrieved with a swift reel-jerk-jerk-reel motion.  If an individual fish or school of fish are visible and come within casting range, make a cast with the lure rig first (thus saving your precious live baits).  A further note, if you are catching your own live bait, catch them before the kings come in, since the bait will scatter and your fellow anglers will not likely loan you one!
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Multi-Speed Troll

  The slow troll is the most popular king-capturing technique on the Gulf coast, though it is not the only way to troll for a king, since fast trolling techniques can also work.  Slow trolling should be performed at 800 to 1100 RPM (2-3 kts), and requires three rods.  Slow trolling on a hot calm day, when the water temperature is above 80 degrees F, one rod should have a planer or be fished with a down-rigger and a live bait (menhaden, herring, cigar minnow, blue rinner) behind a chartruese seawitch (see seawitch rig).  One rod should be set on the surface with another baited seawitch or duster rig (silver, green, purple), and the final rod should be fished with a large trolling lure (black/pink/purple).  On cloudy, rough days fish one deep baited rig (planer or with a down rigger), one surface, and one crankbait or plug (yellow, red/white, Mackerel pattern).   Lures/baits  should be set behind the boat 30 yards, though place one bait at 10 yards to catch fish attracted to the boat.  Use the slow troll particularly if : 1) you are circling a school of fish, 2) you are trolling over a reef or wreck, 3) you spot bait or birds on the surface.
How about the fast troll?  On many days the fish are nowhere to be found (or you are on your way to reef, as on a party boat), so your best bet is to cover a lot of water with a fast troll.  At 8-13kts many lures skip and most baits fall off, so lure selection is critical.  Also, depending on your lure choice, you may have to upscale your tackle. In order to attract attention from kings at higher speeds, and if you don't mind spending $40 for a lure, a Yo-Zuri Bonito series lure (14 oz variety) fished with a 4/0-6/0 class reel and 80lb wire leader (5' long) will definitely work.  For the rest of us:  On hazy or cloudy days fish a surface trolling lure in chartruese.  The sea-witch rig fished with a soft plastic finesse lure (pink/yellow saltwater assassin, floozy, sluggo)  where a bait would normally be fished can be deadly.  Another option is the very inexpensive Octpus rig, with or without soft plastic lure as above.  Finally, Silver-Streak lures, Trollng feathers, and Tuna Tangos also work.  On sunny days fish at least one black/pink or black purple lure.  Now, how do we lay out the rods?  Use at least three rods (though for a party boat you can usually only get away with one).  Fish a large lure (10"+) 25 yards back (or on the second wake behind the boat- which ever is furthest), fish the one lure 30 yards back, and the final lure 35 yards back.  If you have only one rod, as when draging a lure behind a party boat, set it at 30 yards with a 6" or bigger lure. In all cases a 3'+ #4-#8 trolling wire leader is a must to fend off the toothy maw of the kings.  Remember to use only black, small swivels or a king may hit the swivel instead of the lure.

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Chum and Drift  (Chum and Anchor)

There are many days after a cold front, or during the calm flat days in the mid-summer that trolling just doesn't work.  It is during these times that using a little chum and cutting the motor can produce the biggest kings of the year, along with several pelagic species (including tunas).
If it is a hot, calm day, locate a reef in 80'+ water and anchor up current from it (see diagram).  Once anchored, drop a net-bag (the same kind of bag use to launder pantyhose) or a burlap bag filled with dry dog/catfood mixed with menhadden oil over the side on a short rope. Then deploy a small (6"-8") bait on the surface (fly-lined with no weight-see 'Bait' below for rigging), a large bait (10"-14") with no weight, and a small and  large bait with a 1oz weight.  Approximately 20 minutes is usually required for the chum to have any effect.  To sweeten the chum slick, cubes or small pieces of fresh fish can be slowly droped one at a time over the side. To pass the time, use an egg-weight or bottom-finder  rig on a spare rod to pick-up any bottom fish on the reef (or enhance your bait supply).  REMEMBER TO WATCH FOR SHARKS, which may try to eat your chum bag or fly-lines!!  Also, be careful when fighting the fish and, if you keep it, bringing it into the boat, because kings like to thrash and bite.
Note for the angler who doesn't own a boat: Flylining a live or dead bait as discussed above, minus the chum, from a party boat can yield kings also.  Remember to bring your own spinning gear (if the boat doesn't have one for you to use) and baits, and yell 'fish on' when a fish hits. Pay attention to the mates who will give you directions to get around the other anglers, and who will bring your fish into the boat.  A king makes a nice addition to a stringer of bottom fish and can often win a big fish pool.


On days where there is current, position the boat in 30' of water (or near a weed line or tide line if you can find one) and cut the motor to begin your drift.  Employ lines and chum as described in the anchoring senrio above.  While drifting, bouncing a diamond-jig with bug or sabiki can produce a miriad of bottom fish including flounder and snappers.  Keep one rod baited with a dead bait on the boat to cast to any fish that appear on the surface.  Cast the dead bait 10-20 feet in front on the fish (anticipating its direction) and retrieve the bait with short jerks.  The animated dead bait will appear to be an injured bait and will result in savage lunges and strikes. Don't set the hook by when you see the fish hit, but by when you FEEL the fish run.  If you are a fly fisher, a 6" tarpon streamer on a short wire trace cast in front of a sighted fish and retrieved with short jerk can also result in a king or two.


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