As the biggest and meanest member of the mackerel family, it’s good to be king. Smaller king mackerels are called snakes and big kings are called smokers; the IGFA World Record, caught off San Juan, Puerto Rico, weighed 93 pounds. King mackerel hunt subtropical and tropical waters around the world, but the coast of Florida and the Gulf States are prime grounds for kayak fishing. These two pros are kings of the kings.
How to Catch King Mackerel
Chasing Florida’s Sunshine Smokers
Hot water, swift current and plenty of bait make Florida a haven for king mackerel fishing. Pro guide Austin Collins fishes from Broward to Palm Beach for kings and more. Big, open water requires a seaworthy kayak, so Collins chooses a 13-foot-long and 32-inch wide Viking Pro Fish. “I need a kayak that is fast,” he says, “we might cover many miles on any day.”
“The easiest way to catch a king is slow troll a live google eye at dawn,” he says. Collins rigs the live bait on a double hook stinger rig. He uses #4 to #6 single-strand wire and 3/0 to 5/0 lead J-hook and #4 to #6 treble trailer. “Adjust the size of hooks and length of wire to match the size of the bait,” he adds.
He also targets kings with a vertical jig. “A 100- to 150-gram Jimmy Jig is deadly,” he says, adding that he’ll bump up to a 225-gram Cancun Candy when the fish are holding deep or the current is ripping.
Trolling and jigging require a fast reel and limber pole. Collins uses Accurate’s 500 XGS with a super-fast 6:1 retrieve ratio. Kings will dump line fast then turn and run at the angler just as fast. Light drag and hard cranking are the only way to keep up with one of these speed demons. “Don’t horse the fish,” Collins cautions, “work it easy or you’ll pull the hooks.”
Fishing the King Mackerel of the Coast
King mackerel are an easy target close to shore from one end of the Gulf Coast to the other. Ty Southland of 30MilesOut Fishing Charter chases the fish throughout their range, but his home waters of North Padre, Texas, offer some of the best action. Big kings are a no-brainer around the near-shore oil rigs. “We troll to the rigs then anchor and fish live baits,” he explains.
For the troll to the rigs, Southland chooses a frozen ribbonfish on a live bait rig and a Rat-L-Trap 1.5-ounce Super Trap. “The biggest king I ever caught was on the Rat-L-Trap,” he adds. Choose a rod with a light tip for kings, they are often lightly hooked and a limber rod and light drag will forgive the fish’s violent head shakes.
Once he arrives to the rig, Southland uses a Sabiki rig to catch blue runners for live bait. Then he deploys the anchor and sets out the live bait. “Freelining a live bait is the easiest way to catch a big king,” he says. The combination of warm water, structure and bait mean kings will not be fair away. “If you put in the time, you’ll catch a smoker!”
It takes sharp hooks, light drag and wire leader to land a smoker. | Feature photo: Justin Mayer