We do a lot of fishing here and the King Mackerel is a fish we target very often, and we approach them if different ways according to size we are trying to catch. Varying numbers of these fish are in our area at all times of the year. A typical fish is from 3 to 5 pounds and has the nickname of “Snake” here in south Florida. We catch a load of these guys and often they school up in groups that are closer to ten pounds than that 3 to 5 pound typical schoolie. Usually a school of Kings are typically very close in individual size, with most fish within 5 pounds of one another in weight.
These “school” fish can be holding in bunches of large numbers quite often. When we have a Fort Lauderdale fishing charter looking for as much action as possible we often choose these school sized Kingfish as our targeted species. Working a bunch of Kings doesn’t rule out the possibility of catching other types of fish, such as Sailfish and an occasional Mahi-mahi or Wahoo get in with these fish as well. When we are focused on the average sized Kingfish we see the most action on lines fished well below the surface. We fish braided lines as our mail line for this as they have essentially no stretch factor. Directly to the braided main line we attach via a snap swivel a #4 or #6 planer, which is marketed by accompany called “Old Salty”. A planer digs down deeply under the tension of trolling and a bite puts pressure on the opposite end of the planer, which causes it to trip (release) from it’s positioned depth and return toward the surface. To this opposite end of the planer we attach via ball bearing snap swivel a “shock cord” of monofilament line of approximately 90 feet in length. We often add a piece of Fluorocarbon leader here as well prior to the bait. By far our favorite bait for schoolie and slightly larger Kingfish on the Fort Lauderdale fishing grounds is a Bonito or Mullet strip fished behind typically a pink, green or blue sea witch type lure head. A little Mylar sparkle mixed in with the color here goes a long way towards drawing extra bites. You can substitute a spoon for the strip / sea witch bait and often do well, especially if the fish are smallish.
Now lets move on to the larger Kings. We have basically two ways we target big Kingfish, and both methods involve the use of live bait. One is presenting the live bait at slow speed out of the outriggers and the second is by suspending them below a fishing kite in a controlled drift.
Both are fun, with the kite being the most fun as it is very visual and a “Smoker “ Kingfish launching itself up to 20 feet in the air “Skyrocketing” is a great sight and gets the adrenaline going, as a “smoker” reaches 20, 30 and 40 pounds, with 50 pounders and above taken every year. A frisky Speedo, Goggle Eye or Blue Runner makes a great bait. The bigger the bait the better the chances of a bite from a big fish here. Wire leader is a must due to that mouth full of teeth, and we go with about two feet of wire to the hook. Very seldom is the fish hooked on the initial bite on a kite as it is a collision of line drag and extreme speed by the Kingfish resulting in a clipped bait as he streaks off with the baitfish. Don’t spook him and more often than not he returns and often the take this time is at a much slower rate of speed, allowing the angler better control and to free spool the remaining bait at a measures rate and hook the fish firmly inside the mouth, which results in fewer pulled hooks during the fight. This is fun, but we feel there is often a better way, not always, but often, and about the only similarity is the use of live bait, and it is fishing with surface outrigger baits and down rigger baits When fishing this way both the surface and deep baits are attached to 18 inches of light leadewire. This is a three hook set up and is deadly on big Kingfish. We choose a small “J” style hook for the lead or nose hook followed by two 4 strong treble hooks positioned near the mid section and again neared the tail of the bait. Speedo, Tinker Mackerel and Bullet (baby) Bonito are the baits of choice. Fish the surface baits at staggered lengths, but be sure to fish one quite a ways back. When you think it is far enough back, give it another 20 feet. Fish the triple hooked deep bait(s) on the downrigger down in the vicinity of 60 feet for overall depths in the vicinity of 100 feet. More often than not a big Smoked Kingfish will be very happy and located in water much shallower, so adjust the downrigger accordingly. Fish the reels with the drags engaged and a light setting. Try not to put pressure on a big King at boat side when you are trying to gaff. This holds especially true when fishing the treble hook rig as he might be hooked outside the mouth and hanging onto the leader at boat side will be a recipe for a possible unhappy ending.
We hope this article is helpful to you . Captain Steve and I have been at this for over 40 years now (sorry Stevo, had to) and is the way we both approach our Fort Lauderdale fishing charters when Kingfish (big or small) are on the menu.
Capt., JJ Logan