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Trolling for King Mackerel: Fun for All Ages and Skill Levels


By Grant Kaple, The Boathouse, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina


There's nothing quite like the exhilaration you feel when you're out trolling and the rod bends as you hear the sweet sound of drag being pulled out of the reel. As you grab the rod, the adrenaline starts pumping, and you and the fish know you're in for a fight. King mackerel live in the western Atlantic Ocean and are a fun fish to target from July to October. This predatory fish species often attacks the bait from the bottom, adding to the excitement as they rocket out of the water. Fishing for king mackerel isn't hard, making it a fun excursion for anglers of all ages and skill levels. They can be caught offshore, nearshore, and inshore, including in sounds, shipping channels, along the beach, and around offshore wrecks. They aren't picky about what they eat and are happily caught on all forms of tackle using a variety of tactics. Plus, you can fish for them on any Grady-White boat from 18 to 45 feet.


How To Troll for King Mackerel

Bump/slow trolling with live bait is one of the most fun and productive methods for catching king mackerel. Simply put four or five rods out with the lines at various distances from the boat. When you're set up, put the boat in gear just enough to force the bait to swim along behind the boat. Be sure they are not swimming into each other. (If they start to swim into one another you need to increase your speed.) The "bump" part comes when you take the boat out of gear for as little as a second or up to a minute at a time. This allows the bait to be a little more active and to dive. When you see your line coming too close to the boat, resume the troll. This is easiest if you have Yamaha's Helm Master EX® with speed control. This feature enables you to make slight adjustments by changing your speed in 50 rpm increments.


Note: If you're using this method while fishing offshore, a side benefit is that you can use your GPS to explore live bottom spots and mark the ones you want to revisit on your next bottom fishing expedition.


Recommended Rods, Reels, and Line

I like a 15 - 25 lb. fast taper rod with a star drag reel. A good example would be a Star Rod with a Shimano Torium 20, filled with 25 lb. monofilament. In this situation, I don't like braided line because I prefer the stretch and give that you only get from monofilament. Spinning rods and reels shouldn't be ruled out as they also work well for this kind of fishing.


Using Live Bait

There are a lot of options for using live bait when king mackerel fishing. Off the coast, in the sounds, and on your way to fishing in the summer and fall, there are always menhaden or "pogies". To find them, just follow the pelicans, look for flipping bait, and toss your cast net. The best cast net size varies based on your ability, depth, and conditions. In general, if you can throw a 10', 1/2" mesh, with 1.5 lb weight per foot you should be good to go. For the more skilled anglers who are willing to work a little harder for their bait, some other options are: blue runners, blue fish, Spanish mackerel, green threadfin herring, herring, and mullet to name a few.


The rig of choice for this form of fishing is a light wire with a 3/0 to 5/0 bait hook and a 4X treble hook. You can purchase them already made up. But, if you are more of a purist, you can tie the rig yourself. Some will use a single strand of #4 or #5 wire and others will use #7 strand wire. Different baits and conditions will help you choose what to use and when.


You caught them, now, how do you eat them?

King mackerel are oily fish, so they do not freeze well. For the best flavor and results, plan to dine on them within the first few days of catching. A simple method to prepare king mackerel is to "scrape" the fish to remove all the slime from the skin. Then, cut into steaks. To cook, add olive oil and your favorite fish seasoning (mine is Cavenders), put on a hot grill, and cook to medium rare.


If you had a good day, got into the bite, and filled the fish boxes, you may have a few more fish that you can eat in a single setting. If you do, break out the smoker! Make your favorite brine, throw on some seasoning and put the fish on the smoker. This gives you two options: great smoked fish to snack on or add to your favorite smoked fish dip recipe. Enjoy!