King mackerel are coastal pelagic game fish that excite near-shore anglers statewide. To target and catch these voracious predators with any level of consistency, you better start thinking like a kingfish. While Atlantic populations migrate south to ride out the winter, warmer spring weather leaves local fishermen fortunate to have consistent action within close proximity to shore. East Central Florida is the epicenter of the action, with near-shore waters between Port Canaveral and Sebastian Inlet holding fantastic opportunities for visiting and resident anglers alike. With the action officially blasting off in April and lasting well into summer, calm winds and the presence of schooling baitfish ignite ferocious feeding frenzies practically a stone’s throw from shore along area beaches and near-shore reefs. With fuel prices on the rise, it’s always exciting to find cooperative fish just minutes from the beach.
One of the most sought-after game fish in all of Florida, king mackerel are well known for their blistering speed, savage strikes and great sporting attributes, not to mention they are the base ingredient for a Florida favorite—smoked fish dip. The beauty of this fishery also lies in the fact that anglers do not need a big boat to get in on the action. Moving within close proximity of shore to feed on migrating baitfish, kings are caught in everything from kayaks to tricked-out center consoles. In addition, when conditions are favorable, many adventurous inshore anglers like myself run their shallow water skiffs up the beach in search of a hot kingfish bite and exciting change of pace. No matter what your platform, slow-trolling these areas with live bait and artificial lures is the name of the kingfish-catching game.
Preferred patterns mimic bunker and mullet—the prevalent forage typically found along area beaches and near-shore reefs.
When slow-trolling, the goal is to keep the boat moving ahead slowly while encouraging your hook baits to swim as natural as possible. Trolling too fast will tire out your precious offerings and will eventually lead to their demise. Depending on conditions and horsepower, you may need to shift in and out of gear to achieve the proper presentation. If you have a twin outboard powered boat you can try idling with just one engine to keep headway to a minimum. Either way, go slow and use the current to your advantage. To spice things up randomly shift into neutral and give your baits a minute or two to penetrate deeper into the water column before resuming your trolling pattern.
When fishing live bait it’s important to understand the way kingfish feed. These toothy killers are notorious for charging their next unsuspecting meal at full speed. The systematic attack is aimed at slashing the baitfish’s propulsion system, often severing the bait in half and presenting a perfect opportunity for the king to circle back and devour its prey. Because of this tendency to short strike, a stinger hook is an important part of your terminal rig. Live bait rigs can be purchased, but learn how to construct them yourself and you’ll surely become a more efficient angler. You’ll also be able to customize rigs to your liking, altering hook size and leader length to match bait size. Don’t forget that live baits can be fished on the surface as flat lines, as well as deep in the water column with the use of a downrigger. Downriggers are a great tool for catching kingfish and are used extensively by professional tournament competitors.
Kingfish can also be caught on artificial lures like flashy spoons and diving plugs. Proven baits include Rapala’s X-Rap, Magnum 20 and Magnum 30, depending on the depth of schooling kings. Preferred patterns mimic bunker and mullet—the prevalent forage typically found along area beaches and near-shore reefs.
The king of all mackerel can consistently be found congregating off Sebastian beaches in areas such as The Cove and Disney Reef. There are some other go-to spots you should know about as well such as The Pines and Thomas Shoal, which are only about six miles off the beach. These reefs, as well as many others, can be easily identified on local fishing charts. Not to be overlooked, the outgoing tide line around Sebastian Inlet is a great venue during the late spring and into early summer. Every year smokers over 50 pounds fall victim to properly presented baits around the tide line.
The best part of this fishery is that ravenous kings can be caught on relatively light tackle. A typical outfit includes a small conventional reel, like Shimano’s TLD 15 or Talica 10, or a medium spinner such as a Shimano Spheros in the 5000 to 8000 size, or Thunnus 6000 or 8000. No matter what you select you’ll need a reel capable of holding no less than 200 yards of fresh 20 lb. test monofilament or 30 lb. braid. I use 30 lb. Sufix 832 with a 50 lb. fluorocarbon wind-on leader on my spinning outfits and spool my conventional reels with 40 lb. Sufix 832 braid and the same 50 lb. wind-on.
When it comes to rod selection I prefer to fish 6’6″, 20 lb. class rods with a fast taper. The light tip allows the bait to swim freely and provides more sensitivity when detecting a strike. Remember to keep the drag light, normally less than five pounds. Light drags in relatively shallow water mean long runs with intense action.
While summertime is the best time for king mackerel off Brevard County, the action can last well into fall if water temperatures remain in the mid 70s. If you are looking for consistent action without breaking the bank this season, slow-troll close to shore and get back to basics for red-hot kingfish action.
Rig It Right
When constructing a live bait stinger rig you can use single strand wire, multi-strand wire or the newest titanium wire. Traditional wire is a longstanding producer and continues to catch quality fish, although thinner diameter titanium is more flexible and lets baitfish swim more freely.
Start with a 20-inch length of wire. The material you select will determine whether or not you make a haywire twist or crimped connection. The first hook should be a razor sharp J-hook ranging from 3/0 and 7/0 in size. Attach an 8-inch trace of wire to the J-hook and be sure to place the wire through both the eye of the hook and the loop formed by your connection. Add a 3X strong treble in # 2, #4 or #6 depending on the size of the bait selected for the day and your stinger rig is complete. To add a bit of additional flair you can place a flashy duster above the nose hook.