King mackerel have definitely taken saltwater fishermen to school, earning their rightful spot in the world of big game fishing!
A long time ago when king mackerel fishing was not as popular as it is today and when a few blue water fishermen regarded king mackerel as a not so colorful a catch when targeting dolphin, sailfish, wahoo and even tarpon. Schools of kingfish were simply so plentiful, they were mainly regarded as a commercial fish and not a game fish.
I can still remember my very first encounter with king mackerel, during the summer of 1977.
Our fishing tackle was fifty-pound class rigged to large trolling weights, that trolled large “Drone” spoons deep. Large rapalas and plastics were trolled on the surface and all reel drag settings were set just under fifty-pounds. The idea here was once a saltwater fish struck the lure, they were coming into the boat in less than a blink of an eye!
The hooks were very big and couple with the heavy tackle, once the stiff trolling rod buried the large hook into the fish’s mouth, the hooked fish very seldom got away!
Our deep-sea fishing day was spent trolling at speeds of 6-8 knots over a variety of deep-water structures including sunken wrecks and fish attracting live bottoms.
Our first encounter came from a school of dolphin that excited everyone on board. For the next fifteen-minutes, our party of saltwater fishermen were extremely excited, as high leaping dolphin jumped from the ocean to our delight.
Finally it was my turn at a deeply bent trolling rod and I proceeded to lean back into a fast running game fish. This trolling trip was actually my very first and I hadn’t a clue as to what was on the other end of my fishing line! All I knew was that it wasn’t jumping like the rest of the hooked dolphin. Instead it was burning my thumb on the spool as it continued to strip fifty-pound fishing line from the Penn 4/0 fishing reel.
After a few more much shorter runs, I was able to work my hooked fish up close to the transom of the charter fishing boat. Actually the fish was much smaller than I had anticipated, taking into consideration the long, strong runs against the heavy tackle, it had fought like a much larger game fish. No it wasn’t a high leaping dolphin, my catch was a fifteen-pound king mackerel.
The mate turned to me and asked if I wished to keep the kingfish, as it laid breathless in the water?
“No,” I replied. “We have plenty of dolphin to eat, besides this fish fought so hard, it deserves it’s freedom.”
The captain looked at me and explained, “king mackerel are not that good to eat, I like your decision. We try to avoid catching kingfish because of their poor table fare and they are definitely not as fun to catch”!
Today saltwater fishermen have a totally new outlook on king mackerel. The “Mighty Kingfish” is now one of the more sought after game fish in the ocean and many saltwater fishermen are now exclusively target hard fighting kingfish.
In fact the fishing and marine industry has grown rapidly with the increased popularity of king mackerel fishing, thanks to the Southern Kingfish Association and the many king mackerel fishermen and marine related companies that have recognized king mackerel as one of the oceans premier game fish!
Actually king mackerel took all of us saltwater fishermen to school and taught us how to enjoy its extremely talented fighting qualities and how delicious kingfish were to eat when prepared properly.
A major problem with the lack of popularity for kingfish some thirty-fishing seasons ago, came when most blue water fishermen trolled with heavy trolling tackle, testing fifty-pounds or more. When an average size kingfish was hooked, the hooked kingfish didn’t have a chance to show off its fighting abilities when challenged with heavy fishing gear.
Kingfish were also mainly targeted with lures including spoons, rapalas, feathered jigs and plastic lures.
However the more saltwater fishermen studied king mackerel, particularly when kingfish were schooling close to the surface and ravaging baitfish schools, fishermen began to take a lighter and more sporting look at how they fished for king mackerel.
During the heat of summer, kingfish would simply show off for nearby fishermen while leaping high into the air, chasing live baits clean out of the water. These summer antics often resembled the 4th of July with fireworks going off everywhere!
Saltwater fishermen soon realized that in order to enjoy this style of kingfish action, they would need to can their heavy trolling fishing tackle and begin fishing with much lighter fishing tackle that could be paired up with live bait fishing.
Saltwater fishermen began rigging twenty-pound spinning and casting tackle with three foot sections of wire leaders and barbing live minnows to 6/0 saltwater hooks. While drifting and casting live baits to schools of king mackerel, they soon began to enjoy “Sky Rocketing” strikes from nearby kingfish, that frequently resulted in long, speedy runs.
Hence the popularity of king mackerel fishing began with saltwater fishermen. Even south Florida saltwater fishermen began to recognize the fighting ability of the “Mighty King Mackerel”.
Carolina fishermen soon discovered how to rig live menhaden, mullet and a variety of live baits to twenty-pound fishing tackle and troll. Trolling live baits for kingfish was immediately a huge success, allowing king mackerel fishermen to actually follow the schools of kingfish as they moved from one offshore structure to the next.
However the biggest advantage in live bait trolling for kingfish was soon discovered, live baits definitely attracted strikes from much larger kingfish. Kingfish weighing over the thirty-pound mark were frequently caught by live bait trolling and on a more regular basis than trolling with lures.
One of the more popular techniques for live bait trolling, began by tossing a six to ten foot cast net in backwater tidal rivers, bays, inlets, or close to the beaches for menhaden. One of the king mackerel’s prime forage foods.
King mackerel fishermen must have seen kingfish working the pods of menhaden in close to shore and soon discovered that they could enjoy their king mackerel light tackle fishing, minus the long offshore boat ride.
This is when king mackerel fishing really became even more popular. Not only was the king mackerel fishing red hot in close to the beaches and inlets of many southern coastal states, but more importantly it could be enjoyed by fishermen fishing from small boats!
King fishing soon became a fishing sport that could be enjoyed by not only fishermen that could afford a big expensive sport fishing boat, but also by fishermen that had smaller and much less expensive boats as well.
During the early 1980’s, the popularity of king mackerel fishing became so popular, fishermen began to hold kingfish tournaments at many of the south’s more popular inlets, which exclusively targeted king mackerel.
Prize monies soon grew from $500.00 for first place for the boat that weighed in the largest kingfish, to over $100,000.00!
And at the same time, marine related industries took advantage of the growing increase in popularity for recreational and competitive king mackerel fishing. Boat manufactures, outboard motor manufactures, fishing tackle companies and a whole tackle box full of fishing related companies began to sponsor and promote king mackerel fishing.
Ultimately many of their products were soon manufactured with the king mackerel fishermen on their mind, such as fifty-gallon live wells and outboard motors that would make kingfish boats run faster, while using less fuel.
Today, the Southern Kingfish Association hosts king mackerel fishing tournaments in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and South and North Carolina. The sport of king mackerel fishing is rising to new levels each year along with richer paydays for skilled kingfish teams.
The “Mighty King Mackerel” has earned its recognition as one of the south’s premier game fish. And the popularity continues to grow!