Free Florida Fishing Information- Slow Trolling for King Mackerel

Slow Trolling for King Mackerel

Mitzi in action, Atlantic Ocean

King mackerel off Cocoa Beach.

One of the true pleasures of living through the heat of a central Florida summer is spending time in a boat, slow trolling for king mackerel. When the weather cooperates and the fish are in tight to the beach you can be successful doing this from a johnboat.

Since kings prefer water temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, they don’t typically show in numbers in central Florida waters until April or May. When the word gets out that the kings have showed up the parking lots at Port Canaveral fill up early.

The hopeful king mackerel angler will first spend time searching for bait. Many different baits will work, and professional king tournament anglers will spend lots of time finding exotic baits, like ribbonfish. For the more casual angler, easily obtained baits like menhaden, threadfin herring, or mullet will work just fine.

Once you find the bait, use a cast net to catch enough for a day’s fishing. I find an eight foot net is the minimum size that will work. A larger, fast sinking net works better.

One day I was out off Cocoa Beach with Tom Van Horn. While we caught a load of menhaden, they were fairly small. I was going to use a stinger rig to hook one in the standard way- the lead hook through the nose and the trailing hook through the tail of my bait. Tom said, “Try it like this.” He then showed me how he had rigged his- the lead hook through the nose of the lead bait, and the trailing hook through the nose of the second, trailing bait. “Kevin Mulligan showed me this,” he said. “It works really well, especially if the baits aren’t too big. These small baits are the perfect size for this.”

stinger rig with two menhaden

stinger rig with two menhaden

While most folks use spinning tackle for this work, conventional tackle has a place here too. Whether it’s spinning or conventional tackle you need a reel with a smooth drag and a lot of line capacity, 250 yards minimum. They don’t call big kings smokers for nothing! Furthermore, while slow trolling for kings you will hook cobia, big sharks, giant crevalle, tarpon, little tunny. etc. Use adequately sized tackle for anything you might encounter.

king mackerel

An appropriate outfit for king mackerel fishing.

Most folks use 20 pound test monofilament or equivalent diameter braid. While my own preference is for braided line, lots of king mackerel anglers prefer the shock- absorbing stretchiness of mono. Both work, so use whatever you prefer.

The Stinger Rig
A stinger rig consists of two hooks with about four inches between them, connected by a piece of wire. King mackerel frequently clip the bait in half with those razor teeth. If you didn\’t use a tail hook you would never catch those fish.

Everyone I’ve kingfished with makes their own stingers, and they all do it differently. Some use single strand wire, some use braided wire. Some use a treble hook for the stinger, some use a single hook. There’s no right or wrong way, only personal preference.

If you use a treble use a 3x strong hook. Most folks use a #4 for this treble hook stinger. People who use a single hook stinger use a 1/0 hook. Obviously the hook size depends on the size of the bait.

Of course you can buy stinger rigs already made up. But you’ll get a better rig, more to your liking, if you make your own.

Finding Fish
Fishing being fishing, some days kings are ridiculously easy to find. Other days it’s almost impossible.

If you’re fishing out of Port Canaveral, start your day by stopping in the Sunrise Marina tackle store. Buy some hooks, wire, or bait, and ask for advice. The folks working there heard all of yesterday’s fishing reports, and will usually steer you in the right direction.

When the bite has been strong inshore, just look for the fleet. All those boats are ganged up for a reason! The fish might only be off the beach a quarter mile, and the biggest fish are often caught very close to the beach.

When the fish are scattered, try fishing around the bait pods. Try slow trolling around the bait for 15 or 20 minutes. If this doesn\’t work, go to the next plan.

The Canaveral buoy line provides structure for both baitfish and predators. Slow trolling up one side and down the other of this line, or try zig-zagging across it (stay out of the way of large vessels). This may produce some fish for you.

Top Spot fishing charts N-218 (Cape Canaveral) or N-220 (east Florida offshore) will give you some other places to try. The Southeast Shoal, The Bull, Hetzel Shoal, the 8A Reef, and Pelican Flats are some of the more popular areas. If you intend to head to these spots, though, you’ll need more than a johnboat. You’ll be off the beach 10 or more miles in some of these places.

While running, look for skyrocketing fish, skipping bait, or other signs of life. Capt. Jeff Brown of Copout Charters drags cedar plugs behind his boat while motoring to the offshore grounds. When luck is with him he never makes it out there. The kings stop him first.

In a small boat, trail two lines behind the boat, one at 50 and one at 100 feet. Tom Van Horn says, “If you stagger the lines they don’t get tangled up very much.”

In a larger boat you can put three, or even four lines out, using both outriggers and downriggers. Remember that more lines means more tangles, though.

Slow trolling is SLOW trolling. You’ll know you’re going too fast when your menhaden are skipping across the surface in your wake. If you can’t go slowly enough, use a trick Capt. Keith Kalbfleisch showed me. Trim your motor up so the prop is barely in the water. This will cut even your idle trolling speed in half.

When a king gets hooked up you’ll know something happened. They will tear line off your reel in a hurry! When I first started fishing for kings I wondered why everyone set the drag on the reel so lightly. The tissues in the mouth of a king tear easily. If you crank down on the drag, or try to horse them in, they tear off. Fight them slowly and patiently and you’ll get more fish to the boat.

Although you can tail smaller kings, most fishermen gaff kings once they’re alongside the boat. Be extremely careful of the business end of any king mackerel. All those sharp looking teeth are even sharper than they look. They literally have a mouth full of razor blades and will put a hurt on the careless.

Other Considerations
When king mackerel fishing is hot you can put a lot of fish into the boat. Kings have oily flesh, so while they are quite delicious when fresh they don’t freeze well at all. Don’t get carried away and keep hundreds of pounds.

There’s a smokehouse at Port Canaveral where you can exchange your raw kingfish filets for smoked kingfish, three pounds of raw fish for one pound of smoked. This smoked kingfish is excellent.

Unfortunately king mackerel tend to accumulate high levels of methyl mercury, so in spite of their deliciousness it’s not in your best interest health-wise to eat lots of it. I just thought you should know.

Use the tips and tactics in this piece to try slow trolling for king mackerel. You’re sure to find it highly entertaining!

John Kumiski
All content in this blog, including writing and photos, copyright John Kumiski 2013. All rights are reserved.

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