King Mackerel Return: Here's a Strategy for Targeting This Unusual Fish

Aug 3, 2018

King Mackerel
Credit N. Carolina DNR goo.gl/8YR4eA

Last year king mackerel showed up in our waters, to the surprise of many anglers. Now, it looks like we're seeing them again this year. If you’ve got your sights set on catching a “smoker,” here’s a simple how-to.

King mackerel are longer, cigar-shaped fish. When they're smaller, they tend to have yellow spots or speckles. As they grow, those spots fade into more of a dark bar.

“They're a relative of the much smaller mackerel that we tend to see around Cape waters, but they're bigger—three to five pounds,” says Kevin Blinkoff, of On The Water magazine. “These are juvenile king mackerel. They're predatory fish. They've got sharp teeth, and it's pretty fun thing for us to be able to catch them.”

King mackerel are a southern species, more common from the Carolinas south into Florida.  Around here, they're more of a surprise to fishermen.

“For the most part, it's fishermen who are out looking for blue fish or stripers happening to catch them,” Blinkoff says. “But a few anglers are realizing that they can target them, and actually catch more of them that way.”

Tip number one: you’ll want to use a wire leader.  That’s because they have sharp teeth, like a bluefish.

“Also, fishermen are finding that because they’re such a speedy fish, they can single them out from bluefish and striped bass by fishing lures that move fast,” Blinkoff says. 

Blinkoff suggests high-speed trolling as one of the best ways to cover some water, while hunting for king mackerel.

“Basically, you're fishing a lure so fast that a striped bass or a bluefish can't catch it,” he says. “But if there's a king mackerel in the area, it will be able to get to it.”

When it comes to eating them, king mackerel have reputation similar to bluefish. They're an oily fish. “Some people love them,” says Blinkoff, “some people say they're too fishy. Everyone agrees that if you smoke them, they're delicious. They actually call large king mackerel, down in the south, “smokers” because they're so good for that.”

The king mackerel we’re seeing here, in the 3-5 pound range, don't need to be smoked.  They'll be delicious eating, if you like a stronger tasting fish, like bluefish. Bleed it, and get it on ice.

And there are no size limits in Massachusetts on king mackerel.

Also this week: we’ve got first reports on bonito (yes—bonito!), a Canal update (real big stripers keep coming in), and a suggestion where to look for black sea bass. It’s all in this week’s Fishing News. Give it a listen.