King Mackerel Fishing
King Mackerel: (Scomberomorus cavalla)
King mackerel are one of the most popular game fish to hunt in Destin, Florida. They’re big, they’re fast, and they’re totally delicious! If you hook up with one of these smokers, get ready for the exciting fight that comes along with the King of all “Mack”-Daddy fish found in the Gulf of Mexico.
Meet the King Mackerel
King mackerel are favored for their size and abundance, which makes them an excellent tournament fish. They are known for their speed, fight, and their delicate flavor. Followers of warm temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, these pelagic species are found both nearshore and offshore in the Panhandles’s gulf waters, beginning in late March through mid-November, but primarily during the spring and summer months, peaking between May and October. Kings are unpredictable from day to day, but can be caught with live or frozen baits and artificial lures, using both various trolling methods and anchoring. One of the ways we spot King Mackerels is by looking for large schools of bait fish that they may be feeding on. The good news is, the waters of Destin are so crystal clear sometimes you can see the Mackerel right from the boat!
The color of king mackerel varies from a black iridescent to bluish green on the top, and silver sides. The body is smooth-running with a tapered head. The lateral line distinguishes a king mackerel from other mackerel species, as it is set high towards the front of the body, and sharply drops down under the second dorsal fin. The young king mackerel are often mistaken for Spanish mackerel because they often have yellowish spots on their sides, around the lateral line. However, the dorsal fins can be used to tell differentiate the Spanish from the king mackerel.
The teeth of king mackerel are extremely sharp, and are used to devour a multitude of prey. King mackerels weigh anywhere from 5-50 lbs., with average catches coming in around 15-20 lbs. The Florida state record for largest king mackerel was 90 lbs. Seasoned anglers sometimes refer to large king mackerels as “smokers” for their strike and speed during the fight. Small king mackerels under 15 lbs are sometimes referred to as “snakes,” which relates to their strike and speed, as well.
Like most fish species found in the Gulf of Mexico, king mackerel are a migratory species that follow bait fish into the waters off the coast of Destin. Usually found in schools and around structure, they are frequent visitors to the edges of reefs and wrecks where they can feed on other bait fish. King mackerels, like their distant cousins the Wahoos, are aggressive, hard-hitters known for their speedy runs. You’ll hear people say that Mackerels attack the bait “like a missile” which obviously makes them a lot of fun for any charter fishing expedition. King mackerel are capable of spinning 100 to 200 hundred yards of line off of the spool in the first thirty seconds of the fight.
What do Mackerels Eat?
King Mackerels are migratory carnivores who like to feed on squid and small fish. King mackerel are sight hunters, which makes any silvery or bright live bait or lure appealing. However, kings will follow the scent of chum, which makes chunking and chumming an effective way to draw them to your bait. With any sight hunting fish, considerations must be given to the day’s tide, moon phases, and weather conditions, as sight hunting fish rely on light to feed. With the location of king mackerels varying from day to day in the Gulf of Mexico, chartering with an experienced captain and crew offers the best advantage for hooking up with local kings. Though there are a variety of live bait sources for king mackerel fishing off the cost of Destin, the fishermen favorites around here include cigar minnows, herring, hardtail, threadfin herring, ladyfish, and bluefish.
What they prey on depends on their size. King Mackerels in Destin are usually found in small groups but we see them often living alone. Live bait is usually what works best for us, but King Mackerel will also hit artificial baits from time to time.Yo-zuri Crystal Minnows and Sabiki Rigs with live baits seem to work well. To maximize your chances of hooking a king mackerel our best advice is to utilize as many bait type resources as possible by using multiple bait types including live, artificial, and frozen or thawed bait strips.
Techniques for Catching King Mackerel
Trolling is one of the best ways to catch these fish while also enjoying Destin’s emerald green waters! While trolling with live bait is accomplished by moving slowly with live bait on top, and a downrigger below the surface, this method is typically used during tournaments to land larger fish. Faster trolls with frozen baits and lures may be characteristic of smaller king mackerel, but offers a bigger opportunity for more mackerel meat with higher quantities of smaller kings more likely to hit the bait more frequently at a faster pace. While trolling for king mackerel, you can expect to get bites from other species who chase the same bait and have similar habits.
King mackerel are notorious for being caught when targeting other game fish. When bottom fishing in the Panhandle of Florida, throwing out a drift line is a great way to prepare for the chance of encountering king mackerel as an added bonus on your fishing trip. Dropping a chum block and mixing a chummy recipe of cut bait syrup will call in the bait fish, which draw in the kings, as well as other species that are in the area.
For your best chance of spotting and reeling a King Mackerel, consider chartering your own deep sea fishing crew for the day. Locals know exactly how to spot these lightning-fast fish, and a captain and crew are familiar with the daily conditions that affect the constant change in king mackerel feeding habits.
Schedule your Charter with the Finest Kind today!
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How to Enjoy Your Fresh-Caught Mackerel
King Mackerel is a delicious fish when eaten fresh. It has a rich flavor and the meat is flaky and soft, but does not freeze well, so we recommend cooking them up the day you catch them. Fish that are between 24″-30″ are the best to catch and keep as they’re younger and lower in mercury. Larger, older King Mackerel can build up mercury that can make the meat unsafe to consume, especially for children and pregnant women.
An ideal catch for beginners or seasoned anglers the King Mackerel in Destin, Florida is one of a kind. Fishing for these beauties is an exciting experience that no one’s going to forget anytime soon!
Visit Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for King Mackerel Recipes