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Try These Tactics to Score “Smoker” King Mackerel

By Capt. Gus Caine

King mackerel are easy to catch. Tournament-caliber kings, those topping 40 pounds or more, are a challenge, however. Also called “smokers” because they smoke line off the reel on their initial run and make great smoked fish dip afterwards, big mackerel are definitely catchable. But to do so requires a combination of knowledge, strategy, and execution.


Smokers prefer a temperature range of 68 to 73 degrees and they are routinely found near major temperature breaks. Troll on the hot water side of these breaks because that’s where the bait will be concentrated. And once the bait is found, his majesty won’t be far behind. But bait and pursuers alike are highly mobile and can be found at all depths, so have a backup spot or two if the first one doesn’t pan out.


Big kings are also structure-oriented, again because structure establishes the food chain. Reefs—natural and man-made—rock piles, ledges, deep-water buoys and oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are all trophy king magnets. If they are holding bait, that is. Barren spots are worth a brief investigation, but if the strikes don’t come quickly, move on. Don’t fall into the secret spot rut, either. Public numbers like marked artificial reefs can be just as productive as the guarded ones, even when there’s a crowd around.

Trophy kings have voracious appetites, and the top live baits are menhaden (pogies), blue runners (hardtails), mullet, bluefish, and ribbonfish. Don’t hesitate to add something unusual, like a sand trout if they are common in the areas being fished. Rig live baits with a trailing stinger hook to prevent cutoffs and slow-troll them by bumping the boat’s engines in and out of gear to keep the line slack to a minimum. Downriggers and planers stagger the spread throughout the water column where most of the strikes occur, but I always like to have one or two baits languishing on the surface. A large pogy under a small cork float or even a plain frozen cigar minnow drifting behind the boat is often all it takes to entice a skyrocketing king.


The presentation is the key to triggering strikes. Baits have to look as natural as possible, or these wary speedsters will evaporate like fog. Go with the lightest wire leader you feel comfortable with and match it to small hooks that won’t impede the bait’s ability to swim. Bronze or coffee-colored tackle is better camouflage than a nickel. Use haywire twists to connect the hooks and twist off the tag ends rather than cutting them, so they stay clean and snag-free.

When the strike comes, the initial run might zip well over 100 yards of line off the reel in seconds, so make sure yours has plenty of capacity. Rods with soft tips and an ample butt section are welcome features, too. When fighting the fish, keep the line tight but don’t horse him or you run the risk of pulling the hook. Take your time with steady pressure and the fish will tire with each diminishing burst.


Timing and crew coordination are extra important once the fish is worked into gaffing range. The angler and helmsman must talk to each other to keep the line tight. When it comes to gaffing, stay behind the angler and approach the fish tail-first. That way, if it does turn its head at the last moment, it won’t pull the hook out or nick the leader with the gaff point. Aim for the center of the body just behind the gills, point-down, and pull and lift at the same time to bring it into the boat. If it is a trophy or tournament fish, plug the gaff hole with a piece of plastic (cloth or paper towels wick away fluids) to prevent weight loss.


Luck is definitely a factor when trophy king hunting. What isn’t surprising, however, is how lucky you can be when you develop a sound game plan and stick with it.

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Original Source:  Sportsmans



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