Kings of Fall
Published in Chesapeake Angler
King mackerel are one of the offshore game fish that you do not need an offshore boat to catch. King mackerel will be caught by boats working the tuna grounds but some of the best king mackerel action occurs much closer to shore. Some of the largest king mackerel are caught from fishing piers and from boats working the water in close to the beach.
In the mid-Atlantic, king mackerel are available somewhere most of the year. It is during the fall when the fishing can be the most spectacular. The months of September, October and into November can be a great time to catch these fish along the coast of Virginia. As the waters cool more, you will need to move into the Carolinas to get on the king bite. Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout are King Mackerel Central.
Catching kings can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. They can be caught by trolling any baits that you would troll for tuna. A classic method is to troll a strip bait on a king rig that consists of a small colored skirt in front of a short wire leader with front and trailer hooks. There are probably more king mackerel caught on a 3 ½ Drone Spoon, pulled behind a planer, than by any other technique. Just put out your spoons and troll at 5-7 knots and catch a bunch of kings. It is that simple.
Troll areas that tend to concentrate bait. Troll over and around wrecks and artificial reefs. Temperature breaks, tide lines and any other changes can hold the bait that the kings are feeding on. King mackerel can be found well offshore, out to the 100 fathom curve, or right up next to the beach. Look for the bait. When you find schools of bunker, king mackerel are likely to be around. In Virginia, good areas for fall kings include the Chesapeake Light Tower and the nearby Tower Reef, the Santore, Tiger, Hanks, and Ricks wrecks, the 4A Drydock, the CB buoy line and along the beach from Cape Henry to False Cape.
While trolling spoons is probably the most effective way to catch a lot of kings, it is not the best technique to catch larger king mackerel. Anglers targeting “smoker” king mackerel will often use live bait. They are called smokers because of what they do to your reel on that initial run. Pretty much any live fish can be used as bait with bunker being the favorite in our area. A short, light wire leader goes to a single or treble hook that is attached near the bait’s nose and a trailer, treble hook is attached around the dorsal fin. These live baits are drifted or slow-trolled. Your boat needs to be moving slow enough to allow the baits to swim rather than just being dragged around. Drags are light to keep the relatively small hooks from tearing out of the mackerel’s mouth during that initial hit and run.
Instead of trolling/drifting live baits, you can fish them from an anchored boat. The current helps drift the baits away from your boat. Some baits can be suspended from floats to keep them up in the water column. Suspending live baits from a kite can be a deadly king mackerel technique. While at anchor, you can draw king mackerel to your boat with chum.
If you want to catch larger king mackerel but do not want to go to the trouble of catching and keeping live bait, large swimming plugs may be what you are looking for. Plugs like the Rapala Magnum CD 22, Mann’s Stretch 30+, and other similar-sized plugs produce big king mackerel every year. Troll the plugs in the same areas and speeds that you use while pulling spoons, 5-7 knots. The current Virginia State Record king mackerel was caught on a trolled plug. Susan Smith caught her monster, 63 pound, 1 ounce king mackerel while trolling off of Sandbridge.