By Neil Taylor
It is only an option twice a year really in the Tampa Bay area. Fall and Spring. The migration of king mackerel happens twice and there is an opportunity by kayak. Gear up right and do the planning before you go. This is a way to get killed if you don’t know what you are doing. Deep water and sometimes high current is the recipe for disaster. The seasoned veteran can get it done and do it safely.
I mention safety first because surviving a fishing trip should always be your number one goal. You have a personal flotation device to be legal: Wear it. I don’t wear mine during the bulk of my outings. I don’t need to. But this is a scenario where an auto inflate isn’t a bad option but if you have a standard vest, be wearing it.
Study up on this one: http://www.capmel.com/kayak-deep-water-reentry/
The right craft is necessary. Me in the Ultimate, not the best choice. It can fill with water. Once swamped when you are offshore for king mackerel there is no recovery. A self-draining kayak is a much better choice. The foam block additions for the Native Ultimate is a custom addition I have made that makes offshore trips like this a possibility. My flotation adds 1000% flotation to this boat. Occupying more space that water can’t take up, the boat will not fill with water like it will without these floats. The pedal crafts aren’t bad for this. You have hands free while trolling. Good rod holders can mean putting out multiple lures or baits. The savvy angler will reel up the second rod immediately when one rod hooks up.
Go it alone? Sure. Again, with the proper planning. You grow eyes in the back of your head. Use extreme caution. Storms: Always possible, be ready to evacuate and get out of the deep water before a storm arrives.
The perils of the buddy system. Communicate and talk about the plan after one guy is hooked up. Braided line with a giant fish attached to the other end can really hurt when it goes across the face of the other guy with you.
Keeping the fish? You should invest in a large fish bag. Loaded with ice, the kingfish are long enough that an oversize fish bag is the best choice.
Gear up. Wire cutters are a good one. King mackerel require a wire leader. The cutters/pliers enable you to manage the wire. A gaff is a good one to also take along. This helps with the landing of the fish but also helps to subdue the king.
Kingfish are one of those species where you want to use a larger reel with a huge line capacity. Capable of going on 300 yard runs, your trout gear won’t hack it. I used my tarpon rods for my kingfishing. I would finish off my “freeline” rig with 30-pound fluorocarbon. At the tip of the fluorocarbon, a short length of very light wire. You can use lures or you can catch live baits. Pinfish trolled are a good kingfish bait. Paddletail lures will also get strikes. You can use live sardines. I would say the very best of the best live baits is the blue runner. As mentioned, a paddle tail will get strikes but so will skirted lures. Kingfish feed high so a faster troll is best. I call it “paddling speed.” If you paddle at a standard brisk pace you are in the ballpark to get the most kingfish strikes.
A stinger rig is an option for your live baits. There is the J Hook on the end of your wire. The stinger rig is another four inch piece of wire with a treble hook. This lays up against your bait so when the kingfish “short strike” they hit the stringer hook. It is a very good way to do it. Minus the stinger, you will miss a lot of fish.
Put in a little time playing them out. They will spend their energy making them easier to handle boatside.
October, November. March, April. You want periods of time with no wind. It it is windy the kingfish are 20 miles offshore, too far to paddle to. Three or more days of no wind, the kingfish will be off the beaches and they will enter Tampa Bay. The Skyway area and Egmont Key are places to try. Kingfish like hard bottom. Hard bottom areas off the beaches hold baitfish that attract kingfish.
King mackerel are a good sized fish. Steaked out they grill up good. In the mackerel family they work good for fish spread. Legal limits on mackerel as of October 2018:
Three per harvester, Gulf, 24” fork length
Neil Taylor, owner Capmel.com