‘Tis the Season for King Mackerel

By  //  April 16, 2012


Brian Brenton with a 30 lbs King Mackerel caught on the Sea Wrangler. (Images for SpaceCoastDaily.com)

BREVARD COUNTY • PORT CANAVERAL, FLORIDAAs summer rapidly approaches, offshore anglers can look forward to calm seas and excellent rod-bending action for several different types of species.  

Dolphin, Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, Amberjack, Sea Bass, Grouper, Cobia and several other species will all satisfy our offshore hunger. However, the most targeted and productive species will most likely be the King Mackerel.

There are very few fish along the East Coast of Florida that can match the fight and tenacity of the King Mackerel.  Perhaps this is the reason Kings top the list when it comes to big-money tournaments throughout the South. Their size, strength, speed, and acrobatics when “skyrocketing” bait makes Kings one of the most sought-after species for both charters and self sustained anglers.

Kings range drastically in size. My personal best is 65 lbs, however, I have seen a few in the 70 lb range. On a normal day they can range anywhere from 6 lbs to 45 lbs with an average of 10 lb-15 lb. The regulation size for King Mackerel is 24 inches to the fork. However, most of our population will be well over the minimum.

65lb King Mackerel caught off Port Canaveral

King Mackerel are normally found around bottom structure, ledges, wrecks, and any hard bottom that holds bait in 25 ft-100 ft of water. During the spring and summer months, Pelican Flats and 8A Reef should produce good numbers.

However, we usually have 2-5 weeks in the beginning of the summer where the large females move inshore to spawn in 15 ft-45 ft of water off of Cocoa Beach. These fish normally average 25 lb-30 lb with rare catches of fish under 15 lbs.

The most productive technique for these fish is live bait trolling on the surface or with downriggers. Typically, on the Sea Wrangler we use pogies, commonly known as menhaden, but live sardines, cigar minnows, blue runners, or tinker mackerel work great as well.

The key is to troll the baits fast enough to cover ground, but slow enough to swim naturally with the boat. This technique is deadly and will often trigger multiple hookups at the same time.

As a charter captain, there is nothing more satisfying than presenting a bait on the surface, watching the fish ambush it by “skyrocketing” 6 ft in the air as my customer grabs the rod, and the fish that screams 50-100 yards off of a reel in just a few seconds.

King Mackerel on The Table

Kings are also very desirable for the table if properly handled and prepared.  Unfortunately, these fish have a reputation of being oily and strong tasting. However, with the proper care and preparation, this fish will quickly reach the top of your favorites.

  • Always ice the fish as soon as possible. I like to create a thick saltwater slush in my fish box to ensure the catch is as cold as possible. This includes promptly putting on ice or refrigeration after cleaning.
  • Invest in a vacuum sealer. The vacuum sealing process keeps air and water off of the meat.
  • For maximum flavor, eat fresh (within 4 days). King Mackerel is great either fresh or frozen, however, after freezing for an extended period of time, it gets a stronger taste.
  • Do not overcook! Fresh King Mackerel is actually very good as sashimi. It has a much softer texture than most sushi favorites, giving it a “melt in your mouth” sensation.

Grilled King Mackerel 

One large King can really make your day, not just on the water, but also back home at the dinner table. There are endless King Mackerel recipes and every angler has a favorite; mine is below.

Smoker King Caught aboard the Sea Wrangler in 90 ft of Water

Yield: 6 servings

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon or two small limes
  • 1/8 cup of dry white wine
  • 2 Tbl Spoons of garlic powder
  • Emeril or personal recipe dry fish rub (to be sprinkled)
  • 6 King Mackerel steaks or filets, 1 inch thick

1.     Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, wine and garlic powder in a small bowl creating a garlic powder/olive oil-mixture slurry.

2.     Using a small cooking or paintbrush, generously paint the slurry on one side of the fish followed by a liberal sprinkling of the fish rub.

3.     Place the fish onto a flat fish-grilling basket (make sure to use PAM spray or other cooking oil to prevent sticking) with the rubbed side down, repeat #2 on the un-painted upside and then close the basket.

4.     Light grill, set to low-medium heat

5.     Place grilling basket directly onto grill

6.     Cook 3-4 minutes then flip

7.     Grill until steaks flake easily with a fork. Serve immediately.