The king mackerel is one of the most sought after species on the North Carolina coast. The king is right at the top of the food chain and is a terrific fighter. They readily take many types of bait and are mighty tasty.
Trolling is by far the most popular way to catch these predators; however, there are many ways to reel them in. They can be caught from the piers, near-shore boats and, yes, even kayaks.
When trolling for kings it is usually best to find some type of structure that is holding bait: artificial reefs, wrecks, ledges and inlets. While inlets are not technically structures, they do provide a steady stream of bait. Charts by Sealake, Maps Unique and Hot Spot are all good sources of GPS numbers. They will provide locations near you to seek out your prey.
Since there are two basic ways of trolling I will cover them separately. Live bait trolling is different in one basic way than pulling dead bait or lures. Live bait should be pulled as slow as possible. Usually just putting the boat in gear is sufficient. Live bait can consist of menhaden, cigar minnows, sardines, mullet, blues and many others. A spread of four to six baits is typical. The first line out will usually be set way back called a “shotgun” at, say, about 80 yards. The second line should be about halfway in between the shotgun and the boat. The third line should be fished right in the prop wash. All of these baits are fished right on the surface. Downriggers are big reels that mount to the back and use a very heavy weight to get the lines down deep. The next two lines should be fished on the downriggers so as to cover the water column. If I were fishing in 100 feet of water I would put the first one at 40 feet and the second at 20 feet. These are just starting suggestions. Fishing is never the same two days in a row.
Pulling dead bait for kings can, believe it or not, produce more fish than live bait. The reason is that you are pulling the baits much faster and covering more ground. Four to 7 mph is the range for pulling dead baits. Dead baits do not usually fool the big tournament winning fish, and that is why tournament boats almost exclusively pull live bait. But if you are looking to catch numbers of fish as opposed to just a big one, dead bait is usually the way to go. The most popular frozen bait for kings is the cigar minnow. Ballyhoo and sardines are a close second. Cigar minnows and sardines can be easily rigged on a Blue Water Candy dead bait rig. These rigs have a tiny weighted hook in the front that will keep the bait swimming straight. Just thaw the bait on your way out or the night before. Coating the baits in Kosher Salt will toughen them up so that they can be pulled longer. Salting them the night before fishing will produce the toughest baits the next day. Colors of skirts do make a difference, but you will have to decide what works best for you. Now that your baits are thawed, insert the front hook of the BWC rig from the bottom up through the top of the head.
We are holding free fishing seminars every Tuesday night at 6:30 at East Coast Sports in Surf City. We have professional captains to answer all of your questions.
To be continued ...
Capt. Chris Medlin is a third-generation tackle shop owner and charter captain. He makes his home on Topsail but loves fishing all over. Most of the time you can find him at East Coast Sports in Surf City or just contact him through his website at Eastcoastsports.com.