Story + Photos by Collins Doughtie
Writing each month about a different species of fish found in our waters, I feel like I really dropped the ball waiting this long to write about one fish that anyone with a boat can catch. I’m talking about king mackerel — without a doubt, our fastest, most vicious and exciting fish to catch. Loaded with razor-sharp teeth, they attack a bait at Mach-like speeds and can dump line off a reel so fast it’s a blur. More than once I have had reels dumped of two or three hundred yards of line by big kings where there was just no stopping them. The ultimate is when one sees your live bait and comes straight up in the air, bait in mouth, teeth gnashing, reaching heights up to seven to 10 feet. In a nutshell, king mackerel are the cat’s you-know-what.
How to catch them
I prefer medium spinning rods with a sensitive tip with large capacity reels. As for line, 30 lb. braid with about four feet of 40 lb. test fluorocarbon leader attached to a swivel with a foot or two of wire leader with two #4 extra strong treble hooks, set about 10 inches apart from one another. Personally, I use 60 lb. bronze color uncoated braided wire leader because it doesn’t kink. To tie on swivel and hooks, use a simple clinch knot with only three twists, not the usual six or seven. Set your reel’s drag very light because a king’s first run is a scorcher. As for bait, live menhaden are the easiest to catch and I put one on each hook. Live mullet also work well, but if you want to go “old school,” troll ballyhoo on a wire leader with a Sea Witch in front or put down a #4 Drone spoon behind a #3 planer. They all work.
The limit for king mackerel is fairly liberal, allowing each angler to harvest three fish per day with a fork length over 24 inches. With that said, even a smallish king is a whole lot of meat, so should you catch a bunch, release some. From experience, kings in the low to mid 20-pound range are the best eating, while big kings over 35 pounds, often called “smoker kings,” are best released. Their flesh is mushy and most importantly, they are the breeders that will ensure a healthy population for years to come.
Almost as many recipes as Bubba Gump’s shrimp!
Touching on a couple of the most popular recipes preparing king mackerel, I’ll start with my favorite: Fried! Cut fillets into two- or three-bite strips, batter ‘em and drop them in the grease! A really great batter is McCormick’s “Golden Dipt Beer Batter Mix” with a healthy dose of “Blackened Redfish Magic” spice added. Since I eat lots of fish, owning a Fry Daddy makes the whole process a breeze. If you prefer grilling, marinate manageable size pieces in Italian salad dressing for 5-10 minutes, throw on a touch of salt and pepper, a squirt of lemon juice and grill on medium low. As I always say, don’t overcook fish. Less is definitely best!
LOCAL Life Test Kitchen – Fried king mackerel with fish sauce
1 1/2 pounds king mackerel fillets
1 cup McCormick Golden Dipt Fish ‘n Chips Seafood Batter Mix
2/3 cups water
Directions  Pour oil into deep fryer, large heavy skillet or saucepan, filling no more than 1/3 full. Heat oil to 375 degrees on medium heat.  Stir batter mix and water in medium bowl, until smooth.  Dip king mackerel fillets into batter and shake off excess. Carefully add fish, several pieces at a time, to hot oil.  Fry 3-5 minutes, turning once to brown evenly, until fish is golden brown and flakes easily with a fork. Drain on paper towels. Plate with fish sauce.
Ingredients (fish sauce)
6 cloves garlic, chopped
Zest of 1 small lemon
3 tablespoons sea salt, ground
6 bay leaves
3 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 pounds king mackerel
2 tablespoons sauerkraut brine
2 cups water
Directions  Muddle the garlic, lemon zest and sea salt.  Rinse the king mackerel, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces.  Toss the fish pieces (including the heads and tails) in the muddled mixture and completely coat the fish. Add in the peppercorns and bay leaves. Lightly pack the mixture into a clean 1-quart mason jar, pressing down on the pieces as you go to release the juices.  Pour the sauerkraut brine or whey into the jar, then pour in as much water as needed to completely submerge the fish. Be sure to leave at least 1-inch of headspace at the top of the jar, as the mixture will expand as it ferments.  Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for 2-3 days, then move to the refrigerator and let sit for 4-6 weeks.  Double strain the mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth and discard the solids. Store in glass bottles in the refrigerator for six months.