Put The Sting On Kings: King Mackerel Fishing

Put The Sting On Kings: King Mackerel Fishing

Car wrecks, floods, and tornadoes -- these are among the hazards typically considered by insurance companies. However, if an actuary were to calculate the survival chances of monofilament line's collision with a set of dagger-sharp teeth moving at 30 miles per hour, your kingfish rig would never get a policy.

Even if an attacking kingfish spares your mono, this predator feeds by slicing meals into immobilized chunks and gobbling the easy mouthfuls. Anglers taming these wily speedsters use an assortment of rig designs to put the brakes on one of the sea's most fleet-footed denizens.


King mackerel roam the entire Gulf of Mexico, but wherever they go, the essential element for consistently bagging the big ones is a stinger rig. In its simplest form, the stinger comprises a front hook set through the nose, mouth or forehead of a baitfish and a treble hook connected to the first hook with a 3- to 5-inch piece of wire affixed to the eye or bend of the lead hook. Essentially, the lead hook just tethers the baitfish, while the trailing stinger usually ends up snaring the king.

Rigs occasionally hook kings in the mouth, but other times the treble grabs the kings in the face, gill covers or head area. Either way, stingers beat kingfish at their own game by ensuring that the bait bites back from practically any attack angle.

The big "smoker" kings are keen-eyed and cautious, so it often takes some creative rigging to tempt and fool them. With considerations such as water clarity, weather conditions and expected fish size influencing specifics, rig options are innumerable, but these specialized configurations cover just about any kingfish scenario.


Large live baits like jumbo blue runners, ladyfish and mullet offer more meat for a king to bite, so you'll want to protect this real estate with multiple stingers. Big baits intimidate smaller kingfish, but those hefty enough to merit extended rigs appeal to the smokers you want. Considering the biting power of a kingfish in the 30-plus-pound range, No. 4 leader wire and No. 4 or 5 wire on the stinger segments is a good bet for Gulf waters.

Starting with a single 2/0 lead hook, add trailing segments wired to No. 4 treble hooks. Some anglers will "peg" all stingers on a big-bait rig, as this keeps the hooks right near the strike zone. However, others let the last stinger dangle because this provides more mobility for the hook to snag kings that may miss the bait on an awkward pass.

Converting standard stingers into multiple rigs is simply a matter of attaching additional trailing segments. Conversely, lengthy rigs are shortened to suit bait needs by clipping off unneeded stingers.


A big presentation isn't always limited to a single whopper bait. Tweaking the concept of a multiple stinger rig, tournament anglers often run two baitfish staggered on a single rig. The objective is to present kingfish a big meal potential through double portions.

Use a 2/0 nose hook, connect a No. 4 treble with a 4-inch piece of No. 4 or No. 5 wire and finish by attaching a second trailer segment with the same tackle. The first stinger hook doubles as a nose hook for the second bait. Experiment with rig sections until your baits run cleanly in a staggered presentation.

When kings are scattered, or if a slow tide has the fish napping, run several double rigs to put as much bait in the water as possible. For a big impression, double a Double Trouble rig and tow a quartet of livies from a single line. A couple of these rigs present a buffet kings can't ignore.

A good strategy when you only have small baits or if a tough bite requires a different look in the spread, double rigs work best with weaker baits such as menhaden, threadfin herring and scaled sardines. Blue runners and other brawny baits fight the rig and tangle wires -- often to the point of breakage.


Atlantic cutlassfish, known as "silver eels" or "ribbonfish" typically intimidate juvenile "schoolie" kings and appeal more to the heavyweights. A common downrigger bait, ribbons are trolled dead, so you need a modified rig for proper presentation.

The basic rig begins with a 1/4-ounce butterbean style jig set through the bait's jaws from bottom to top. A jig head balances the bait and gives it a natural nose-down swimming action. The semi-flattened jig also imparts side-to-side action.

From the eye of the jig, anglers rig a multiple-stinger chain with each trailer segment 3 to 5 inches long. Coating stinger hooks with chrome spray paint camouflages them against a ribbon's shiny sides.

On the other hand, some believe that the bright red finish of Daiichi's Bleeding Bait trebles entices kingfish strikes by giving the appearance of wounded prey. Similarly, some anglers believe skirted or brightly colored jigs work best, while others keep it bland and rely on the ribbon's natural motion to put on the show.


The hybrid "zombie" rig is all about the predator-prey relationship. Essentially, when one fish chases another one, there's often an even larger predator looking for the chance to steal the show. The zombie rig, which simulates a live ribbonfish pursuing a menhaden, threadfin, scaled sardine or squid creates a point of activity that entices kingfish.

Build a standard ribbonfish rig, but link it to a single stinger rig with a 5- to 7-inch piece of No. 5 wire running from the eye of the front rig's stinger to the eye of the ribbonfish jig. When trolled, the live bait darts erratically in an effort to avoid what it believes to be a live predator. This imparts swimming action to the dead ribbonfish and perpetuates the presentation.

To minimize the risk of tangling, deploy a zombie rig at boat side and let the current pull it back into position.


Serious kingfish trollers often employ downriggers to target kings throughout the water column. Such controlled-depth fishing proves highly effective in many scenarios, but when you just want to pull those baits a few feet under the surface, a little stinger strategy is all you need.

The first option is hook position. With big, durable baits like blue runners, mullet or bluefish, stick the lead hook into the top of the bait's head, just under the skin. This topside irritation will make the bait swim downward in an attempt to escape the nuisance.

Another tactic combines elements of dead-bait trolling and largemouth bass fishing. Blue water anglers targeting sailfish, marlin, dolphin and tuna often troll dead ballyhoo with weights wired beneath their chins to reach deeper into the water column. Live bait kingfish trollers can effect similar results without saddling a livie with too much lead.

Simply slip a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce bullet weight used for Texas-rigged bass worms onto the leader so the wide end sits atop the stinger. The conical profile trolls well and subtly guides a live bait deeper into the water.

The spontaneity and unpredictability that makes live bait kingfishing so attractive also makes it supremely challenging. Bottom line -- you never know what a day on the water will present. From baitfish size and availability, to water clarity and fish temperament, variables are many, so carry a broad assortment of configurations with hook and wire size variations to keep you prepared for any situation.

Also, keep an assortment of wire, swivels and hooks available for impromptu rigging. A flurry of activity can exhaust your pre-rigged supply, and missing a bite because of ill-prepared gear is inexcusable. Think ahead and consider what size tackle you most likely need for the area and conditions you are fishing. Cover your bases with a selection of smaller and larger items and you are ready to "sting the king."

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You

Other Hunting

New Gear: MidwayUSA Competition Range Bag

G&F Staff

Perfect for competition or a day at the range.


Find and Fish Bluegill Beds Efficiently

Terry Madewell - May 22, 2019

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

BPT Points Champ Edwin Evers Talks New Berkley Baits

After making the switch to Berkley products heading into the inaugural BPT season, Edwin Evers tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead why Berkley baits played such a key role in his recent angling success.

New Abu Garcia Baitcasting Reels

In the booth of one of fishing's all-time great reel makers, Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead and Andrew Wheeler of Pure Fishing discuss one of the brand new baitcasting reels from Abu Garcia being released at ICAST 2019.

Mustad Skatter Shad Bladed Jig

As Mustad continues to expand into an all-around tackle company, Reid McKinstry shows off some innovative features that make the Mustad Skatter Shad bladed jig a winner in big bass waters.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories


12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.


10 Best Long-Range Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range


Understanding Catfish Spawning

Keith Sutton - June 06, 2006

Unlike many game fish, catfish can be harder to catch during the spawn. Here are some...

See More Stories

More Saltwater


Top Tactics for Catching Tidal Redfish

Jimmy Jacobs - June 04, 2019

Red drum are found feeding on low, high or in-between tides. Understand this and catch more...


Popping Corks Work When Other Tactics Fail

John N. Felsher

This old technique will help you locate and catch speckled trout and other inshore species.


Georgia Woman Catches Record Mutton Snapper

Lynn Burkhead

Janet Monroe's 18-pound, 9.92-ounce fish is certified by state officials.

See More Saltwater

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.