Although king mackerel are common off North Carolina, they are an incidental catch in northern areas. From Virginia northward, this sleek predator is generally caught from 10-30 miles out from the shoreline. When targeting king mackerel, anglers often look for wrecks, hills, and other abrupt changes in the bottom where baitfish congregate.
One of the simplest and most effective rigs for catching king mackerel is a #3 1/2 Drone spoon rigged on a #2 or #3 planer. The leader between the spoon and planer should consist of 50 pound test; 30 feet long with a swivel at mid-point. Planer rigs are usually fished as a flat line at about 6 knots.
A red and white seawitch/ballyhoo rig is also effective when fished way back on a rigger line. When fast trolling in the early season, natural colored or red and white cedar plugs fished on a flatline are also effective for catching king mackerel.
In North Carolina and Virginia, pier fishermen catch king mackerel using a unique form of live bait fishing. Anglers fishing at the pier ends use a 3 rod system to catch trophy kings.
The heart of the system is called a “Hatteras heaver”. These unusual outfits are made from large, stiff surf rod blanks. Using a “heaver”, anglers cast out a large sinker that is made especially for the task. The outfit’s only purpose is to act as a rigging line for live baits. A second rod is used for fishing a live bait via a release mechanism which is slid down the rigging line.
A third outfit is used to catch small fish around pier pilings for use as bait. In addition to king mackerel, pier specialiasts also catch cobia, sharks, and other species using this technique.