While it's possible to catch king mackerel with nearly any adequately sized spinning or conventional reel, anglers who take their kingfishing seriously choose conventional reels with three main features to subdue smokers. The qualities that pros demand - superb drag systems, ample line capacity and fast retrieve rates - help them tame a game fish known for making long, sizzling runs.
Since anglers rarely try to stop a streaking kingfish in its tracks, a drag's maximum "lock-down" strength becomes less important than the ability to work smoothly, says Dave Martin, president of Zebco (parent company to Fin-Nor). "I recommend the new Fin-Nor Offshore star-drag reels because of their wide drag range," he says. "You can set them lighter and fine-tune the drag at these lower pressures."
Capt. Stan "Stanman" Jarusinski (910-326-2392; www.captstanman.com) of Swansboro, North Carolina, uses Shimano Speedmaster reels for charter fishing and switches to Trinidads (size 20 and 30) at tournament time. "They have the most sensitive drag system I've ever used," says the veteran skipper, whose accomplishments earned him a place in the Southern Kingfish Association hall of fame. "Many times kings are not hooked in the mouth. To bring a foul-hooked money fish to the boat, you can only use about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of drag. And it better be smooth, or you'll pull the hooks!"
Kingfish rigs typically employ No. 4 trebles, small-gapped hooks that come free when anglers apply excessive pressure. "The ideal drag is highly, as well as gradually, adjustable. A lever drag with a steep curve may provide too much drag too quickly and pull small hooks from fast-moving fish," says Spencer Marchant, an avid kingfisherman and regional accounts manager for the Don Coffey Company (which represents Shimano in the Southeast). "Star drags offer access to the full spectrum of available tension in easily controlled increments. The more you turn in a given direction, the more or less drag you get."
Another SKA hall-of-famer, Capt. Marcus Kennedy trailers his 36-foot Yellowfin, Kwazar, from his home in Mobile, Alabama, to fish tournaments along the Gulf and East coasts. He uses lever-drag reels, namely Accurate's Boss B-665XC, and praises the smooth performance of their twin-drag design.
A silky, lightly set drag keeps kingfish from tearing loose on those trademark runs that can peel off hundreds of yards of line in just a few seconds. Savvy anglers protect their tournament-winning hopes with reels that hold enough line. How much is enough?
"At least 300 yards, but 400 is better," Kennedy says. "You need enough to compensate for occasional poor boat handling or if you hook two biguns that go in opposite directions."
Jarusinski recommends packing at least 400 yards of line. "After what happened to us at the SKA Nationals in Biloxi last year, I feel inclined to say you might need a little more," he admits. "Our fish made a huge run, maybe 350 yards, behind the boat. Because of nasty conditions - 30 mph winds, six- to eight-foot seas - the driver couldn't turn the boat without knocking us down. When the spool started to show, we told him he had to turn or we would lose the fish. We held on and he accelerated, spinning the boat very quickly so I could get the fish under control. We caught up to it, got straight up and down, and soon had a 42.21-pounder on the deck. Combined with the 33.47 we'd caught earlier, it was good for second place in the Class of 23 division."
Need for Speed
King mackerel can smoke several football fields' worth of line off a reel and then turn back to burn past the boat faster than you can say "world-class sprinter." Anglers try to keep pace by using high-speed reels.
"A 6:1 gear ratio is just right," Kennedy says. "It's fast enough to catch up on a quick fish but still has the power to crank up a bulldog. I find 4:1 a little slow, and 8:1 gives up some power."