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The Saltwater Magazine for Gulf Coast Fishing!

Louisiana's Fall Kings

Pete Cooper, Jr.
Fall 1999

 Now's the time for hot action with Louisiana's king mackerel.

The next time you are surfing the 'net, make a hit on the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association's web-site (laoutdoorwriters.com). Then click on "La. Game Fish Records" in the left-hand column, and after the program up-loads, scroll down a ways to the listing for king mackerel. There you will notice that all of the state's top ten fish were caught during autumn. They are big fish, too! And if you scroll down a little further you will also see that the top fly-caught king was taken in the fall. I was, and still am, rather proud of that one!
 
During autumn big king mackerel from all over the Gulf move into the waters off the Louisiana coast to spawn. Back in 1977 when I bought my first "offshore boat", I knew almost as much about fishing for them as I did about computers, and that was next to nothing. Fact is, the first kings I caught from it were "incidentals" which struck Pet 21 spoons on summer trips pursuing tarpon. Back then kings were not very high on my list of preferred targets, and a lot of my "autumn-time" was spent hunting rather than fishing, so I really cared less whether or not big kings were around during the first split of the duck season. Man, has that attitude ever changed!
 
Anyway, just prior to its opening I began to make a few trips after snappers around the platforms in West Delta's 150 to 200-foot depths. On one of those we set out a freshly caught pound-sized white trout on 30-pound trolling gear - just to see what we might catch on a drift-line we were quickly rewarded with a 20-pound king.
 
Live-baiting around petroleum platforms has been a proven technique for autumn kings for decades. Some of the best of those platforms are found around the Delta: West Delta Blocks 41, 61, and 90, South Pass 62 (The infamous "24-Mile Rigs") and 78, and Main Pass 299 (The sulphur mine) and 306 (the "Horseshoe Rigs"). Assuredly others can provide excellent action at times, and kings can certainly be taken in other areas along the coast. Those mentioned have simply been the most consistently productive.
 
While live white trout make fine baits, many king mackerel aces prefer blue runners, aka "hardtails." I have never caught a king on a hardtail, but a lot of folks who run the SKA tournament trail swear by them. However, during autumn hardtails can sometimes be difficult to locate. In their stead try bluefish. Those pests are often thick at this time around moderate-depth platforms in the upper quarter of the water column and can be easily caught on speck-sized jigs fished with a short wire trace. Those in the one to two-pound class are best, but if I simply had to catch a king around a platform, I'd do my absolute best to catch a white trout first!
 
Better still, though I doubt I'd win any SKA tournament by doing so, I'd troll CD18 Magnum Rapalas. I like trolling a lot more than live-bait fishing, probably because I have caught a lot more kings that way. Trolling also led to my largest king, though I did little to account for its capture other than crank it in. Still, the incident led to a revelation.
Two magazine editors had come down to the Delta that particular October to fish with me for four days. Their main interest was to acquire lots of photographs of specks and redfish and, if possible, some of kings. So I made arrangements with a friend, the late Capt. "Magic Mike" Adams, for an offshore trolling trip on my guests third day - a cloudy, cool, and breezy day with the Gulf showing a marked similarity to the southern Appalachian Mountains.
 
Once we had beaten our way about three miles south of the mouth of Southwest Pass, we set out three Rapalas on 50-pound trolling gear. I don't remember the lengths of the two longest lines, but I do recall that the swivel connecting the line to the five-foot wire leader on the short-line rod would occasionally break the surface. In other words, the short-line was short!
 
The mate had barely set the spread, and we were all settling into receiving a steady, rock-and-roll beating, when the short-line rod went down. One of the editors - we'll call him "Bob" - took the rod, and a while later we boated a diminutive 15-pounder. Throughout the fight Bob had pitched and heaved rather violently in the cockpit, struggling to keep his balance. He was also subjected to a heavy dose of exhaust fumes from the boats pair of big diesels, so it wasn't long thereafter before he retired to the salon with an ashen hue and a badly upset stomach. The mate soon followed.
 
15-pound kings don't make very interesting pictures, so I re-set the spread, and we again began trolling in hopes of a bigger one. I was alone in the cockpit, Magic Mike was on the helm, and the other editor was on the bridge with him ready to shoot pictures - and then the short-line rod went down again. Well, what would you have done in my place? The fish was about 45 pounds, and many pictures were taken of it once we gained quieter water behind the Southwest Pass jetties. Yes, I did feel guilty about being the one to catch it, but only a little. That aside, since then fully three-quarters of the kings I have taken while trolling have been on a short, short line!
 
I have no idea why Magic Mike began trolling where he did. Perhaps he saw something he liked on the screen of his depth recorder - a bunch of baitfish or even the kings themselves - or something on the Gulf's lumpy surface which I didn't notice. Whatever the case, that area of the open Gulf roughly midway between the Southwest Pass jetties and the platforms in South Pass 78 has produced a lot of autumn kings since then.
And speaking of Southwest Pass, as I mentioned earlier if I had to catch a king around a platform on live bait, I'd deploy a white trout on a drift line. But if I simply had to catch a king, I'd troll, and if my life depended on catching one, I'd troll off Southwest Pass's east jetty. During autumn that could be the best spot for kings in the entire Gulf!
They are good fish, too, averaging around 25 pounds but with much larger ones being common. At this time they feed primarily on mullet, so the "Mag-Raps" which are so effective here apparently serve as close enough look-alikes.
 
Rigging them is quite simple. First, take a 5-foot length of 100-pound single-strand wire, make a haywire twist on one end, and attach the lure to the other end with another twist. Then tie a black 100-pound ball-bearing snap-swivel to the line with a Palomar knot and snap on the leader. Set back no more than three with one in the wheel-wash (Even that many can lead to irreconcilable cockpit chaos when the kings are on a tear, as they often are.), and pull them at 3 or 4 knots. Light trolling gear with reels holding around 300 yards of 20 or 30-pound line is preferred.
 
If you decide to venture here for the expressed purpose of catching kings until you are beat to the bone (Yet only keeping two at the most, if you please.), you will probably see a group of boats anchored at the foot of the jetty. They are fishing for redfish - and probably losing a lot of their jigs to kings in the process. For them, and for you, if you decide to join them after you have caught enough kings, I strongly suggest using a short wire trace ahead of your jigs any time you fish here! However, until you decide to join them I suggest you steer clear of them and begin trolling in less-crowded water.
While kings are frequently seen skyrocketing some distance from the jetty, the best water is usually within 50 to 60 feet of it. I prefer trolling on a fairly straight course roughly that distance from it; a zig-zag pattern will also work, but unless you are having absolutely no action (Which isn't likely!), and the free-jumping kings outside of you a ways are really thick, you should zig no more than 100 feet away from the rocks. Expect strikes anywhere from the foot of the jetty to the wrecked ship which is not quite a mile to the north, against the rocks, and just beneath the surface. In other words, keep an eye out for the swells breaking over it so you won't hit it!
 
Autumn's Louisiana king thing has been pleasing anglers for many years. Even I - who do my best to avoid them during the remainder of the year - make two or three directed trips after them around Thanksgiving, usually to Southwest Pass where I often fish for them with flies. But whatever your preference in gear is, you should take advantage of this opportunity. The fish are plentiful, they are big, and they are usually hungry. What more could you ask for?
 
Several charter services are available for experiencing the Mississippi River Delta's autumn king thing. Contact Cypress Cove Marina (504-534-9289) or the Venice Marina (504-534-9357) for listings and further information.

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