When it comes to fishing, we’re definitely spoiled here in the Keys. There are so many exciting species that we can target, that we often overlook one of the most exciting game fish of the fall and winter fishing seasons—the big king mackerel (kingfish). Not only do kingfish provide an electric drag-screaming fight on light tackle, but also they can grow upwards of 90 pounds! And, although kingfish are not usually considered as good of an eating fish as snapper, grouper, or dolphin, kingfish are a perfect fit for the smoker, offering a tasty treat for any seafood lover.

To target kingfish this time of year I generally prefer to slow troll (and live chum) with pilchards between 50 and 200 feet of water. Look for structure, color changes, and current edges, and put out a spread of two or three lines on the surface, while staggering one or two lines down deep. Spread out your bottom baits to target fish at different depths. I like to fish one bait halfway down, and another a few cranks off the bottom. Use 20-pound spinning gear with plenty of line on the spool, attached to a 40-pound fluorocarbon leader, and stretch of #3 to #5 wire, depending on the water clarity. Currently, the kingfish are beginning to show up in the deeper water. As the water cools expect more and more fish to arrive, and to move in shallower and onto the reefs.

Smoking your Catch
A few Keys establishments will smoke your catch for you, either in exchange for a share of the fish, or for a cash rate. If you’re on vacation, just don’t have the time to smoke your own fish, or don’t own a smoker (Home Depot sells inexpensive models for around $40), having someone smoke your catch will suffice. For the purists however, smoking your own fish is the only way to go.

When smoking kingfish, fillet both sides of the fish leaving the skin intact.  Cut the sides into uniform pieces to fit onto your smoker rack, and then brine the fish using any variation of salt, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, garlic powder, Old Bay, and water (Note: There are thousands of different brine recipes. Play around with what works best for you). Use at least one gallon of brine for every four pounds of fish. The amount of time you brine the fish will depend on the thickness of fillets and desired taste (the longer you brine, the saltier the fish will be).

Next, remove your fish from the brine and rinse with cold water. Allow the fillets to dry thoroughly until the surface begins to glaze over. Now it’s time to smoke the fish. As with brining, the temperature you smoke the fish, and the amount of time you leave it in the smoker, is up to you. According to Seafood Network Information Center, during the first two hours (of smoking), the temperature should not exceed 90°F. This completes the pellicle formation and develops brown coloring. After the initial two-hour period, raise the temperature to 150°F and smoke the fish for an additional four to eight hours. The length of time will depend on the thickness of the fish and on your preference for dry or moist smoked fish*.

Smoked Fish Dip Recipe

Preparing smoked fish dip is simple and delicious. Follow this basic recipe and then add in your favorite ingredients to suit your taste buds.

Courtesy of

• 2 cups flaked smoked whitefish
• 2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
• 4 tablespoons fat-free sour cream
• 1 pinch Old Bay ™ Seasoning
• 4 drops hot pepper sauce, or to taste
• 3 drops Worcestershire sauce, or to taste
• 3 drops liquid smoke flavoring (optional)
• cracked black pepper to taste

Place whitefish, mayonnaise, and sour cream in the bowl of a food processor. Season with Old Bay ™ seasoning, hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and cracked black pepper. Blend all ingredients until consistency reaches a spread.

President of the Marco Island Fishing Club Pete Arcidiacono boated a 19lb mutton caught in 190 feet of water while fishing aboard the Best Bet.


Marco Island resident Jim Mueller landed a 12 lb black grouper on 12 lb test on a recent trip with Capt. Jason Long.


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