Key West is home to one the best mackerel fishing in the country. Mackerel fishing is big in the waters around the Keys and there’s no better way to land a few than with Captain Pepe’s Key West boat charters. Here’s everything you need to know about this great sportfish in the meantime

King Mackerel

The king mackerel is a migratory fish that can be found on both the Atlantic and Gulf sides of Key West, though they typically prefer warmer waters. Their habitat ranges from the Carolina coast down as far south as Brazil.  Often called ‘smokers’ because of their blazing speed, landing a king mackerel is truly a thrilling experience.

Size and Appearance

Along with the wahoo, the kingfish is one of the largest mackerel varieties, with a length that averages over three feet and a weight of somewhere between 10-30 pounds. Although you can sometimes land one in the 40s and 50s. Once a year or so someone catches ones over 60#.

The back of a king mackerel is usually an olive type color that lightens to silver and white toward the underbelly. You can distinguish a king from other Key West mackerel because they lack the dorsal black patch and the color patterns that the cero and the Spanish varieties present.

Fishing for King Mackerel

One key to landing these beauties is knowing where to find them. King mackerel tend to be found at depths between 50 and 150 feet, often in the vicinity of deeper shipwrecks and reefs.  They do cruise around in the shallows and once and while someone will catch a big smoker king in Hawks Channel in the shallows or in the harbor/northwest channel.

Trolling is popular for catching a king mackerel, but you should use a light drag because of how hard they hit and the speed at which they’ll take off once they’re hooked. In other words, it’s best to stay vigilant and be prepared for a long, vigorous fight if you’re trying to land one of these speedy swimmers.

You can use live or dead bait to a catch a king mackerel, and artificial lures sometimes work too. Ballyhoo, blue runners, and threadfin are all good live baits for catching king mackerel, but you can go with a striped anchovy or another sardine-like fish as well. One thing to remember is that a king has to be at least 24 inches long to keep and there’s a limit of two per day. You will need wire leader mackerels teeth cut fishing line likes its nothing.

Cero Mackerel

Next up is the cero mackerel, an aggressive, schooling fish that tends to swim under the radar compared to the king and the Spanish mackerel. But while these other species might be more fast and aggressive, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the experience of fighting a cero.

Multiple world record sized cero mackerel have been caught in the keys and Key West. They are very common on the reef pretty much year round.

Size and Appearance

Of middling size compared to the king and the Spanish mackerel, the typical cero weighs somewhere in the vicinity of 5 pounds, with an average length of about 20 inches. The cero is often referred to as the ‘painted mackerel’ because of the colorful spots and stripes it typically displays.

Fishing for Cero Mackerel

Cero mackerel tend to be found in the patch reef areas around Key West, often near places where the birds are particularly active. Voracious eaters, cero mackerel tend to go after whatever live bait swims in front of them, with small fish, squid, and shrimp being a few of their favorite meals. The cero mackerel is known to attack bait ferociously, leading to a quick, hard strike that you’ll need to stay ready for. Because they tend to be very reactive, quick and erratic movements are your best bet for landing a cero mackerel.