July each year means fishing for king mackerel. If you're practicing or fishing with members of the Southern Kingfish Association, carry a coffee can with you. After running 50, 60 or 70 mph for two to four hours, you'll need a place to store all the screws, nuts, bolts and washers that have jarred loose from the boat.

The port of Biloxi weighs in some of the biggest king mackerel in SKA tournaments.

"For a chance to win an SKA tournament out of Biloxi, you have to weigh in a king mackerel of 50 pounds or more," said Ryan Byrd of D'Iberville.

For six years, Byrd fished professionally on the SKA circuit, but he's fished for king mackerel most of his life. Byrd and his crew of four firemen and one policeman finished fifth in their district and 31st in the national tournament. But you don't have to have tournament-angling experience to find and catch the big king mackerel that roam offshore between Biloxi and the Mississippi River.

"The oil and the gas rigs out in the Gulf of Mexico hold a tremendous amount of bait that not only attracts the big king mackerel but many other species of fish," Byrd said. "The Gulf of Mexico forms a pocket that holds bait close to Biloxi. The water in this section is warm. Those big kings can move in, feed on the abundance of bait and survive to the older-age classes."


Where to find the big kings

When Byrd searches for an area holding big king mackerel, he first looks for the right water temperature.

"I want to find water temperatures of about 65 to 75 degrees in what we call king green-colored water," Byrd said.

According to Byrd, king green-colored water's not the cobalt-blue water like that off the continental shelf or the green water you'll often see closer to shore, but looks bluish-green.

"Instead of spending money and time attempting to locate this kind of water, use the Internet to find this water before launching your boat," Byrd advised. "We use www.baittracker.com, compiled by Marty Wilson out of Biloxi. This site provides the water temperature, the water clarity and the location of the baitfish. Also, you'll find the location of the rip lines, as well as the wave heights.

"I use this site not only when I'm fishing for king mackerel, but also when I'm fishing for marlin. You can save a lot of time and money you'll have to spend running and looking by simply visiting this website and getting the coordinates for the type of water you want to fish."

Although Byrd and his crew primarily fish around oil and gas rigs, they also fish above artificial reefs and live bottoms. However, Byrd mentioned that he and his team generally catch their biggest king mackerel around rigs.

"The rigs have a lot of structure that can hold a number of baitfish and predator fish, and the baitfish school right under the rigs and also out in the water away from the rigs," he said. "Our best rigs have been Rig City, CA125 and Main Pass 165. But remember, big king mackerel have wide tails and swim around a lot. So on any given day, the big kings can be holding on any rig."


Rigging for monster kings

Most serious king mackerel fishermen use 7-foot rods with Shimano Torium reels.

"We fish with 12- to 25-pound-test Ande monofilament line with about 300 yards on a spool," Byrd explained.

At the end of the line, Byrd ties on a barrel swivel, and on the other end of the barrel swivel, he ties on 3 feet of 60- to 65-pound-test wire leader. Then he attaches a No. 3/0 circle hook to the wire leader. From the bend in the circle hook, he attaches a 6- to 8-inch piece of wire leader and then a No. 3/0 treble hook on the end of the leader. From one of the hooks on the treble hook, Byrd ties another 6- to 8-inch piece of wire leader. Then on the end of this piece of wire, he attaches a second No. 3/0 treble hook.

Slash feeders, the king mackerel will attack bait, often cutting the bait in half, eating the first half and then circling around and eating the second half. If you use only a single hook, you have a 50-50 chance of missing the king when it bites. By having this three-hook rig and placing the first circle hook into the nose of the bait and the other two treble hooks down the side of the bait, even if the king misses the circle hook, the treble hooks will catch it. Most mackerel fishermen use this set-up when baiting with blue runners (hardtails) or other large live bait.

"The blue runner is the No. 1 bait for big king mackerel," Byrd said. "We catch these fishing close to the rigs by using several small flies with a weight at the end of the leader to take the flies down. Using light spinning tackle, we cast this rig out. As the flies fall and we start to reel in the flies, the blue runners will attack. We put them in our livewells to use for baits later."

Byrd and his crew generally will pull four live-bait lines off the stern of the boat. They'll rig four rods the same, but let the lines out at varying distances from the boat.

"One center line will be back about 125 yards behind the boat, the second center line will be close to the boat right behind the prop wash, the line on the right side of the boat will be out 40 yards behind the boat and the line on the left side of the boat will be out about 80 yards," Byrd said.

Next, the crew puts down baits on two downriggers at various depths.

"We fish them from 30- to 130-feet deep," Byrd said.

When Byrd and his crew start fishing, they'll lower their downrigger balls to about 50 feet deep. If they're not getting any bites at 50 feet, they'll raise one of the downrigger balls up to 30 feet and lower the second downrigger to 80 feet. Six to 8 feet of line will float behind the downrigger ball, and the same three-rig hook-up (one circle and two treble hooks) used to fish the blue runners near the surface will float at the end of the line.

They use ribbonfish bait on the downriggers. You can buy ribbonfish easily, and the kings really seem to like this bait because it has a lot of action and gives off a lot of flash.

"Occasionally, we'll use a live blue runner on the downriggers," Byrd said, "especially if we're not getting any king mackerel bites on the ribbonfish."


Fish on!

When a big king mackerel takes one of the baits, all hands on deck scurry around and reel in the lines the fish haven't taken as quickly as possible. Then the lines won't interfere with the angler fighting the fish. The angler who's catching the fish takes the rod out of the holder and heads to the front of the boat to begin the chase.

"We keep the drags on our reels set as lightly as possible," Byrd said. "We want it to be just enough drag so the line doesn't pull off the reel as we're trolling at about 3 mph or less. Then when the king mackerel takes the bait, we want it to be able to pull off line, and the fishermen to run to the front of the boat and point in the direction in which the king's traveling. This way, the person who is steering the boat can chase down the king mackerel."

If Byrd and his crew try to muscle in the king mackerel using light line and rods, more than likely the fish will break the line. The angler lets the weight and the resistance of the line dragging through the water start to wear down the fish as the crew and fishermen chase it with the boat.

"As we get close to the king mackerel, we try and determine its weight," Byrd said. "If this is the first king mackerel of the day, we'll put it in our ice chest. However, if we have a king mackerel in our ice chest, we first want to determine if the one we have on the line is bigger, the same size or smaller than the king already in the ice chest. If the king is the same size or smaller than the one we have in the chest, we'll reel it to the side of the boat, cut the line, release it and look for another fish.

"If it's bigger than the fish in the ice chest, we'll bring the king to the side of the boat where it usually will start swimming frantically in a circle. As the angler works the king to the surface, one of our team members will gaff the fish and bring it on board. When we're fishing any tournament out of Biloxi, we need to catch a king mackerel that weighs 50 pounds or more to be in contention to win."

Anglers have brought 60-pound-plus kings into the port of Biloxi, and many area anglers think bigger kings may concentrate around the rigs.