Sometimes, catching a trophy fish is the result of years of experience and meticulous preparation. And sometimes you get lucky. Jeff McCoy, who recently set the Delaware state record for king mackerel, is the first to admit his catch falls in the lucky category. “I’ve never caught a king mackerel before,” he laughs.
King mackerel are an unusual catch in Delaware. The state’s fisheries department website lists king mackerel as “uncommon.” The previous state record of 48 pounds, 9 ounces was set in 1992 by Gordon Harris. A king mackerel over 10 pounds qualifies as a Delaware trophy. When Jeff McCoy set out shark fishing with his family, he never could have predicted how the day would end.
Accidental King Mackerel
McCoy calls himself a weekend warrior. “I’ve only been fishing in the ocean for a couple years,” he says. His in-laws and wife wanted to catch a big fish, so McCoy decided to try shark fishing. “It was only the third or fourth time we’ve tried to catch a shark,” he admits.
King mackerel fishing usually involves slow trolling live baits with light wire and small treble hooks. These sharp eyed fish are wary of heavy tackle and picky about their meals. Professional king mackerel anglers go to great lengths to fool these fish.
McCoy had none of that. Targeting sharks, he anchored his 25-foot center console Reel McCoy along a series of shallow shoals within a couple miles of the beach. The crew set out three PENN 50-pound class combos spooled with 80 pound test monofilament, a 4-foot, 100-pound wire leader and large, offset circle hooks.
McCoy was not able to catch live bait, so he was using frozen Boston mackerel he purchased at Hook ‘em and Cook ‘em Bait and Tackle. McCoy added a bucket of chum to the spread and set out three baits under balloon floats. “The boat was sitting at a strange angle to the chum slick, so I ran one line through an outrigger clip and dropped the bait way back.”
The crew settled in to wait for a bite. “The fish hit the bait and took off screaming,” McCoy recalls. Unfortunately, the reel was in free spool so the line exploded into a hopeless backlash. “I couldn’t clear the tangle so I tightened the drag and started lopping the line on top of the birdsnest.”
The battle raged for 15 minutes. “Even with the drag pinned, the fish was pulling line,” McCoy says. When the fish made its first pass, McCoy thought it was a wahoo. “I would have never imagined a king mackerel.”
When McCoy worked the king mackerel close to the boat, the fish shot to the bow and tangled the fishing line around the anchor rope. McCoy’s brother-in-law jumped to the rescue. Instead of cutting the fishing line, he cut the anchor rope, cleared the tangle and reconnected the anchor rope. “He saved the anchor,” McCoy points out.
Despite the smoker king’s best tricks, the crew landed the huge kingfish. “I never thought about the state record,” McCoy says.
Race to the Dock
McCoy didn’t have ice onboard, so they pulled the anchor and raced 18 miles back to Indian River Inlet.
When Reel McCoy pulled into Indian River Marina, the docks were quiet. McCoy figures, “Everyone was at lunch or out fishing.” The crew wheeled the huge king mackerel to the fish cleaning station. “I pulled it out of the cooler and the fish cleaners were shocked.”
Out of curiosity, McCoy decided to weigh the fish. “They told me I crushed the state record.”
In short order, representatives of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) were on the scene weighing the fish and helping McCoy fill out forms. Meanwhile, a crowd gathered to gawk at the catch.
“A week later they approved the record,” McCoy says. The 52-pound, 11.2-ounce king mackerel is already listed as the state record on DNREC website and the story has hit social media and national news. McCoy laughs, “My phone has been ringing.”
Grey’s Taxidermy is working on a replica of the catch. The state record holder says, “I’m going to look at it every chance I get.”
As for king mackerel fishing, McCoy is confident in his system. “We’re not going to change a thing.”