John's Journal...

Alabama’s Target-Rich Mackerel Waters

The War Zone

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: Anglers on the Gulf Coast will find a target-rich environment there for hunting big kingfish. The State of Alabama has the largest artificial reef-building program in the nation, and many of these reefs have big king mackerel swarming over them. The Department of Conservation's Marine Resources Division has charted hundreds of public reefs with Loran coordinates and DGPS coordinates at You also can pull down maps of the area at this site. For each public reef you pinpoint on the map, three to 10 unmarked and unnamed reefs may exist within the designated reef-building area. The state permits individuals to carry reef Click to enlargematerial out to the reef-building zone and deploy that material without having to tell anyone the exact location. When you’re fishing for king mackerel, keep your depth finder on, and search for hidden reefs as you go back and forth to the reefs you plan to fish. Artificial reefs attract baitfish that will draw in big king mackerel. Generally the bigger reefs will attract the larger mackerel. However, anglers may locate big-king honey holes on the many small reefs that most fishermen will overlook.

Alabama’s artificial reef-building zones resemble underwater war zones. In 1970, Alabama called on its legislative delegation to purchase six mothballed “Liberty” ships to sink as artificial reefs in the Gulf of Click to enlargeMexico. These ships attracted large numbers of baitfish as well as bottom feeders and big king mackerel. Herbert Malone, the executive director of the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, invited my son John and myself to fish one time on the “Liberty” ships for king mackerel with him. We pulled up, anchored down and fished with live pinfish on spinning tackle – 7-foot rods with big saltwater reels and 20-pound-test monofilament line. At the ends of our lines, we each tied a 60-pound-test barrel swivel. On the other end of the swivel, we each attached 2 to 3 feet of single-strand wire leader and an Eagle Claw No. 2 hook. Coming off the shank of the hook, we fastened a 5-inch piece of the same wire leader to a Click to enlargeNo. 2 treble hook that we allowed to swing free. We didn’t place the hooks in the pinfish. We immediately began to catch king mackerel with this tackle, primarily fish weighing between 15- to 18-pounds each. We hoped to tie into some “smoker” kings, so named because as a mackerel strips drag off a reel at a fast pace, the water on the line will make the reel look as though it’s smoking. Anglers also call king mackerel smokers because they’ll have delicious-tasting kings to eat, if they cut the kings cross-ways into steaks and slow-smoke them. Not only will you find sunken decommissioned “Liberty” ships on the Gulf Coast bottom but also more than 100-demilitarized WWII, Korean and Vietnam war tanks as well. Deployed in 1994 in the Reef-Ex Program, these many tanks today form a grid of artificial reefs on the gulf's bottom.

For more information on the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, visit, or call 800-745-SAND.

To learn more about fishing the Gulf Coast, contact the Orange Beach Fishing Association at 251-981-2300, or visit

Tomorrow: All Types of Reef Materials


Check back each day this week for more about "Alabama’s Target-Rich Mackerel Waters"

Day 1: The War Zone
Day 2: All Types of Reef Materials
Day 3: Places to Catch King Mackerel
Day 4: Kings of the Night
Day 5: Fish the Platforms at Night


Entry 354, Day 1