John's Journal...

Alabama’s Target-Rich Mackerel Waters

Click to enlargeAll Types of Reef Materials

Editor’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 material out to the reef-building zone and deploy that material Click to enlargewithout 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.

Back in the early 1950s, an airplane crashed off Orange Beach, Alabama, out in the Gulf of Mexico. Captain Roland Walker went to the wreck and caught some unbelievable-sized red snapper. After a few state politicians fished with Walker, the state started an intensive reef-building campaign. Using funds from the Dingell-Johnson Act and state matching Click to enlargemonies, AMRD sank 1500 car bodies out in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the recognition of the value of artificial reefs and their fishing potential, the state applied early for a general permit for reef building. This process made reef building quicker, easier and faster and enabled more sportsmen, charter-boat captains and state and federal agencies to build more reefs for the fish on Alabama’s Gulf Coast.
"The artificial reefs off Alabama's Coast have made a big difference in our fishing success," Captain Don Walker of Orange Beach said. "When I first started fishing off Orange Beach, we only had a few reefs to fish. Most of the captains built their own reefs and didn't tell anybody the locations of their hotspots. Now more and more captains in all the Gulf States are building reefs as are the state governments bordering the gulf, the federal government and hundreds of individual anglers. What we've done is create a tremendous amount of habitat to raise more fish on each year."

Captain Iris Ethridge of Orange Beach, Alabama, realized that a trolling alley for king mackerel and Spanish mackerel close to shore would allow small boats and big boats to troll for kings and Spanish. But Ethridge knew the region needed some type of bottom structure to hold the baitfish on which the kings and Spanish would feed along a feeding lane between two Click to enlargemajor reefs. A resourceful captain, this retired schoolteacher began to look for reef-building materials and came upon 124-obsolete voting machines weighing 830-pounds each. Working with county officials, she helped to obtain the voting machines to use them for reef material. Ethridge worked with Vernon Minton, director of the Marine Resources Division (AMRD) for Alabama's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, to develop a plan to deploy the voting machines in a line 1.5-miles long between the sunken “Liberty” ship, the “Allen,” and the Bridge Rubble Reef. Volunteers cabled the voting machines together in groups of four and placed them in a line between these two already-established major artificial reefs, completing the trolling alley in October 1997.
According to Minton, “We enhanced the trolling alley with some bridge rubble, concrete and large boulders since we originally put in the voting machines. We’ve really been surprised at how well the voting machines have stayed intact and created many reefs along which king mackerel can feed.” Today Alabama's trolling alley produces king and Spanish mackerel for thousands of gulf visitors to the Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan areas.

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: Places to Catch King Mackerel

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 2