King Mackerel are one of the top trophy fish in Florida waters. They are so popular that there are tournaments dedicated to fishing for them and many anglers specifically target Kingfish. Also known as Smokers (if they are adult), this species can be fished for year-round on both the East and West Coast.
What Do Kingfish Look Like?
King Mackerel are a long, slim species. Their backs are a bluish-green. Their sides and bellies will fade to a silvery color. Kingfish have 2 dorsal fins; the front dorsal will be lighter while the second fin will have a dark splotch. The lateral line will drop sharply past the second dorsal fin.
Juveniles will sometimes have small, yellowish spots, not dissimilar to their species counterpart, the Spanish Mackerel. Adults can reach up to 72”. Kings are the largest of the 3 infamous Mackerels, the other 2 being Spanish Mackerel and Cero Mackerel.
Rules and Regulations
Gulf and Atlantic coasts have year-round open seasons for the marvelous Kingfish. Both coasts require a 24” minimum fork length. Anglers fishing in the Gulf of Mexico can take 3 Kings home daily. Atlantic fisherman can take 2 per harvester per day.
This coveted species requires specific gear, legally. Legal gear only includes hook & line and spearing; nets, of any kind, are not allowed when catching Kingfish.
Where Can I Find Plenty of King Mackerel
Kingfish like to keep to the coastal to offshore waters. They are often found around piers and other structures. This is not to say that they can’t be found in deeper waters. Shallow waters, 15-20 feet deep, are a likely place for anglers to target this species. Fishing local wrecks, reefs and inlets will likely produce your daily bag limit. If you can find a school of baitfish, you may get lucky and catch a school of King Mackerel following close behind.
Juveniles, a.k.a snakes, are the most abundant in our waters. With the year-round open seasons, Mackerels don’t get too much of a chance to grow much larger. If you want to catch the large trophy Kingfish, try the deeper waters (40-60+ feet down).
This native species likes to head offshore for spawning during the middle of summer. Kings are a migratory fish and travel in schools. The schools will travel into warmer waters during winter and back up northward during spring.
Tips & Tricks for Catching Your King Mackerel
Kingfish can be caught on just about any boat but using a medium to large center console could give you an edge. Look for 22 – 46-foot center consoles with additional ‘fishing’ option upgrades. Opt for twin-quad motor outfits to boost your speed. Look into boats with deep v’s, like Grady White or Cobia, to help cut through tough waters at high speed.
Being a serious Kingfish angler will require extra rigging. Depending on the location you wish to fish, arm your boat with various techniques like slow-trolling, kite fishing, drifting and anchoring. Along with various ways of fishing, you should always have several lines dropped at a time with a variety of baits.
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Kings generally feed on other smaller fish and some squid. When angling, they have been known to bite natural and artificial baits. Herring, sardines, ballyhoo and mullet are all great live baits. When it comes to artificial, try using shiny sub-surface lures and large fish-shaped plugs.
Mackerel have tiny, yet sharp teeth. If you are fishing for adult Kings, it is suggested to use a wire or monofilament leader; however, if you are only targeting juveniles, 20lb test will likely suffice.
When out on a boat, trolling is a popular way to target Mackerel. Be sure to not troll too fast; it is said that a dead idle is the ideal speed when using live baits. Troll these live baits over known reefs, wrecks and inlets.
Kingfish respond well to chumming the waters. Chumming will draw them close enough to your vessel where you can take your try at artificial lures. You can find some good Kings when by-fishing and trolling on your way out to the Middle Grounds.
How to Cook King Mackerel
King Mackerel make for excellent table fare. They have thick white meat that make for very adaptable fillets. Once filleted, Kings can be cooked in a variety of ways. Kingfish does have a slight oiliness and a few large bones, but the flavor is still rather pleasant.
Due to the oiliness, it is said that long, low-temperature cooking methods make this fish even more delectable; however, grilling and searing make for fantastic cooking methods as well. This Grilled King Mackerel with Garlic Butter is sure to be a hit!
The large adults have a nickname, Smokers, which is fitting. Smoking these fish over hickory or oak wood will keep the fillets moist and give them a nice smokey flavor. Before smoking, sprinkle your fish with you favorite seasoning. Then, smoking your fillets for 45-55 minutes and cooking to at least 130 degrees in the thickest portion should do the trick.
On both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, you can target King Mackerel year-round. Try your chance at trolling, anchoring or structure fishing for your Kings. Stick to the varieties of hook & line and spearfishing. If you are on the west coast, you can take 3 Kingfish home daily, while the east coast can take 2.
Once you’ve caught, cleaned and cut your catch, try playing around with the cooking methods. Smoking is a popular choice, but you can also try grilling, sautéing, stewing or searing. The secret is to simply season the fish to your liking, then let the cooking method do the rest.