Commonly called kingfish, the king mackerel can weigh up to 100 pounds, but most fish weigh between 5 to 35 pounds. They are strong, fast and known for making exciting leaps out of the water. Kingfish can be caught inshore or offshore.
Kingfish are a schooling and migrating fish that spends the winter months in south Florida then moves north along the Gulf coast and up the Atlantic coast to the Carolinas. Kingfish are targeted offshore near the reefs, wrecks, rock piles and oil rigs. Inshore, you can also find some kingfish along the beaches, near the surf, around piers, bridges and in the passes.
How to Catch Kingfish
Anglers typically troll inshore and nearshore for kingfish along the beaches. Kingfish can be found roaming the beaches looking for schools of bait fish. Most kingfish fishermen troll with live baits, but artificial spoons, jigs and crankbaits can also be effective. Bottom fishing with live bait is another way to catch kingfish. This can be productive inshore or offshore on the reefs, wrecks, rock piles and around oil rigs.
Kingfish fight great, but they aren’t so big that you have to upsize to shark gear. If you fish for bigger northern pike in freshwater, you have an idea of what type of gear you will need for kingfish. Use medium heavy to heavy action rods and reels with 20 to 30 pound test line and a good 40 to 80 pound leader. Most anglers will use a fluorocarbon or steel leader and longer leaders are better than shorter leaders with kingfish. Some go as long as 6 feet with their leader to avoid break-offs.
Kingfish get a lot of mixed reviews about their quality on the dinner table. Some anglers believe they taste good if they are put on ice right away and are cooked the same day that they are caught. There are plenty of people that think kingfish have a very strong fishy taste and they would consider them very poor-tasting compared to other fish. The people that give kingfish better reviews tend to eat them on the same day or the following day from when the fish was caught and they will soak the fish in milk or lemon juice for several hours to get rid of the strong fishy taste.
Smoker kingfish is just a name that is associated with a large kingfish (king mackerel). Anglers usually refer to a kingfish as a smoker kingfish when they are 20 pounds and over.
Kingfish are common in offshore waters over reefs, wrecks, rock piles, around oil rigs and in open water chasing schools of bait fish. With most saltwater fish that are found inshore and offshore, the bigger fish tend to be found offshore. With kingfish, there are plenty of huge kingfish that are found offshore, but most anglers report that they consistently catch bigger kingfish inshore along the beaches. At times, some of the biggest kingfish are caught in water less than 15 feet deep. Anglers that target kingfish offshore will usually fish with live bait on or near the bottom. You can use kingfish rigs that are pre-rigged and sold at most of the coastal tackle shops or you can use your favorite live bait bottom rig.
Just make sure you use a leader because kingfish can easily bite through light line with their sharp teeth. Wire leaders work well, but you get less bites than if you use a mono or fluorocarbon leader. We recommend going with a heavier leader with 50 pound test line or even heavier. While some fishermen report no problems with leaders as light as 25 pound test line, they are definitely the minority when it comes to fishing for kingfish.
Some of the biggest kingfish can be caught inshore near the beaches, in the surf, around piers, bridges and passes. In fact, in many kingfish tournaments, anglers often do very well in water less than 15 feet deep. Kingfish are usually on the move as they look for schools of bait fish. Anglers usually troll with live bait kingfish rigs around these schools of bait fish. You don’t have to troll for them though. If you can find some schools of bait fish inshore, you can usually catch some kingfish by fishing with live baits near the bottom. If artificial lures are more your thing, you can catch kingfish by casting and trolling spoons, crankbaits and jigs.
For the shore anglers, kingfish provide some of the most excitement you can find while fishing from shore. When these fish migrate into your area, it is not uncommon to hear of people catching kingfish from the surf, on the piers, bridges and jetties. They are not easy to catch, but since they will eat some of the same baits that other game fish will eat, it doesn’t hurt to target them. With live bait, jigs and spoons, there’s a good chance that you’ll catch something off of the piers, bridges, jetties or the surf and you’ll have a chance to catch a kingfish if one comes into your area. The biggest thing with the kingfish is that you’re going to need a wire leader or a very heavy mono or fluorocarbon leader to avoid bite-offs. These fish have sharp teeth and they can easily bite through lite line.
Using Leaders for Kingfish
Leaders are a must for kingfish, especially the bigger smoker kingfish. Because of their sharp teeth, they will easily bite through the lighter line. Some anglers use wire leaders, although, you will get less bites with the wire leaders. Mono and fluorocarbon work well as leaders, but it is still possible to get bitten off with very heavy line in the 50 to 80 pound test range. Anglers have reported good success with leaders as light as 25 pound test line, but you may not want to chance it and go with the heavier stuff from 50 pounds and higher. The length of the leader also plays a big part in whether or not your line will hold up or not. The bigger kingfish can easily make a turn and tail whip your line. If your leader isn’t long enough, they can cut your main line in an instant. There are plenty of pre-rigged kingfish rigs on the market that you can easily just connect to your main line and you are ready to start fishing.
Live & Natural Baits
Kingfish are opportunistic feeders and they will grab just about any smaller live bait that comes near them when they are hungry. They also feed on cut baits as well. Below, you will find some of the popular baits that are used for catching kingfish.
Best Fishing Rigs
At most bait and tackle shops located near coastal waters, you will be able to find pre-rigged kingfish rigs that usually consist of a wire leader with a single hook followed by a treble hook as the trailer hook. These rigs are great live bait rigs, but you can also use other rigs as long as you are using a heavy enough mono or fluorocarbon leader. Some anglers report good success with leaders as light as 25 pound test, while others won’t use anything below 50 pound test line as a leader. Leaders that are several feet long work better than shorter leaders. Below are some of the other rigs that you can use for catching kingfish.
Quick Strike Rig
Drop Shot Rig
Fish Finder Rig