Fishing for Kingfish in Key West
Kingfish are one of the most sought-after gamefish throughout their range from North Carolina to Texas.
Kingfish (Scomberomorus cavalla)
(Florida Record 90lbs.) The Kingfish, or King Mackerel, is the largest of the mackerel species, growing 19 to 35 inches in length, with a maximum reported size of 72 inches in length and 99 pounds in weight. Kingfish can be distinguished from the closely related Cero and Spanish Mackerels by the lack of a black spot on the rear portion of the first dorsal fin.
Kingfish are covered with tiny, loosely attached scales. The back of the fish is olive-black with iridescent blue and green colors, fading to silver with a rosy iridescence on the sides, and white on the belly. Some fish have distinct bars or spots, and young individuals under 10 pounds show 5 or 6 irregular rows of yellowish-brown spots on the flanks. Kingfish have large, closely spaced, flattened cutting-edged teeth very similar to those of Bluefish.
Kingfish Habitat and Behavior
The Kingfish is a subtropical species found along the western coast of the Atlantic Ocean and in the Gulf of Mexico. Two migratory groups of Kingfish exist in the western Atlantic. A Gulf of Mexico group lives along the Texas coast in summer and migrates to the middle-east coast of Florida from November through March. This group spawns off the northern Gulf Coast throughout the summer. An Atlantic group is found off North Carolina in the spring and fall. This group migrates to southeast Florida to spawn from May through August, and slowly returns north throughout the summer. The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico groups mix as they pass through south Florida waters.
Kingfish prefer outer reefs and coastal waters with depths between 75 to 115 feet, but larger fish over 20 lbs. often occur inshore in the mouths of inlets and harbors, around piers, and sometimes out to depths of 600 feet at the edge of the Gulf Stream. Kingfish are voracious, opportunistic carnivores that take different prey depending on their size, on the area, and on the season. In south Florida, ballyhoo are the food of choice for the Kingfish, while on the east coast of Florida, they prefer anchovies, flying fish, drums, jacks, mullet, and Spanish sardines.
Fishing for Kingfish
The Kingfish is similar to the Wahoo in speed, and is known for its reel-stripping runs. When Kingfish are spawning in the Atlantic and the Gulf, they can be found in huge schools. Guides look for large flocks of diving birds to help locate these schools. Kingfish can also be found around structure that holds baitfish.
Typical tackle includes a 7-foot 30-pound class rod mounted with a conventional or spinning reel capable of holding 300 yards of 30 lb. test line. Trolling with live or dead baitfish, spoons, or jigs is the most common way to catch Kingfish. A typical live-bait rig is two hooks tied to a strong metal leader, with the first hook placed through the live bait’s nose and/or mouth and the second hook put through the top of the back or allowed to swing free. This is done because Kingfish commonly bite the tail section of a baitfish. When trolling bait rigged this way, it is important to make sure the baitfish swims properly.