King Mackerel (Kingfish) Fishing (Scomberomorus cavalla)

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King Mackerel (Kingfish) Fishing (Scomberomorus cavalla)

Commonly known as Kingfish, this species of Mackerel is sought out in sportfishing for its powerful short runs and, sometimes, spectacular aerial displays. It's also a popular commercial catch, highly abundant and easily reachable off the Florida coast.

Kingfish are highly migratory and schooling, residing in both coastal and pelagic waters from 40 to 120ft deep. They can be found around coral reefs, wrecks and bouys, with larger individuals usually swimming alone and sticking to greater depths. Occasionally, they can be found around inlets and are caught from piers and beaches.

How big

This species can grow to impressive lengths of up to 6ft and weights of up to 100lbs. However, most catches will be in the 20-35'' range and 10 to 20lbs heavy. Smaller fish are called "snakes", and larger ones "smokers".

This one just might be a smoker. Incredible catch aboard Jus Cuz out of Orange Beach, AL

When & Where

Kings are abundantly present in tropical and subtropical waters of the western Atlantic. They range from Maine to Rio, including the entire Gulf of Mexico. They like warm waters and so can be found year-round off the southern half of Florida up to Tampa Bay, with peak numbers running October through April, January seeing the arrival of smokers. Summer marks their migration north along the Atlantic coast to South and North Carolina and Virginia, and northwest throughout the Gulf, reaching Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.

They can be targeted all day long, but night time in half moon phases is the most productive.

How to catch

Slow trolling and drifting are the most effective techniques. Chumming is a very good way to get them close to the surface, opening opportunities for fly fishing and casting.

Bait options include large shrimp (smokers' favorite choice), any live or dead fish (pinfish, ballyhoo, herring, mullet, jacks, croakers etc), but plugs as well (these can even be cast from the shore or piers, as baitfish can't reach as far as they need to - November and May are optimal months, as the present of baitfish in shallow waters drives them in). Feather / skirt strip bait combos and deep jigging have been proven successful as well.

Once boated, remember to always handle fish larger than 10lbs carefully and with a gaff, as their 30 sharp teeth can be dangerous. Smaller ones can be popped directly from the water to the cooler.

A perfect shot. Big Bully Outdoors from Placida, FL does it again!

Good to eat?

The meat is dark, lean and rich in nutrients, but on its own might not be tasty to everybody. It is recommended to marinate it thoroughly and consume only freshly caught. There have been ciguatera (fish poisoning) reports.


  • Season - always open;
  • Size limit - 24'' minimum FL for all states except Texas - 27'' minimum TL;
  • Bag limit (per angler per day) - 2 for Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi; 3 for the Carolinas and Georgia; if federal waters get closed for recreational harvest, then 1 in certain state waters;
         Mexico allows up to 10 fish, up to 5 of which may be the same species;
Similar Game Fish:

King Mackerel (Kingfish) Fishing Destinations