Scientific Name: Scomberomorous cavalla
Ideal Temp: 68-78°F (20-26°C)
Environment: Inshore, Nearshore, Offshore
Technique: Casting, Chunking, Trolling
Lure Type: Plugs, Spoons, Trolling
World Record: 42.18 kg (93 lb 0 oz) San Juan , Puerto Rico
The king mackerel is a migratory species of mackerel of the western Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. It is an important species to both the commercial and recreational fishing industries.
The king mackerel is a medium-sized fish, typically encountered from five to 30 pounds, but is known to exceed 90 pounds. The entire body is covered with very small, hardly visible, loosely attached scales. The first (spiny) dorsal fin is entirely colorless and is normally folded back into a body groove, as are the pelvic fins. The lateral line starts high on the shoulder, dips abruptly at mid-body and then continues as a wavy horizontal line to the tail. Coloration is olive on the back, fading to silver with a rosy iridescence on the sides, fading to white on the belly. Fish under 10 pounds (5 kg) show yellowish-brown spots on the flanks, somewhat smaller than the spots of the Atlantic Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus. Its cutting-edged teeth are large, uniform, closely spaced and flattened from side to side. These teeth look very similar to those of the bluefish, Pomatomus saltatrix.
They can be distinguished from other Spanish mackerels in the western Atlantic by the sharp dip in the lateral line under the second dorsal fin, by the relatively small number of spines in the first dorsal fin (14 16). The young have spots similar to those in the Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus, but these spots disappear with age. The first dorsal fin is uniformly blue; the anterior third of this fin is never black as it is in the Spanish mackerel and the cero mackerel, S. regalis.
The king mackerel is a subtropical species of the Atlantic Coast of the Americas. Common in the coastal zone from North Carolina to Brazil, it occurs as far south as Rio de Janeiro, and occasionally as far north as the Gulf of Maine. Nonetheless, a preference for water temperatures in the range of 68 to 85 °F (20 to 29 °C) may limit distribution.
King mackerel commonly occur in depths of 40 to 150 feet (12–45 m), where the principal fisheries occur. Larger kings (heavier than 20 lb or 9 kg) often occur inshore, in the mouths of inlets and harbors, and occasionally even at the 600-foot (180-m) depths at the edge of the Gulf Stream.
At least two migratory groups of king mackerel have been found to exist off the American coast. A Gulf of Mexico group ranges from the Texas coast in summer to the middle-east coast of Florida from November through March. Spawning occurs throughout the summer off the northern Gulf Coast.
An Atlantic group is abundant off North Carolina in spring and fall. This group migrates to southeast Florida, where it spawns from May through August, and slowly returns through summer. Apparently, this group winters in deep water off the Carolinas, as tagging studies have shown they are never found off Florida in winter.
King mackerel are voracious, opportunistic carnivores. Their prey depends on their size. Depending on area and season, they favor menhaden and other sardine-like fish (Clupeidae), jacks (Carangidae), cutlassfish (Trichiuridae), weakfish (Sciaenidae), grunts (Haemulidae), striped anchovies (Engraulidae), cigar minnows, threadfin, northern mackerel and (blue runners).
King mackerel are among the most sought-after gamefish throughout their range from North Carolina to Texas. Known throughout the sportfishing world for their blistering runs, the king mackerel matches its distant relative, the wahoo, in speed. Occasionally it may be caught from ocean piers and around inlets. Congregations often occur around wrecks, buoys, coral reefs, and other such areas where food is abundant. Schools vary in size and the largest individuals are usually loners.
They are taken mostly by trolling, using various live and dead baitfish, spoons, jigs and other artificial lures. Commercial gear consists of run-around gill nets. They are also taken commercially by trolling with large planers, heavy tackle and lures similar to those used by sport fishers. Typically when using live bait, two hooks are tied to a strong metal leader. The first may be a treble or single and is hooked through the live bait's nose and/or mouth. The second hook (treble hook) is placed through the top of the fish's back or allowed to swing free. This must be done because king mackerel commonly bite the tail section of a bait fish. When trolling for kings using this method, it is important to make sure the baitfish are swimming properly. Typical tackle includes a conventional or spinning reel capable of holding 400 yards (370 m) of 20 lb (9 kg) test monofilament and a 7 foot (2.1 m), 20 pound (9 kg) class rod.
Fishing methods include trolling or drifting either deep or on the surface using strip baits, lures, or small whole baits as well as casting and live bait fishing. Balao, mullet, jacks, herring, pinfish, croakers, shrimp, spoons, feathers, jigs, and plugs have proven effective under various conditions, as have such combinations as feather strip bait and skirt strip bait. Chumming works well to attract and hold these fish
Several organizations have found success in promoting tournament events for this species because of their popularity as a sport fish. The most notable are the Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) and the FLW Outdoors tour. These events are covered in several outdoors publications, both in print and online.