The king mackerel is a migratory fish that can be found on both the Atlantic and Gulf sides of Key West, though they typically prefer warmer waters. Their habitat ranges from the Carolina coast down as far south as Brazil. Often called ‘smokers’ because of their blazing speed, landing a king mackerel is truly a thrilling experience.
Size and Appearance
Along with the wahoo, the kingfish is one of the largest mackerel varieties, with a length that averages over three feet and a weight of somewhere between 10-30 pounds. Although you can sometimes land one in the 40s and 50s. Once a year or so someone catches ones over 60#.
The back of a king mackerel is usually an olive type color that lightens to silver and white toward the underbelly. You can distinguish a king from other Key West mackerel because they lack the dorsal black patch and the color patterns that the cero and the Spanish varieties present.
Fishing for King Mackerel
One key to landing these beauties is knowing where to find them. King mackerel tend to be found at depths between 50 and 150 feet, often in the vicinity of deeper shipwrecks and reefs. They do cruise around in the shallows and once and while someone will catch a big smoker king in Hawks Channel in the shallows or in the harbor/northwest channel.
Trolling is popular for catching a king mackerel, but you should use a light drag because of how hard they hit and the speed at which they’ll take off once they’re hooked. In other words, it’s best to stay vigilant and be prepared for a long, vigorous fight if you’re trying to land one of these speedy swimmers.
You can use live or dead bait to a catch a king mackerel, and artificial lures sometimes work too. Ballyhoo, blue runners, and threadfin are all good live baits for catching king mackerel, but you can go with a striped anchovy or another sardine-like fish as well. One thing to remember is that a king has to be at least 24 inches long to keep and there’s a limit of two per day. You will need wire leader mackerels teeth cut fishing line likes its nothing.