Speedy, sharp-toothed brawler is a favorite of many anglers along the Gulf, Atlantic coasts
King mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla) have long, slender bodies. They are usually gray on the back with silvery sides. Their stomachs are often silver to white. When small, they tend to have spots similar to Spanish mackerel, but the spots disappear as the fish grows. They have sharply dipped lateral lines, and their dorsal fins are gray in color.
They are a fast-growing species and can reach lengths of almost 6 feet and weights of almost 100 pounds. King mackerel can live for about 20 years, but most die before they are half that age. Females grow larger than males and can reproduce at age 2, when they lay between 50,000 and several million eggs in the open ocean. The eggs are then fertilized by males.
Spawning takes place along the outer continental shelf, mostly between May and October. Two distinct stocks of king mackerel exist: the Atlantic stock and the Gulf of Mexico stock. These two stocks are biologically identical, but they rarely intermingle. Infrequently, they mix briefly off Florida’s southern coast in what is known as the Winter Mixing Zone, where waters from the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico meet.
Although they are known as migratory fish, some small populations travel very little, sticking to smaller areas throughout the species’ range, which runs from New England to Mexico to Brazil. These fish become known as resident fish. One of the larger populations of resident king mackerel lives off the Louisiana coast. Biologists aren’t sure why some of these fish become resident fish, but they believe some resident fish become migratory and vice versa.
King mackerel aren’t too picky with their diets. They prefer shrimp, squid and other fish. When young, they are preyed upon by larger fish. As they grow, they get closer to the top of the food chain, but they are still vulnerable to sharks, large tuna and even bottlenose dolphins.
Nicknames for king mackerel include kingfish and kings. Larger ones are known to anglers as “smokers” — due to their ability to peel line from a fishing reel, making the reel “smoke.”
Kings are sometimes misidentified as wahoo, and, especially when young, Spanish mackerel.
These fish are prized among anglers who fish from Gulf piers. They fish for them with a double-rod setup using live bait, usually bluefish or blue runners. Boat anglers also love catching king mackerel, and usually do it by trolling with a spread of rigs.
Mississippi’s state record, a 74-pound, 1-ounce king, was caught on Nov. 20, 2009, by Barrett McMullan. Steve Graulau caught the world-record king mackerel, a 93-pounder, off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on April 18, 1999.