How to Catch
Tackle & Best Bait for Kingfish
|Top 10 Tips||Best Kingfish Tackle|
|Kingfish Season||Spinning & Conventional Tackle|
|Where to Catch||Best Live Bait|
|Ask a Captain Q&A's||Best Artificial Lures|
The kingfish is a highly migratory species occupying a generally pelagic (open water) lifestyle. Properly named King Mackerel, it is the largest mackerel common to Florida, reaching a maximum of 6 feet and 100 pounds, more commonly caught around the 20-pound range. Kingfish have been highly targeted by fishermen for several decades. In fact, this species went through a timeframe of severe overfishing through the 1970s, but is now managed successfully as a healthy stock. Through years of commercial, recreational, and tournament-driven catches, we know a lot about how to catch this great fish. This 101 article will give you a general summary of the when, where, and how to catch the highly sought-after kingfish.
Kingfish are migratory, and thus the best season to catch them depends on where you fish. They prefer a water temperature above around 68°F, and travel in order to stay within that range. As they prefer warm waters, they can be found year round in south Florida, where the water temperatures never really get that low, even throughout the winter. They also aggregate here in winter, mainly between West Palm Beach and throughout the Keys. Spring is the best time to find kingfish throughout central and parts of northern Florida, as the fish start migrating north with warming waters. Summer is the kingfish season for the northern regions of the state and beyond (they travel to Texas in the Gulf, and up beyond the Carolinas in the Atlantic), because they’re only there that one time of year. During the fall, those northern/central anglers once again have a shot at migrating fish as they travel back down to south Florida for the winter.
Kingfish are generally pelagic, meaning they swim in the open ocean. They prefer to hang out near offshore structures, such as deep ledges, natural reefs, artificial reefs, shipwrecks, oil rigs, or any other type of structure, as this is where the baitfish will be. The only exception to this is during the summer when the fish come close to shore to follow the inward migration of baitfish. One way to spot kingfish from above is the sight of diving birds. Kingfish love to dine on schooling baitfish such as sardines and herrings. They will corral the bait to the surface for easier picking, which allows the birds above to have an easy time on the bait as well. When you spot the diving birds, you can be sure there is a predatory fish underneath.
The tackle for kingfish depends on the style for targeting them – trolling, deep jigging, and live baiting all require a different type of gear. In general, all methods will require medium-sized gear, with lots of line. When kingfish strike, they don’t stop there, they keep running, taking a lot of your line with them. Therefore, gear with high line capacity and good drag is required for all applications.
- Spinning tackle is easy to use, easy to find, and plenty effective for catching big fish. The most important thing to consider for spinning tackle is the line capacity of the reel. Most spinning reels cannot carry a large amount of line, often only around 300 yards or so. Some of the more offshore models can carry up to 500 yards of monofilament, and even more braid, and are definitely recommended for catching kings over the smaller capacity reels.
- The other major consideration for a spinning reel is the gear ratio. A high gear ratio is recommended for kingfish, because it will allow you to recover the line lost during the runs faster, and also get the fish to the boat faster with all that line out. For the rod, a solid 7-foot rod with an extra thick backbone and fast action has become the standard for kingfish. A rod of this nature can cast far for live baiting or throwing lures from the piers, and can handle slow trolling or flying kites.
Conventional Tackle for Kingfish
- When it comes to kingfish, conventional tackle is highly recommended for many techniques. Perhaps the most essential technique is for trolling. Conventional tackle holds a far greater amount of line than spinning tackle, up to 1,000 yards not uncommon. This allows you to diversify the depth of your troll very efficiently without the worry of running out of line on the deeper lines.
- The other major benefit of conventional tackle is the greater leverage it has over spinning tackle. Because of this, conventional gear is recommended when deep jigging over ledges or other structures, so that you have the power to lift the fish up and away from the structure once hooked, to avoid the fish running you into that structure and cutting the line.
Kingfish love to eat a variety of schooling baitfish, but not all of them are great baits for all methods of catching them. The best bait for trolling for kings are the hardy ones if using live, or the ones that generally stay on a hook well. For live trolling baits, Blue runner, Goggle eye, and White mullet are all great baits because they swim hard, and stay on the hook well against the force of the water.
Those three are also perfect slow troll or stationary live baits as well. Frozen baits such as ribbonfish, ballyhoo, mullet, and squid are good trolling baits also. For stationary live baits, the sardines and herrings that would fall off a fast-moving trolling hook are perfect for the job.
Kingfish are incredible swimmers, and love to hit fast-moving baits. Because of this, lures are highly effective at catching kings, especially when trolling, because the fish bite first and ask questions later when things are moving fast. One of the most versatile and effective lures is the good old silver spoon.
Spoons can be used in almost every situation for catching kings – throw them off the piers, off the bow of a boat at fish busting a school of bait at the surface, or troll them at various depths. Other lures include hard diving plugs and vertical jigs. Diving plugs are excellent for trolling or throwing off piers, and essentially dive deeper the faster you retrieve them. This allows you to effectively cover a larger part of the water column. Vertical jigs are worked, well vertical (up and down), and are very effective when the fish are found besides a deep ledge, reef, or other structure.
Our popular Ask a Captain, with locally renowned Captain David Rieumont, is a one-stop resource for all your Florida fishing needs. Included are some question and answer features from fishermen on catching more kingfish.
- What is the Best Bait to Catch Grouper and Kingfish?
- When Are the Kings Here and How Do I Rig to Fish the S. Skyway Pier?
- How Do I Set a Hook in a Kingfish?
- Can You Tell Me How to Catch Kingfish?
- What is the Best Speed to Troll for Kingfish, Billfish or Other Species?
- When do the Kingfish Start Running in the Clearwater Area for the Fall?