How To Fish For King Mackerel

King Mackerel, often simply known as Kingfish, is a highly sought-after species of fish found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This species is known for its elongated body, sharp teeth, and its impressive speed, making it a popular target for sport fishing enthusiasts. King Mackerel can reach sizes of up to 5 feet in length and weigh over 100 pounds, though most caught are smaller. They are identifiable by their silvery color, with a distinct iridescent hue, and a streamlined body adapted for high-speed swimming.

Fishing for king mackerel involves specific techniques and gear due to their predatory nature and the environments in which they’re found. This guide will cover the essentials of king mackerel fishing, including the fishing setup, the best baits and lures, effective fishing techniques, the best times to catch them, where to find them, tips for beginners, and the recommended fishing gear and tools.

King Mackerel Fishing Setup

A common and effective fishing setup for kingfish involves using medium to heavy spinning or conventional rods, with lengths between 6 to 7 feet. These rods should be paired with a reel capable of holding at least 300 yards of 20 to 30-pound test monofilament or braided line. The strength of the line and capacity of the reel are crucial to withstand the initial strike and subsequent runs of the King Mackerel.

The best rig for King Mackerel is often the live bait rig, also known as the stinger rig. This setup typically involves using two hooks: a main hook (J-hook or circle hook) sized between 2/0 to 4/0 to secure the live bait through the nose or top lip, and a trailing treble hook (stinger) to catch the fish when it strikes the back half of the bait. The stinger hook, usually size 4 to 1/0, is connected to the main hook with a short piece of wire leader, about 4 to 6 inches long, to prevent the mackerelโ€™s sharp teeth from cutting the line. The entire rig is then attached to a heavier wire leader, about 20 to 30 inches long, rated between 40 to 60 pounds, to further ensure durability against the mackerel’s bite and the potential abrasion from their body during the fight.

Best Bait For King Mackerel

King Mackerel are voracious predators with a diet that primarily consists of smaller fish. They prey on a wide variety of baitfish, including herring, mullet, sardines, and menhaden, making these some of the best live bait options for targeting King Mackerel. Live bait mimics the natural prey of Kingfish, making it highly effective. Anglers often hook live bait through the nose or the top lip to ensure it remains lively and swims naturally in the water, attracting King Mackerel with its movement and distress signals.

When it comes to artificial lures, spoons, jigs, and deep-diving plugs are among the best choices for King Mackerel. These lures are designed to mimic the appearance and movement of the fish that King Mackerel feed on. Silver or chrome spoons that reflect light are particularly effective as they resemble the shiny appearance of baitfish. Trolling these lures at varying speeds and depths can be highly successful, as it covers a lot of water and appeals to the predatory instincts of the Kingfish.

King Mackerel Fishing Techniques


Trolling is one of the most common and effective techniques for catching King Mackerel. This method involves pulling lures or baited hooks behind a moving boat at varying speeds. The setup typically includes medium to heavy rods, with reels spooled with 20 to 30-pound test line, and a variety of lures such as spoons, deep-diving plugs, or live bait rigged with a stinger setup. Trolling is most effective in areas where King Mackerel are known to feed, such as near reefs, wrecks, or drop-offs. The key is to adjust the speed and depth of the lures to match the feeding habits of the Kingfish, with slower speeds often more effective for live bait and faster speeds for artificial lures. Trolling covers a large area of water, increasing the chances of locating and attracting King Mackerel.

Live Bait Fishing

Live bait fishing is highly effective for targeting King Mackerel due to its ability to closely mimic the natural prey of the fish. The preferred setup includes a live bait rig, also known as a stinger rig, which uses a main hook to secure the live bait through the nose or top lip and a trailing treble hook to catch the fish if it strikes the back half of the bait. This technique is particularly effective when fishing near structures where King Mackerel hunt, such as reefs or shipwrecks. The natural movement and distress signals of the live bait attract the Kingfish, making this method highly effective especially when the fish are feeding actively.

Kite Fishing

Kite fishing is a specialized technique that offers a unique approach to presenting live bait at the surface of the water, making it highly effective for catching King Mackerel. The setup involves using a fishing kite to suspend live bait at the surface, with the bait’s movements on the water’s surface attracting the attention of King Mackerel from below. This technique is particularly effective in clear water conditions where the fish can see the bait from a distance. It requires specific equipment, including a fishing kite, kite rod, and reel, and a live bait rig with a float to keep the bait at the desired depth. Kite fishing is most effective in areas with little to no current, where the bait can be presented naturally and visibly on the surface, enticing King Mackerel to strike.

Best Time To Catch King Mackerel

King Mackerel spawn during the warmer months, typically from late spring through early fall. This period coincides with their most active feeding times, making it an ideal time for fishing. Consequently, the best time of year to target King Mackerel is during the summer and early fall, aligning with their spawning season and when they are most abundant and aggressively feeding.


In spring, as water temperatures begin to rise, King Mackerel start migrating towards their spawning grounds, making it a great time to catch them. The best time to fish for King Mackerel in spring is in the late afternoon when the water has warmed up throughout the day. Trolling with live bait such as blue runners or herring near coastal areas and reefs can be particularly effective as these areas start to become more populated with King Mackerel.


Summer is the peak season for King Mackerel fishing, coinciding with their spawning period. Early morning and late afternoon are the prime times to target them due to increased feeding activity. Live bait fishing and trolling near the surface with spoons or feathered jigs are highly effective techniques. Focusing on areas around wrecks, reefs, and drop-offs can yield excellent results, as King Mackerel frequent these structures to feed.


As temperatures begin to cool in the fall, King Mackerel continue to feed actively, preparing for their migration away from their summer spawning areas. This season, early morning remains the best time to catch them, with trolling and live bait fishing being highly effective. Using larger baits can be advantageous as the fish are looking to consume more before their migration.


During winter, King Mackerel migrate to warmer waters, often moving further offshore in some regions. While they can be harder to locate, fishing in deeper waters with vertical jigs or deep-diving plugs can be successful. The midday period, when the sun has warmed the surface water, can be a productive time to target them.

Where To Find King Mackerel

King Mackerel are predominantly found in the warm waters off the coast of the United States, particularly in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the best locations for targeting King Mackerel in the U.S. include the Florida Keys, the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida, and the southeastern Atlantic coast from Florida to North Carolina. Each of these areas offers unique fishing opportunities and habitats conducive to King Mackerel.

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys are renowned for their excellent King Mackerel fishing, particularly during the winter and early spring months when the fish migrate through these waters. Trolling with live bait, such as blue runners or herring, close to the reef edges and drop-offs is the most effective technique here. The clear waters of the Keys allow for sight fishing, which adds an exciting dimension to targeting King Mackerel.

Gulf Coast (Texas to Florida)

The vast expanse of the Gulf Coast offers some of the most productive King Mackerel fishing from Texas all the way to Florida. Here, the fish are abundant year-round, with peak seasons in the fall and spring during their migration. Slow trolling or drifting with live bait near oil rigs, reefs, and shipwrecks are highly effective techniques in this region. The structure provided by these areas attracts baitfish, which in turn draw in King Mackerel.

Southeastern Atlantic Coast (Florida to North Carolina)

From Florida to North Carolina, the southeastern Atlantic coast offers prime King Mackerel fishing, especially from late spring through fall. In this region, fishing around artificial reefs, wrecks, and live bottom areas proves highly successful. Trolling with spoons, live bait, or strip baits along temperature breaks and near the aforementioned structures can yield excellent results. Anglers often employ downriggers to keep the bait at the desired depth where King Mackerel are feeding.

Tips To Catch King Mackerel For Beginners

  • Start with a medium to heavy spinning or conventional rod and reel combo, suitable for 20-30 pound test line. This setup offers a good balance of sensitivity and strength for battling King Mackerel.
  • Spool your reel with monofilament or braided line in the 20-30 pound range. Monofilament is more forgiving with its stretch, while braid offers better sensitivity and deeper water performance.
  • Use a live bait rig, also known as a stinger rig, for the most straightforward approach. This involves a main hook (J-hook or circle hook) in the size range of 2/0 to 4/0 to hook the bait through the nose or lips, and a smaller treble hook as the stinger, attached by a short wire leader to catch the fish that bite at the tail end of the bait.
  • Choose live bait such as blue runners, herring, or mullet. These are attractive to King Mackerel and easy to find at bait shops in areas where King Mackerel are common.
  • Attach a 2-3 foot wire leader (40-60 pound test) between your main line and the hook to prevent the King Mackerel’s sharp teeth from cutting the line. Use a swivel to connect the main line to the wire leader to reduce line twist.
  • Learn to properly rig live bait to keep it alive longer. Hook the bait through the lips or nose for trolling; this allows it to swim naturally and attract fish.
  • When using lures, silver spoons, and deep-diving plugs are effective and easy for beginners. They mimic the fish King Mackerel feed on.
  • Practice trolling at different speeds to see what works best. King Mackerel can be caught both by slow trolling live bait and faster trolling with artificial lures.
  • Pay attention to the water depth and temperature. King Mackerel prefer warmer waters and are often found near the surface in 68-85ยฐF temperatures.
  • Finally, always be patient and ready for a fight. King Mackerel are known for their speed and agility, making them a challenging but rewarding catch for beginners.

Best King Mackerel Fishing Gear And Tools

Fishing Rod

The best fishing rod for King Mackerel should be sturdy and responsive, capable of handling the fast and powerful runs of these fish. A medium to heavy action rod with a length of 6 to 7 feet is ideal, providing the necessary backbone to control the fish while still offering enough sensitivity to detect bites. Look for a rod with a comfortable grip and durable construction, preferably made from graphite or composite materials for strength and lightness.

Fishing Line

The ideal fishing line for King Mackerel should be strong and abrasion-resistant to withstand the fish’s sharp teeth and the rough conditions often encountered near reefs and wrecks. A monofilament or braided line in the 20 to 30-pound test range is recommended, offering a good balance between strength and flexibility. Monofilament lines provide stretch, which can help absorb the shock of a sudden strike, while braided lines offer greater sensitivity and less stretch, allowing for better hook sets and control over the fish.

Fishing Reel

When choosing a fishing reel for King Mackerel, opt for a sturdy reel with a smooth drag system and a high line capacity to handle long runs and powerful bursts of speed. Conventional reels, also known as baitcasting reels, are popular choices for targeting King Mackerel due to their durability and line capacity. Look for a reel with a gear ratio suited for trolling and live bait fishing, allowing for quick retrieves when needed.

Fish Finder

A fish finder can be a valuable tool for locating King Mackerel, especially when fishing offshore or in unfamiliar waters. Look for a fish finder with a high-resolution display and advanced sonar capabilities, such as CHIRP or DownScan Imaging, to accurately identify fish and underwater structures. GPS functionality is also useful for marking productive fishing spots and navigating to them efficiently. Choose a fish finder with a transducer suitable for the depths you’ll be fishing in, ensuring reliable performance in various conditions.