Kingfish are King of the Mackerels and the Florida Keys is an excellent place to fish for them
You’re likely to find Kingfish in the winter months here in the Florida Keys. The water temperatures get in the 68 to 73 degree range that these fish love. This is the time of the year when the baitfish are running south to get away from the cold waters and these fish are following right along behind them.
Kings are larger than their other cousins the Cero and the Spanish Mackerel. They’re iridescent blue to green on their backs and silver on their sides. Their head has an elongated mouth full of sharp teeth. They look a lot like a Wahoo in their shape, but their skin patterns are different and the Wahoo has a sharp pointy mouth.
Their favorite foods are sardines, herring, ribbonfish, shrimp, squid and jacks. They’re a fierce feeder and feed all the time. They’re in the tuna family, but they’re not as tough or as fast as the tuna.
The State of Florida has issued warnings about eating King’s any larger than 39". The mercury level is too high at this time in the larger fish. Darn I do love to smoke those big boys.
Kingfish are tail biters. When they feed they bite the baitfish in half or bite it’s tail off then swallow it and go back for the rest of the fish. Because of this, I rig with double hooks and lately I’ve been using a stinger rig. Either way you’ll need to have a hook near the tail of your baitfish. I always use a wire leader for two reasons. One is the mouth full of very sharp teeth. The other is they tend to tail whip as their running, this action will chaff the monofilament leader and cause it to break.
They can be fished using live or dead bait, ballyhoo and sardine like fish are the most popular here in the Florida Keys. They’re also fished with artificial lures. Spoons are one of my favorite, they like anything flashy. Deep diving plugs or natural baits and artificials on the downrigger seem to catch more of the larger smokers. King’s tend to hang out near the 50 foot depth in the water column. I usually put my cannonball at 50' down.
Kingfish have a really keen eyesight and are hunters by eyesight. Your bait needs to look like it’s swimming naturally to them.
When a Kingfish hits it’s nothing for it to peel off 100 yards of line in the first run. You’ll get him near the boat and he’ll take off on a couple more runs. Lots of time when you get them close, they’ll do circles under the boat. You need to be careful and not try and muscle the fish in. Kings have soft mouths and it’s easy to pull the hook , then you’ve lost your fish.
They can be fished with live bait on kites or balloons, either anchor up, drift or slow troll. You can also jig for them over structure or near a school of baitfish. My favorite way to fish for them is to slow troll. I use a combination of deep diving plugs, dead ballyhoo, downriggers and a spoon.
On our last fishing trip for Kings we were fishing on the front of a cold front. The wind switched to the southwest and west not too long after we got out there. We knew we didn’t have a long time to fish before the fish got lockjaw. We were fishing in Hawk Channel. I could see one other boat out there and he was anchored up. Two guys were fishing in it. I saw baitfish spraying out of the water in the area where the anchored boat was. I kept trolling in that direction with the usual arsenal of lures and baits out. On the first pass we hooked a nice King, we got him in and kept fishing. I kept working this same area over the patch reefs and each time we saw the baitfish jumping we got a hit. I didn’t see the guys in the anchored boat hook up on one fish. You know they were probably not liking us at all.
My favorite way to eat Kingfish is to smoke them. I have a great marinade made with dark rum, ginger and garlic. I’ll let the fish stay in the marinade for 5 days before smoking it. Man is it good. I know you can bake, grill and broil them, but I’ve never tried any of these. Bob Collins who used to live here swore that the very best way to eat this fish is to let the filets marinade in a mixture of soy sauce and orange juice for 24 hours then cook it. I think I’d like to give that a try.
Soon as the weather behaves itself my friend Becky and I will be out fishing for Kingfish in the waters just offshore of the Florida Keys. I let you know how we do in my blog.
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