Beasts of the Beach: 3 Rules for Spring King Mackerels

It’s one of my favorite seasons on Florida’s diverse saltwater fishing menu: king mackerel on the beach.

Right now these big fish are migrating northward from their South Florida wintering grounds. They’ll eat their way up the Gulf Coast through the warm season before returning south in the fall.

Built for speed, equipped with formidable teeth, and driven by voracious appetites, hefty kings can certainly be found offshore. But the spring run typically brings some of the big “smokers” of 30-plus pounds within a mile of the shell-strewn beaches.

The rules are simple:

1. Find the food, find the fish
Generally considered an offshore species, big kings run shallow for one reason: feeding opportunities. Spring sees voluminous schools of threadfin herring ("greenbacks"), pilchards ("whitebait"), and Spanish sardines pushing through coastal waters. So read their surface-dimpling commotion—often punctuated by white water slashes—as you would a flashing, neon "FISH HERE" sign.

2. Feeding Factors
Close to the coast, tides position baitfish around channel edges, inlets, piers, bridges, etc. These are prime kingfish scenarios, so know the day's water schedule and make sure your freshest baits are deployed when the water starts moving—particular on the changes. Also note the moon phases, and expect peak activity on those major and minor feeding periods.

3. Wired for Success
Kingfish epitomize aggressive feeding and, given their strategy of slashing prey into pieces, the fish will often miss a single nose hook. Prevent these short strikes with the classic stinger rig, which comprises a lead hook (single or treble) and a trailing treble attached with a 3- to 4-inch piece of wire.

kingfish rigs

With this arrangement, you’ll snare the fish no matter where it bites. Also, the wire used for this trailing segment, as well as a main leader of 3- to 6 feet repels the king’s choppers.