The Kingfish is a migratory species of mackerel that spends all its life in the open waters of the western Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. It stays in subtropical waters, occurring as far north as the Gulf of Maine and as far south as Rio de Janeiro. This fish prefers water temperatures between 68 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which likely limits distribution. Kings migrate from south Florida waters in winter to more northerly waters in spring. During spring and fall great numbers are available off the North Carolina coast.
This sleek fish is iridescent bluish-green on top with subtle vertical stripes along silvery sides which lighten to a white belly. The body is streamlined for speed, with a lateral line that begins high then drops sharply below the second dorsal fin. A gray first dorsal fin begins high then tapers to mid-body, ending before a higher, dark blue or black, brief second dorsal fin. Small, sharp ridges follow, leading to the base of an oversized narrow, sickle-shaped tail. Juveniles often display yellow spots, similar to the Spanish mackerel. Closely-spaced, large teeth are very sharp and line the entirety of both jaws. Adults are commonly caught at weights approaching 20 pounds. The IGFA record for Kingfish is 93 pounds, landed near San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Kingfish school at depths of 40 to 150 feet, and larger specimens are more likely to occur inshore, in the mouths of inlets and harbors. Some have been taken at depths of 600 feet following the edge of the Gulf Stream. Spawning takes place off southeast Florida from May until August. Females grow much larger than males, averaging 21 and 11 pounds in weight, respectively, by seven years of age. Kingfish may reach weights upwards of 90 pounds, but any larger than 15 pounds will almost certainly be female. These fish are voracious, opportunistic carnivores, feeding on squid and small fishes of sizes relative to that of the Kingfish.
Kingfish are extremely popular quarry for the closer-to-shore crowd, highly sought after throughout their range from North Carolina to Texas. Impressive runs are frequent, and this fish is known to put up a great fight, especially on light tackle. Quite delicious when prepared correctly, by broiling, frying, baking or – especially with larger specimens – by smoking; they are marketed fresh, and sold as fillets, steaks, or whole.