King mackerel
The king mackerel is a migratory species of mackerel
Mackerel is a common name applied to a number of different species of fish, mostly, but not exclusively, from the family Scombridae. They may be found in all tropical and temperate seas. Most live offshore in the oceanic environment but a few, like the Spanish mackerel , enter bays and can be...

 of the western Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 and Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

. It is an important species to both the commercial and recreational fishing
Fishing is the activity of trying to catch wild fish. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping....



The snubnose gar is a medium sized fish, typically encountered from 5 to 30 pounds, but is known to exceed 90 pounds. The entire body is covered with very small, hardly visible, loosely attached scales. The first (spiny) dorsal fin
Dorsal fin
A dorsal fin is a fin located on the backs of various unrelated marine and freshwater vertebrates, including most fishes, marine mammals , and the ichthyosaurs...

 is entirely colorless and is normally folded back into a body groove, as are the pelvic fins. The lateral line
Lateral line
The lateral line is a sense organ in aquatic organisms , used to detect movement and vibration in the surrounding water. Lateral lines are usually visible as faint lines running lengthwise down each side, from the vicinity of the gill covers to the base of the tail...

 starts high on the shoulder, dips abruptly at mid-body and then continues as a wavy horizontal line to the tail. Coloration is olive on the back fading to silver with a rosy iridescence on the sides, fading to white on the belly. Fish under 10 pounds (5 kg) show yellowish brown spots on the flanks, somewhat smaller than the spots of the Atlantic Spanish mackerel
Atlantic Spanish mackerel
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus, is a migratory species of mackerel that swimsto the northern Gulf of Mexico in spring, returns to south Florida in the eastern gulf, and to Mexico in the western gulf in the fall.-Description:...

, Scomberomorus maculatus. Its cutting edged teeth are large, uniform, closely spaced and flattened from side to side. These teeth look very similar to those of the bluefish
The bluefish , called tailor in Australia, is a species of popular marine gamefish found in all climates. It is the sole species of the Pomatomidae family....

, Pomatomus saltatrix.

Distribution and habitat

The king mackerel is a subtropical species of the Atlantic Coast of the Americas. Common in the coastal zone from North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

 to Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

, it occurs as far south as Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro , commonly referred to simply as Rio, is the capital city of the State of Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city of Brazil, and the third largest metropolitan area and agglomeration in South America, boasting approximately 6.3 million people within the city proper, making it the 6th...

, and occasionally as far north as the Gulf of Maine
Gulf of Maine
The Gulf of Maine is a large gulf of the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast of North America.It is delineated by Cape Cod at the eastern tip of Massachusetts in the southwest and Cape Sable at the southern tip of Nova Scotia in the northeast. It includes the entire coastlines of the U.S...

. Nonetheless, a preference for water temperatures in the range of 68 to 85 °F (20 to 29 °C). may limit distribution.

King mackerel commonly occur in depths of 40 to 150 feet (12–45 m), where the principal fisheries occur. Larger kings (heavier than 20 lb or 9 kg) often occur inshore, in the mouths of inlets and harbors, and occasionally even at the 600 foot (180 m) depths at the edge of the Gulf Stream
Gulf Stream
The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates at the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean...


Migration patterns

At least two migratory groups of king mackerel have been found to exist off the American coast. A Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

 group ranges from the Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

 coast in summer to the middle-east coast of Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 from November through March. Spawning occurs throughout the summer off the northern Gulf Coast.

An Atlantic group is abundant off North Carolina in spring and fall. This group migrates to southeast Florida where it spawns from May through August, and slowly returns through summer. Apparently, this group winters in deep water off the Carolinas, as tagging studies have shown they are never found off Florida in winter.

Life history

Eggs and sperm are shed into the sea and their union is by chance. Depending on size, a female may shed from 50,000 to several million eggs over the spawning season. Fertilized eggs hatch in about 24 hours. The newly hatched larva is about 0.1 inches (2.5 mm) long with a large yolk sack. Little is known about king mackerel in their first year of life. Yearling fish typically attain an average weight of 3 to 4 pounds (1.4–1.8 kg) and a fork length of 25 inches (60 cm). At age seven, females average 21 lb (9.5 kg), males 11 lb (5 kg). King mackerel may attain 90 lb (40 kg), but any over 15 pounds (7 kg) is almost certainly a female.

Feeding habits

King mackerel are voracious, opportunistic carnivores. Their prey depends on their size. Depending on area and season, they favor menhaden
Menhaden, also known as mossbunker, bunker and pogy, are forage fish of the genera Brevoortia and Ethmidium, two genera of marine fish in the family Clupeidae.-Description:...

 and other sardine
Sardines, or pilchards, are several types of small, oily fish related to herrings, family Clupeidae. Sardines are named after the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, around which they were once abundant....

-like fish (Clupeidae
Clupeidae is the family of the herrings, shads, sardines, hilsa and menhadens. It includes many of the most important food fishes in the world.-Description and biology:...

), jacks (Carangidae
Carangidae is a family of fish which includes the jacks, pompanos, jack mackerels, and scads.They are marine fish found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans...

), cutlassfish
The cutlassfishes are about 40 species of predatory fish in the family Trichiuridae found in seas throughout the world. Fish of this family are long, slender, and generally steely blue or silver in colour, giving rise to their name...

 (Trichiuridae), weakfish
The weakfish, Cynoscion regalis, is a marine fish of the drum family Sciaenidae.The head and back of this fish are dark brown in color with a greenish tinge. The sides have a faint silvery hue with dusky specks, and the belly is white. The origin of its name is based on the weakness of the mouth...

Sciaenidae is a family of fish commonly called drums, croakers, or hardheads for the repetitive throbbing or drumming sounds they make...

), grunts (Haemulidae
The grunts are a family, Haemulidae, of fishes in the order Perciformes. They are numerous and widespread, with about 150 species in 19 genera, found in tropical fresh, brackish and salt waters around the world...

), striped anchovies (Engraulidae), cigar minnows, threadfin, northern mackerel and (blue runners).

Fishing gear and methods

King mackerel are among the most sought-after gamefish throughout their range from North Carolina to Texas. Known throughout the sportfishing world for their blistering runs, the king mackerel matches its distant relative, the wahoo, in speed.
They are taken mostly by trolling, using various live and dead baitfish, spoons, jigs and other artificial lures. Commercial gear consists of run-around gill nets. They are also taken commercially by trolling with large planers, heavy tackle and lures similar to those used by sport fishers. Typically when using live bait, two hooks are tied to a strong metal leader. The first may be a treble or single and is hooked through the live bait's nose and/or mouth. The second hook (treble hook) is placed through the top of the fish's back or allowed to swing free. This must be done because king mackerel commonly bite the tail section of a bait fish. When trolling for kings using this method, it is important to make sure the baitfish are swimming properly. Typical tackle includes a conventional or spinning reel capable of holding 400 yards (370 m) of 20 lb (9 kg) test monofilament and a 7 foot (2.1 m), 20 pound (9 kg) class rod.

Several organizations have found success in promoting tournament events for this species because of their popularity as a sport fish. The most notable are the Southern Kingfish Association (SKA) and the FLW Outdoors tour. These events are covered in several outdoors publications, both in print and online.


As of 2005, king mackerel are primarily marketed fresh. They may be sold as fillets, steaks, or in the round (whole). Their raw flesh is grayish, due to its high fat content. They are best prepared by broiling, frying, baking or, especially for large "smoker" king, by smoking.


According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, king mackerel is one of four fish, along with swordfish
Swordfish , also known as broadbill in some countries, are large, highly migratory, predatory fish characterized by a long, flat bill. They are a popular sport fish of the billfish category, though elusive. Swordfish are elongated, round-bodied, and lose all teeth and scales by adulthood...

, shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

, and tilefish
Tilefishes, also known as blanquillo, are mostly small perciform marine fish comprising the family Malacanthidae.They are usually found in sandy areas, especially near coral reefs....

, that children and pregnant women should avoid due to high levels of methylmercury
Methylmercury is an organometallic cation with the formula . It is a bioaccumulative environmental toxicant.-Structure:...

 found in these fish and the consequent risk of mercury poisoning.

Similar species

Small king mackerel are similar in appearance to Atlantic Spanish mackerel
Atlantic Spanish mackerel
The Atlantic Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus, is a migratory species of mackerel that swimsto the northern Gulf of Mexico in spring, returns to south Florida in the eastern gulf, and to Mexico in the western gulf in the fall.-Description:...

, Scomberomorus maculatus, and Cero
Cero mackerel
The Cero mackerel, Scomberomorus regalis, is similar in appearance and coloration to the Atlantic Spanish mackerel, Scomberomorus maculatus except that the Cero has a longitudinal stripe in addition to the spots of the Spanish....

, Scomberomorus regalis, all three species being similar in shape and coloration. They may be distinguished as follows:

The lateral line on Atlantic Spanish mackerel and Cero slopes gradually from the top edge of the gill to the tail. In contrast that of the king mackerel takes an abrupt drop at mid-body (see illustration).

The first (spiny) dorsal fin on Atlantic Spanish mackerel and Cero has a prominent black patch. The king mackerel does not. As all three species normally keep the first dorsal folded back in a body groove, this difference is not immediately evident.

Atlantic Spanish mackerel have prominent yellow spots on the flanks at all sizes. In addition to such spots, Cero have one or more yellow stripes along the centerline. Young king mackerel have similar, but slightly smaller spots, these fade away on individuals weighing over 10 pounds (5 kg), but may still be seen as slightly darker green spots toward the back from some angles of view.

World wide, there are many fish quite similar to one or another of these three species. Off Mexico, Atlantic Spanish mackerel may be confused with Serra Spanish mackerel
Serra Spanish mackerel
The ', Scomberomorus brasiliensis, is a species of fish in the family Scombridae. Specimens have been recorded at up to 125 cm in length, and weighing up to 6,710 g. It is found in the western Atlantic, along the Caribbean and Atlantic coasts of Central and South America from Belize to Rio Grande...

, Scomberomorus brasiliensis.
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