King mackerel - NOAA's Fisheries Collection , SEFSC Pascagoula Laboratory; Collection of Brandi Noble, NOAA/NMFS/SEFSC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

King Mackerel: Everything you need to know about Scomberomorus cavalla

What is King Mackerel?

The King Mackerel (Scomberomorus cavalla), often referred to as the kingfish, is a captivating member of the Scombridae family. Many are drawn to its remarkable features, environmental influence and commercial significance – making it an intriguing topic for scientists, fishermen and consumers alike. Herein lies all you need to know about this incredible species; from its biology and distribution pattern through to behaviour & impact on both our environment and fishing industry.

Morphology and Physiology

With its streamlined, torpedo-like frame and a radiant silvery-blue to greenish back that transitions into silver-white on the underside, King Mackerel is an impressive sight. This species stands out for its distinguishing lateral line which arcs high over the shoulder before dipping suddenly under the second dorsal fin. Perfectly suited for catching and slicing its victims, the King Mackerel is equipped with sharp, pointed teeth that make it a formidable predator.

Adults usually measure 70 to 150 centimeters (27-59 inches) and weigh 5 to 45 kilograms (11-99 pounds), yet the highest reported length and mass are an incredible 200 centimeters (79 inches) as well as 83 kgs (183 lbs).

Distribution and Habitat

The King Mackerel is a species found in the western Atlantic Ocean, from Massachusetts all the way to Rio de Janeiro. They thrive best when temperatures are between 20-29°C (68-84°F), and can be seen near shore or deep out at sea, within depths of 10 to 80 meters (33 – 262 feet).

Behaviour and Diet

King Mackerel are renowned for their superior swimming capabilities and fierce appetite. These fish tend to gather in large groups when spawning or migrating, and feed on small school-dwelling prey such as sardines, anchovies, cephalopods and crustaceans.

Spawning and Life Cycle

Spawning season for King Mackerel is between April and November along the western Atlantic coast, while in the Gulf of Mexico it’s from February to March. Females release a plethora of eggs – ranging anywhere from 50,000 to 2 million- that are fertilized externally as they drift with ocean currents until reaching juvenile stage. This species grows quite rapidly; typically taking only two or three years before sexual maturity is reached. The average life expectancy for this fish type generally hovers around nine years but has been known to reach fourteen at times.

Ecological Significance

King Mackerel are paramount to the marine ecosystem, as they both hunt and become hunted. By serving as predators of smaller fish species, their presence helps maintain a balanced population; at the same time, larger predators such as sharks and billfish rely on them for sustenance.

Commercial Importance and Conservation Status

The King Mackerel fishery is an economic powerhouse in areas of the United States like the Gulf Coast and Southeast, sustaining both recreational anglers and commercial fishermen alike. This tasty fish has a firm texture that lingers on your palate with its flavor; mackerel can easily be served as steaks or fillets, which are delicious when grilled or smoked.

Despite its wide distribution and stable population trends, King Mackerel has been labeled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a species of “Least Concern.” Nonetheless, overfishing and habitat degradation remain pressing issues that must be managed carefully. To ensure long-term sustainability of this species, fishery management practices such as size limits and seasonal closures should be rigorously enforced.

How to catch King Mackerel?

Catching King Mackerel can be an exciting and rewarding experience for both novice and seasoned anglers. To maximize your success, follow these steps and tips:

Location and Timing:

King Mackerel inhabit warm, temperate waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. They are typically found near the surface in depths ranging from 10-80 meters (33-262 feet). The best time to fish for King Mackerel is during their peak migration and spawning seasons, which vary depending on the region.

Tackle and Gear:

Rod and Reel:

Use a medium to heavy-action saltwater fishing rod paired with a high-quality reel capable of holding at least 300 yards of 20-30 pound test monofilament or braided line.
Leader: Since King Mackerel have sharp teeth, use a wire leader (40-60 pound test) to prevent bite-offs. A length of 12-24 inches is typically sufficient.


Use 2/0 to 4/0 live bait or circle hooks, depending on the size of the bait and the fish you are targeting.

Bait and Lures:

Live Bait:

King Mackerel are particularly attracted to live bait such as sardines, menhaden, mullet, or blue runners. Hook the bait through the nose, dorsal fin, or just in front of the tail to allow for natural swimming action.

Artificial Lures:

Trolling with diving plugs, spoons, or swimming lures that mimic the appearance and motion of baitfish can be effective. Look for lures with a shiny finish and a tight wobbling action.



This is one of the most popular methods for catching King Mackerel. Slow troll (1-3 knots) with live bait or faster (4-7 knots) with artificial lures. Use planers or downriggers to control the depth of your bait or lures, targeting the upper part of the water column where King Mackerel are most likely to be found. Spread your lines out using outriggers to cover a broader area and avoid tangles.


Drift fishing with live bait can be productive, especially when fishing near reefs, wrecks, or other structures. Use a balloon or float to suspend the bait near the surface, or a sinker to control the depth.

Hooking and Landing:

When a King Mackerel strikes, resist the urge to immediately set the hook. Allow the fish to take the bait and run for a few seconds before engaging the reel and setting the hook with a firm, steady pull.

Keep the line tight and maintain steady pressure as you fight the fish, being prepared for sudden bursts of speed or jumps.

When the fish is close to the boat, use a gaff or a large landing net to bring it aboard, being cautious of its sharp teeth and thrashing.

By following these guidelines and adapting your techniques based on local conditions and advice from experienced anglers, you can increase your chances of successfully catching King Mackerel and enjoying the thrill of the pursuit.

Is king mackerel good to eat?

King Mackerel is a nutritious choice as it contains an abundance of protein, low saturated fat and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These are advantageous for their various health benefits such as supporting cardiovascular system, lowering inflammation and maximizing brain activity due to the presence of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Despite the many health benefits associated with eating King Mackerel, it’s important to be aware of potential toxicities from mercury accumulation. As with other predatory fish, King Mackerel may contain higher levels of mercury due to biomagnification – a process that can accumulate toxins in animal tissues over time. High levels of mercury might have detrimental effects on humans and specifically pregnant women, nursing mothers or young children as their developing nervous systems are put at risk.

To avoid mercury poisoning, it is best to limit your consumption of King Mackerel and stick to the guidelines set forth by trustworthy health organizations like the EPA and FDA. Generally speaking, adults should only enjoy one serving per week while pregnant women, nursing mothers, and children ought to have even less. Staying informed of these established recommendations will help ensure a safe seafood diet for everyone involved!

Moreover, it is paramount to carefully investigate the source of your King Mackerel and choose sustainably caught fish when you can. Doing this will not only bolster responsible fishing methods but also promote the longevity of aquatic populations and marine habitats in general.

How to cook King Mackerel?

King Mackerel is a versatile fish with firm, flavorful flesh that lends itself well to various cooking methods. Here are a few popular ways to prepare and cook King Mackerel:

  1. Grilling: Start your journey to mouth-watering King Mackerel by preheating the grill to a medium-high heat. Then, clean and oil the grates for an easy removal of your finished dish. Season with salt, pepper, and any other herbs or spices that you may desire. Finally, place on the hot grill for about 4-5 minutes per side (depending on thickness) until it reaches an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C), ensuring it flakes easily when a fork is used.
  2. Baking: Before you begin cooking, preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the seasoned King Mackerel fillets or steaks in a baking dish, and top them with olive oil or melted butter. Enhance their flavor by adding garlic, lemon slices, or fresh herbs. Bake for 20-25 minutes until it flakes away easily when prodded with a fork and reaches an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C). Enjoy!
  3. Broiling: Preheat your broiler and adjust the oven rack to 4-6 inches away from the heating element. Season your King Mackerel fillets or steaks then place them on a broiling pan or an oven-safe dish. Broil for about four to six minutes per side, until it has reached 145°F (63°C) internally and can be flaked off easily with a fork. Monitor closely in order to avoid overcooking or burning!
  4. Pan-searing: Begin heating a non-stick skillet or cast-iron pan over medium-high heat with some oil or butter. Season the King Mackerel fillets and put them in the hot pan. Cook for approximately 3 to 5 minutes on each side, based upon thickness, until it is golden brown and its internal temperature measures at least 145°F (63°C).
  5. Smoking: Get your smoker ready following the manufacturer’s directions and preheat it to 225°F (107°C). Enhance the flavour of King Mackerel fillets or steaks with a dry rub, herbs, or spices. Put them on the racks in the smoker skin-side down. Smoke for approximately 1.5-2 hours until you get an internal temperature reading of 145°F (63°C) which means that it is cooked through properly.

For your safety, always handle and cook fish with care to avoid any cross-contamination or foodborne illnesses. The cooking method is up to you but remember – the internal temperature of the fish must reach 145°F (63°C) so that it can be consumed safely.


All in all, the King Mackerel is a captivating and critical species that has both scientists and amateur fishermen interested. With its importance to the marine food chain, it’s essential we further study this spectacular fish and take steps to protect it for future generations. Not only will this ensure that our oceans remain vibrant with diverse species, but it also safeguards the economic and cultural importance of this majestic fish species.

Similar Posts