Kings migrate up and down the coast with the seasons, basically following the bait fish that are their food staple. That bait fish would be menhaden shad – what we call pogies. Huge schools of pogies can be found just outside the surf lines along the beaches this time of year. The pogies also enter the inlets and can be found pretty far upstream in estuary rivers and bays in the summer.
Kings will follow the bait up and down the coast, but I can’t think of any documented instance where I have seen a king mackerel inshore – that is inside an inlet or up a river. These are pelagic fish – those that roam the open water in the ocean – and they stay pelagic!
OffshoreSo the first thing you need to know is that the kings will be in the ocean – offshore or near shore. Let’s talk about offshore first.
Somewhere along the eastern seaboard of Florida, the natural reef system stops. There are areas of “live bottom” that continue all the way up the coast of the US, but the reefs beyond central Florida are all going to be artificial reefs. Why are the reefs important, someone just wondered? Good question! Reefs, whether natural or artificial, attract baitfish. Huge schools of ballyhoo, or goggle-eyes or greenies down south and cigar minnows and Spanish sardines farther north will be found over the reefs. It’s an ecosystem thing. Reefs – both natural and artificial – are abundant with marine life, both animal and plant. This marine life is the beginning of the food chain, and the baitfish we use are right in the middle of that chain. So it becomes clear that the fish further up the food chain would be found in the area that their food – the fish further down the food chain – would be found. And, that’s exactly how it works.
So from an offshore perspective, you can expect to find king mackerel on and over the offshore reefs. If you get into the Gulf Stream and off the continental shelf in really deep water, you are not likely to find king mackerel. The answer to why is directly related to baitfish. Not many schools of baitfish are found in water that deep because there is not much of interest for them out there. In the case of dolphin, another true pelagic fish, they spend most of their lives swimming in that deep water. They are linked to the Sargasso weed, a type of seaweed that comes out of the Sargasso Sea, an ocean within an ocean off the southeast Atlantic coast. This seaweed acts like a reef for the dolphin, being home to marine life that begins the food chain for them. The bottom line for offshore king mackerel is – find a reef and plan to fish over it.