Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips Catching kingfish in the surf...
Catching kingfish in the surf...

“I caught this strange looking little fish in the surf. It wasn’t very big,
had stripes, a turned down little mouth with a barbell beneath its chin. It
gave quite a fight for its size! What was is?

A kingfish! These fish that are also called whiting or sea mullet, do not
get very big. In fact, the North Carolina state record for a Southern
Kingfish is 3 pounds 8 ounces and was caught in 1971. New Jersey state
record for a Northern Kingfish is 2 pounds 8 ounces. Maryland’s state record
for a Northern Kingfish is also 2 pounds 8 ounces.

A typical kingfish caught in our area usually runs from 8 to 12 inches with
the southern variety tending to run slightly larger than the Northern

How do you tell the difference? The Northern Kingfish has a long spine on
the first dorsal fin. They have dark irregular bars along the body. The
first two bars form two distinct v-shapes. These dark prominent markings,
plus a dark stripe behind the pectoral fin distinguishes it from the
Southern Kingfish.

The Southern Kingfish has lighter less pronounced markings and does not have
the long spine on the first dorsal fin like the Northern Kingfish. The bars
never form a V-shape.
Besides that, they are quite similar and both wonderful to eat. They are a
good fight besides. Kingfish are one of my most favorite fish to catch AND
to eat.

“Where do you catch them?”

Kingfish are primarily caught in the surf, but sometimes anglers in boats
fishing close to the beach also target them. Occasionally anglers catch them
in the inlet, or in the main east channel of the bay, on the Oceanic Pier,
and on the South side of the south jetty. But the surf is where most anglers
go to catch kingfish.

“How do you catch them?”

Since we’re not talking about huge fish here, there’s no use getting out the
Hatteras Heaver that will throw 10 ounces of weight when fishing for
kingfish. A medium action 7 to 10 foot surf rod (no heavier than 3-6 oz) is
all you need for the kings. I like to fish with an 8 to 9 foot rod so I can
get out there far enough if that’s where they are. But the rod is not so
cumbersome that it takes all the sport out of the catching.

The rig is very important. Kingfish have a small turned down mouth, so it is
crucial that you fish with a size #6 or #8 leadered hook. Most anglers use
small surf floats next to the hooks and fish them on a simple top and bottom
rig with just enough weight to hold the bottom. There are several pre-made
rigs on the market that work just great. Sea Striker makes two very nifty
rigs that I like especially well.

One is called a “ Spot & Kingfish” rig and is made with one-inch fluorescent
Styrofoam floats and size No. 6 long shank Pacific Bass type hooks. It is
made out of 40-pound test monofilament and has a barrel swivel at one end to
tie to your line and a loop at the other end to slip your sinker through.

This rig is my favorite! It is called a “ Spot, King, &
” rig. The rig is made out of half-inch ball floats and No. 6
gold-plated wide gap hooks. These rigs are also excellent for sea trout and
Norfolk spot.

Some tackle companies make a kingfish rig out of hard plastic covered floats
and size No. 6 Pacific Bass hooks. The advantage to the plastic-
coated floats are that crabs cannot chew up the floats. This can become a
major problem in the summer!

Other anglers skip the floats and simply put two size #6 Spinner hooks on a
basic top and bottom rig. Some other anglers like to make their own rigs out
of small Circle hooks. Bear Paw circle hooks in size #4 are excellent
kingfish hooks.

“Are they far out or close in?”

Oh, that’s always the question asked about all fish. Kingfish are usually
close in, but not always. As the tide becomes higher, they can come closer
to the shore. Sometimes they are almost in the wash! When the tide turns
and goes out, they can be out there further.

Wherever they are, you can bet they are feeding on little crabs, worms, and
baby clams close to or on a bar. If you are on a beach where there is an
outer bar with a slough, anglers try to cast up on the outer bar. Then they
slowly pull the rig over the bar and down into the deeper water. This is
what you call a drop-off. Fish feed on these drop-offs because this is where
the bait is falling.

You can’t always reach these outer bars, so if you can’t reach it, just
throw as far as you can, and slowly reel back towards you. Kingfish like a
little turbulence, so cast where you see “rips” or an area of “back wash.”
An extremely calm surf does not usually produce a good catch of kingfish.

When the tide is high, there may be a perfect slough right next to the
shore. Look in the water and see if you see the drop off and maybe see
scurrying little sand crabs digging franticly into the wet sand. Look for
little tiny clams digging into the wet sand as well. If you see that, a
short toss of your surf rod may be all it takes!

If you can’t see any particular structure or drop offs where you are
fishing, cast just beyond the crest of the breaking waves. Casting any
further than that, and you can be over casting the fish!

“The sun hurts their eyes!” I read that in a fish forum last year about
kingfish. And it might or might not be true, but it does seem that they bite
best when the day is overcast as opposed to a hot sunny day. “The early bird
gets the worm” is also usually true about kingfish. They might bite like
heck between 6 A.M. and 9 A.M. and totally turn off by 10. They like to
feed close to shore as the day draws to an end. I always like surf fishing
between 4 or 5 P.M. until dark.

The wind? A slight easterly breeze is my favorite for the kingfish.

“The bait?’

Bloodworms were always the bait of chose for kingfish when I grew up. Now,
anglers are using the new Artificial Fishbite bloodworms. They are also
using the clam and the shrimp flavors. If you are going to take one
artificial bait though, take the bloodworm!
You can combo these artificial baits with each other, or you can combo them
with real bait such as squid, bunker, or cut mullet.

Bunker is probably the “sleeper” bait that people don’t think of to use for
kingfish. But it can really work if you cut it into small chunks or strips.
I like to combo little strips of bunker, finger mullet or squid with
Fishbite Bloodworm Alternative. The Southern Kingfish will take a shrimp in
a hurry, while the Northern kingfish are more into worms. If you use squid,
I like the Calamari box squid over the thick cleaned squid. I think they
like that “dirty squid” smell. And peelers! Some people really like peelers
for kingfish. But it’s often hard to get fresh peelers, so if you can’t get
fresh, I’d stick to the other baits.

When you hook a kingfish, it will give a very respectable tug. Then
sometimes, it will head right towards the beach. SO, if you get a good bend
in your surf rod followed by slack line, reel in quickly. It’s the likely
the fish is there and on the line!

Kingfish… a sweet little fish….

Good fishing….