Home Drifting Easy - Fishing Tips Catching Kingfish (Whiting) in the Surf in Ocean City, MD
Catching Kingfish (Whiting) in the Surf in Ocean City, MD

Catching Kingfish (Whiting) in the Surf

"I hear they are catching kingfish in the surf. What are they and how do you catch them?”

When tackle store folks start talking about kingfish, some people think we’re talking about king mackerel. Sorry, we don’t catch any of them in the surf around here!

The Northern kingfish, Menticirrhus saxatilis, is not a large fish. They generally run 10-14 inches and don’t get much over a pound. A pound and a half Northern kingfish would be a big one. The largest on record weighed 3.3 pounds and was caught in a commercial gill net. The largest caught on record on hook and line was caught in New Jersey and weighed 2.6 pounds.
Anglers on different parts of the coast have several names for the northern kingfish including whiting, sea mullet, northern whiting, roundhead, sea mink and whiting.

Northern kingfish have a long spine protruding from the main, first dorsal fin and a barbel on its chin. They have dark bars running vertically down their body. The first two bars form two distinct V-shapes. They also have a dark longitudinal stripe behind the pectoral fins. This distinguishes them from southern kingfish. The markings on a Southern kingfish are not as distinct. They do not form the V-shapes, and they do not have a long spine. They look more silver in color. They do have barbels and have a similar shape to the northern kingfish.

In the summer, we actually catch both varieties in the surf and each are wonderful to eat. There are no size or creel limits for these fish, so the decision to keep it is really a matter of eyeballing the fish and deciding whether it is big enough for you to fillet. Luckily, a kingfish has a surprising yield of pure white meat that is extremely sweet and delicate. It has no dark meat or strong taste whatsoever. It’s one of my all-time favorites! There is a lot more meat on a kingfish fillet than on a croaker or spot fillet. Simply bread up and pan fry, deep-fry, bake or broil. You can’t mess it up!

“OK, so how do I catch them!”

First off, you need a sensitive 8 or 9-foot surf rod and you need to get up early! “Sun hurts their eyes!” is a local’s comment that rings true. Once the sun get bright in the sky, a good bite can abruptly stop. If you are fishing at Assateague Park or the Delaware Seashore State Park where you can fish all day, you will find that the kingfish bite is the best when the wind is coming from an easterly direction. If the day remains overcast you can catch them all day! I have had some excellent reports from Assateague this season when we had those “day after day” overcast, no sun days. “I just caught kingfish all day long!” one angler came in to tell me more than once.

The trick to successful kingfishing on a normal sunny day is to get out there at daybreak and fish early! Sometimes the bite will end at 9 A.M. If you are in Ocean City, that works perfectly because you have to be off the beach by 10 A.M. when the lifeguards come on. Anglers also do well catching kingfish at the end of the day as the sun goes down. A couple hours before dusk can be red hot for kingfish. You can still catch them after dark, but usually the kingfish bite will stop and other critters will turn on such as sharks and croaker.

Hook size is very important when targeting kingfish. These fish have small, downturned mouths and you will have a hard time hooking them with a big bluefish rig! You need a pre-made kingfish rig with either #6 or #8 size hooks. They come in either Pacific Bass or Wide Gap styles. I personally like the Wide Gap type hooks as the kingfish seem to more readily hook themselves. These high/low kingfish rigs have small surf floats next to the hook that elevate the hooks just a little off the bottom floor, making the bait more visible to the fish and less available to troublesome crabs. Crabs will still steal your bait, so you have to check your bait often when fishing for kingfish!

Use a pyramid or hurricane type sinker that will just barely hold the bottom. I like to cast out as far as I can and then ever so slowly bounce my rig back in towards the shore. That way, you can find out exactly where the fish are biting. A slightly moving target makes the fish more aggressive and makes hooking them easier and helps keep the crabs off your bait!

The bait is of utmost importance! Kingfish absolutely love bloodworms. Now bloodworms are a little pricey, but worth the money if you are seriously targeting kingfish. You can also use Artificial FishBite “Bag O’ Worms” Bloodworms. We sell thousands of packs of these in our stores and they do work. I like to use combination baits in the surf when fishing for kingfish or any other fish. I thread a piece of bloodworm on the hook and then add a little strip of FishBite Bloodworm to the hook. This helps to keep the bloodworm on. Most people like the Fish Bites in the blue package that has the mesh in it to stay on the hook longer. If you don’t like the mesh, there are FishBites in the red package (fast release) that does not have the mesh. Both work!
If you prefer to use just the FishBites, put a little strip of FishBite on the hook, no longer than a half inch, and add a little triangle of box squid. (Don’t use that thick pre-cut stuff.) Kingfish like the skin on the squid. You can also use a little strip of filleted finger mullet, fresh bunker or fresh spot you catch in the surf. A little piece of worm (real or fake) and a little piece of meat! That’s my secret.

Get up at the crack of dawn, use small hooks, keep the rod in your hand, look for a little rip or dip in the beach, cast out, bounce it back in REAL slow… and it won’t be long.
Good fishing….

Sue Foster is an outdoor writer and co-owner of Oyster Bay Tackle in Ocean City, MD and Fenwick Tackle in Fenwick, DE

Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 April 2014 10:22