Game Fishing > Drum Family, Sciaenidae > Kingfish


KingfishThe kingfish is also known as barb and sea mink in the North, and in the South as whiting. It was first described by Bloch and Schneider, in 18o1, from the vicinity of New York. They named it saxatilis, meaning "living among rocks," which by the way it does not do, as it prefers hard, sandy shoals. Its range extends along the Atlantic coast south of Buzzards Bay, occasionally straying to the Gulf of Mexico. It is most abundant, however, between Montauk Point and Cape Hatteras.

It has a long, rather round body, not much compressed, its depth being nearly a fourth of its length. The head is long, with a blunt snout projecting beyond the mouth, which is small, with tough, leathery lips, and with a single barbel on the chin. Both jaws have bands of small, brushlike teeth, the outer ones in the upper jaw somewhat longer. The upper angle of the caudal fin is sharp, the lower angle rounded.

Its color is gray with steely lustre on the back, fading gradually to the belly, which is bluish white. There are several dark, oblique bands, running from the back downward and forward, and one extending from the nape downward, forming a broad "V" with the one next to it; along the border of the belly is a horizontal dark streak running from the middle of the body to the tail.

The kingfish is a bottom feeder, and as might be inferred from the character of the teeth is partial to crabs, shrimps, young lobsters, and mussels, but does not object to the sand-lance and other small fishes, and sandworms, and is found on the hard, sandy shoals where such organisms abound. It visits the shores from spring until November, but is more abundant in the summer, when it enters the bays and rivers. It is usually found in deep water, feeding along the channels.

Although it seems to consort a good deal with the weakfish, its habits of feeding are quite different from that fish. It spawns in the summer, earlier or later, according to the temperature of the water, though but little is known of its breeding habits.

Its flesh is flaky, of firm texture, and has a delicious flavor when perfectly fresh, which, however, is lost when out of the water a short time. It is of small size, usually weighing from a half pound to two pounds, though occasionally reaching five or six pounds. But although so small it is justly esteemed and in great demand, the smaller ones as pan-fishes, for breakfast, and the larger ones for chowders, for which it is unexcelled by any other fish.

For its size, the kingfish is considered the gamest of all salt-water fishes. It bites savagely, suddenly, and with a vim and purpose that are sometimes startling to the unwary angler. And when he takes the proffered bait he stands not upon the order of going, but goes at once, and with a dash that is remarkable for its length in so small a fish. When checked, he darts from side to side with amazing quickness, or makes straight for the surface, when the angler is surprised to find him of so small a size. He is multum in fiarvo, - a large soul in a small body.

In sheltered estuaries and bays where the tide does not run strongly or swiftly, or during the stages of slack water, the most suitable tackle consists of a black-bass bait-rod and reel, one hundred yards of fine braided linen line, a three­foot leader, and Sproat hooks, on stout gut snells, the leader being connected with the line by a brass box-swivel or swivel-sinker of small size. Where the rush of the tide is greater, a natural chum rod or the Little Giant rod is appropriate, as a heavy sinker must be used to keep the bait near the bottom. To meet the varying conditions of the tide, sinkers of different weights are needed, and a landing-net should not be forgotten when the rod is a light one.

The fishing is done from a boat anchored near the edge of the channels or in the vicinity of hard shoals of sand, ledges of rocks, or near oyster bars, in water of pretty good depth. The bait may be shedder-crab, clam, blood-worm, or shrimp. All are good, but crab is, perhaps, the best, and should be kept in motion.

The northern kingfish must not be confounded with the kingfish of the Florida Keys, which is a fish of the mackerel tribe, akin to the Spanish mackerel, a game-fish of high order, growing to a weight of forty pounds.

I was amused several years ago when a correspondent applied to the angling editor of one of the sportsman's journals for information concerning the kingfish of Florida. The editor, not knowing any better, confounded it with the northern kingfish, and recommended the usual means of capture for that fish. I wondered, at the time, how the inquiring angler succeeded with the nimble acrobat of the coral reefs, still-fishing, with such tackle.

There are two closely allied species the Carolina whiting (Menticirrhus americanus) and the surf or silver whiting (Menticirrhus littoralis), which differ somewhat in coloration and in some unimportant structural differences; otherwise they are very similar to the kingfish. The former inhabits the deeper water, while the latter frequents the shallow sandy shores of the southern coast from Carolina to Texas. Their feeding habits are similar to those of the kingfish, and in their season they can be captured in the same way.