Kingfish are small but important saltwater fish that are caught from Delaware to North Carolina. Two species occur in the Mid Atlantic; the northern and southern kingfish.
The northern kingfish distinguishable by its darker coloration and longer spine on the first dorsal fin. Both kingfish species can weigh up to 3 pounds, although most fish average less than 1 pound.
Kingfish are often caught while surf fishing, especially during the summer months. They are also caught from piers, jetties, inlets, and other inshore fishing spots.
Kingfish can be caught with shrimp, crabs, bloodworms, squid, sea clams, Fishbites, and other saltwater baits. They are known for being bait stealers, and require small hooks baited with appropriate sized morsels of bait.
Occasionally, kingfish form large schools and move along the surf line or into inshore bays. During summer runs, anglers sometimes catch them in great numbers.
They are also called whiting, king whiting, sea mullet, and roundhead. The names can be confusing as some fish names are applied to multiple species. Several members of the cod family are also called whiting. The term “sea mullet” is sometimes confused with “mullet”, another species found in the surf zone.
In North Carolina, kingfish are often called “roundheads”. Northern and southern kingfish are sometimes confused with the much larger king mackerel, which is often called “kingfish” in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.
Kingfish have excellent flavor and are highly sought after as table fare. Larger individuals can be filleted while small fish are simply scaled, headed and gutted before cooking.