How to Catch Kingfish From a Pier: The Ultimate Guide

January 12, 2021

How to Catch Kingfish From a Pier: The Ultimate Guide

King Mackerel are some of the best all-around fish found in our local East coast waters. As one of the fastest fish in the sea, Kingfish are great for a fight but also taste pretty good on a plate too. King Mackerel are surface fish, usually found in the top 10-20ft of the water column. But do you know how to catch Kingfish from a pier?

Some fishing trips are about a quiet relaxing time next to the river, not so with Kings. The ferocity with which King Mackerel attacks their prey means that if you’re not ready, they could rip your fishing pole right out of your grasp. Once you have set that hook, Kings will continue fighting, twisting, and jumping, right up until you have it out of the water.

Let’s learn more about how to catch Kingfish from a pier!

Kingfish are Predators

Kingfish are voracious predators, and their sharp cutting teeth reflect this quite clearly. Kingfish eat almost all types of baitfish. When fishing for Kings, it is not uncommon to reel in only half your baitfish. If you are unlucky, all you are left with is the head and the terrifying last moments still etched onto the face of your (no longer live) bait.

Rising from the deep at almost 50mph, King Mackerel strike at their prey from behind and beneath. Taking their prey in this particular way leads to ‘skyrocketing.’ Skyrocketing or ‘skying’ is one of the iconic behaviors that Kingfish are best known for. Launching themselves, spectacularly, as much as 10ft from the surface of the water. 

Unlike some other species, Kings are not subtle when it comes to taking prey. They don’t nibble or taste their food. Taking full advantage of their sharp teeth and lightning speed, they devour it with almost unrivaled savagery. 

Kingfish have sharp teeth but not a particularly strong bite. They use the thrashing of their powerful bodies to give their teeth a sawing motion, quickly cutting into and through the flesh of their prey.

Best Tackle for Catching Kingfish from a Pier

In case I hadn’t mentioned, Kingfish are savage. Because of this, they can very quickly degrade your lead line. When fishing for Kings, it is vital to use a strong leader line that can not easily be shredded by their sharp saw-like teeth paired with a proper pier fishing rod.

Kingfish also have large eyes and excellent eyesight, so if you have caught a few, but they seem to have gone off the bite. It may be due to the biting and thrashing from catching the first few fish that has created imperfections in your lead line. The keen-eyed fish can now spot frays or kinks in the leader, giving the game away. 

King Mackerel’s teeth dictate that fishermen should use a heavy wire leader, but their acute vision can mean this has a negative impact on the number of bites you get. Finding the perfect balance between visibility and strength in a lead line is never easy but can be particularly tricky for Kings.

Many anglers will opt to take a few different types of lead lines on their fishing excursions. Others choose to forgo the wire leader altogether and simply use an 80-pound-test fluorocarbon fishing line.

No. 3, No.5, and No.7 lead wire are the most regularly used among anglers of King Mackerel. Most will use between 12 and 18 inches of lead line between the swivel and the hook, though some can opt to use a few extra inches or even feet depending on the angler’s style.

A swivel is almost essential when fishing for King Mackerel. They will jump, twist, and generally panic when hooked. A swivel should help to reduce the number of kinks that these aggressive fighters can introduce into your wire lead line.

Learn Your Surroundings

When fishing from an unfamiliar pier, it can help to talk to locals for advice. However, anglers can be cagey about their techniques and particularly tight-lipped over their favorite fishing spots. Some will even go so far as to provide misinformation to throw the unwelcome competition off the scent of their secret smoker spots. 

Try to gather information from more than one source. This way, if you get the same details from different people, it’s a pretty safe bet the info is good. In coastal towns, people from all walks of life gather together to fish on the pier. Don’t assume the little old lady in the gift shop doesn’t know about fishing, and chances are she was tying fishing knots with her grandpappy before she could tie her own shoelaces!

Experienced divers can also provide invaluable information about the conditions surrounding the pier. Water depths, reefs, gulleys, and drop-offs are all key to finding the targeted species. Also, divers may be a bit more forthcoming and honest with their information, not feeling threatened by the competition in the way other anglers might. 

Divers in the water give the best information, pointing out, in real-time, where the baitfish are and which direction the Kings are striking from. Give divers time to move out of a suggested location before casting. 

Always be aware of divers in the water. Fishing line is an almost invisible hazard to snorkeling or scuba diving. Diving buoys will inform you of the location of scuba divers in the water. Some experienced snorkelers can hold their breath for a very long time, so keep an eye open. 

Bait & Lures

The pro’s all generally agree that there is nothing better than live bait for catching King Mackerel, but Live bait is not always available. Many anglers have had varying success with dead bait, spoons, plugs, and lure and dead bait combinations.

Swimming plugs can be quite successful but are often destroyed by the ferocity of a striking King Mackerel. Generally, metal spoons and lures, being the more robust options, offer a longer usable lifespan than swimming plugs. Neither of these options is quite as tantalizing as a dead bait and lure combination.

Live Bait for Kingfish from a Pier

The most common species to be used live are Blue Runners, Cigar Minnows, Menhaden, Mullet, Threadfin, and Pilchards, but most silvery colored and bite-sized fish will attract King Mackerel. If you have kids, you can keep them entertained (and out of the way), having fun fishing for the live baitfish while you go in search of the smokers. You can also use a baitfish trap if you want to save time.

When fishing with live bait from a pier, don’t use too much weight. A favorable wind with a balloon float can add distance to your cast. Live bait can also swim some extra distance to your original cast, making them the preferred option when fishing from the pier.

We recommend using a stinger rig. Check out our article on how to make Kingfish rigs for more info.

Lures and Spoons when Fishing for Kingfish from a Pier

Firstly, size your lures to the size of fish you want to catch. If the store doesn’t have the size you’re looking for – go smaller rather than larger, unless you ONLY want big fish.

You can catch big fish with a small hook, and you can’t catch small fish with a big hook. The largest King Mackerel generally goes for the bigger bait, but adding a skirted lure can make a small bait look bigger.

If you have the time and can catch live bait around the pier, that’s great, but you can pick up King Mackerel with a pier fishing lure too. Most pier anglers favor a 2 oz or 2 ½ oz spoon. 2 ½ oz is a nice weight to cast quite far and a right size for picking up the larger sized female Kings. Poppers are also a great choice for mackerel.

Tips for Catching Kingfish from a Pier

  • When fishing from a pier, use a long fishing rod. Short rods are great on a boat. Among other things, they take up less room. But when casting out from a pier, a longer rod may give you the extra cast distance to get into the perfect spot. 
  • Be aware of your surroundings when casting, and if necessary, cast underhand. Casting overhand usually provides more distance, but it can be dangerous. If you have an extended lead line, the danger to you and others around you increases.  
  • Use your rod to bring the fish closer, and take up the slack with the reel. The handle of a reel is not designed to crank your catch’s full weight and may break if used improperly.
  • Keep the drag setting light on your reel. When you get your hook into a King Mackerel, the first run will usually be speedy. If your drag setting is too heavy, Kings can break the line or pull the hook. Allow them to run a hundred feet or so of line off the reel, with low drag, to tire them a little before starting the fight. 

When You Have a Kingfish Hooked

  • Keep the line tight. Kings are great fighters, and they jump and twist, gnashing their teeth the entire time you’re reeling them in. Keeping the line tight will help to ensure the fish has no chance to get their teeth up past the lead line.
  • Pull the opposite way. If your fish is pulling to your right, pull to your left, and vice versa. Not only does this technique tire the fish and help to keep the hook set, but it also helps to keep the line out of the danger zone of the teeth.
  • Use wet hands when handling baitfish. Dry hands will leave dark marks on live and dead baitfish, and King Mackerel can see these marks and may be put off.
  • Use different color lures. Sunlight illuminates colors differently in saltwater, at different times of the day, and at different depths. Information suggests red-colored lures are most successful in the morning. Blue tends to show better results around midday, with a flashy gold color attracting the most bites later in the afternoon. Brighter neon colors tend to provide better results when fishing deeper down. 


The largest King Mackerel are actually female, with the diminutive males reaching a maximum length of about 15 inches. The current record-holding King Mackerel is 93lbs, caught back in 1999, but if you were worried that this might have been the last true monster… 

A recent contender is awaiting adjudication to have his incredible 97.8lbs catch enter the record books. This huge King Mackerel was caught off Ft Lauderdale quite recently in 2019 by a newlywed on his honeymoon. We hope this is a fortuitous blessing for the union of the happy couple.

We hope you enjoyed this article on how to catch Kingfish from a pier. If you’re interested in learning other ways to fish for kingfish, check out our article on kingfish surf fishing.

Happy Hunting!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

1 thought on “How to Catch Kingfish From a Pier: The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Thanks for this article and information! I have fished all my life but never for King Mackerel and I’m ready to get in on the action!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts