Southern Kingfish (Menticirrhus americanus)

Are You Ready To Taste The Southern Kingfish? Dive Into The Delicious Details!

Southern kingfish, (Menticirrhus americanus), is a popular species of fish found in the Atlantic Ocean, primarily in the shallow coastal waters off the southeastern United States. It is primarily caught with gillnet, seines, and longlines and is used as food in many areas. The kingfish is identified by its distinct, bronze-brown back and silvery sides and whitish belly, with a very pronounced pattern of light spots along its sides. The kingfish is an omnivore, feeding on cnidarians (jellyfish), fish eggs and larvae, and small crustaceans. It has an elongated, compressed body that gives it a characteristic torpedo-like shape. Growing up to 80 cm in length, the kingfish has an average lifespan of 10 years. The kingfish is an important species that supports the health of many coastal environments. With its ecologically significant population numbers and economical value, the southern kingfish plays an important role in the marine ecosystem.

Southern Kingfish (Menticirrhus americanus)

The Southern Kingfish, also known as the Sea Mullet or Menticirrhus americanus, is a silver-colored fish found abundantly along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States and into the Gulf of Mexico. This species is of the Sciaenidae (Drums) family, and is the only species of the Menticirrhus genus. They are the most common species of Kingfish along the Atlantic Seaboard, and they reach their greatest abundance from the Carolinas southward.

Southern Kingfish have a short, deep, compressed body with an oval-shaped head. They have a single, large, sharp spine at the front of their number two dorsal fin. They range from 12-18″ in length, and generally reach maturity at around 12″. They can weigh anywhere from one-and-a-half to three pounds and are silvery greenish-blue-gray colored.

Southern Kingfish are found in nearshore coastal waters, usually around bays, beaches, and estuaries. They are often found in shallow muddy and sandy bottoms, which provide them camouflage from other fish. The most popular way they are fished is by casting into a school of visible fish or along a beach or in an estuary.

Southern Kingfish are very hearty eaters and will readily take live bait such as shrimp, mud minnows or worms, as well as cut bait or even artificial lures. Their diet consists mainly of crabs, small fish, and shrimp, although they will also feed on squid, snails, and small clams.


Southern Kingfish spawn in April and May, with peak spawning occurring in May. Spawning occurs along the entire coastline and in many estuaries. Spawning typically occurs in water with a temperature range of 65-78 ºF.

Spawning takes place offshore, usually about thirty to forty feet deep where the water temperature is slightly warmer. The female Kingfish will release between five thousand and two hundred thousand eggs into the water. Male Kingfish will fertilize them and then leave the area. Once hatched, the young fish will stay in the offshore area for about one month before migrating nearshore in search of food and the protection of shallow areas.

Fishing Tips

For the best results, you should use light line, as well as small hooks and/or jigs. You can also use larger hooks baited with shrimp and worms. It is important to have patience when fishing for Southern Kingfish, as they prefer to stay in larger schools and will take time to approach your hook.

When searching for a school of Southern Kingfish, look for splashing or baitfish near the surface of the water. It is also helpful to use polarized sunglasses to search for them, as they will be easier to spot in shallow waters.

When casting for Southern Kingfish, you should cast into the school of fish and be prepared to set the hook. When hooked, the Southern Kingfish can put up a good fight, so be prepared.


Southern Kingfish prefer hard bottom areas in nearshore coastal waters and estuaries. They are most abundant in areas with depths of three to fifteen feet. On Carolina beaches, they are often found in water just nine to fourteen feet deep. They also prefer areas with a sand or mud bottom, as well as rocky or vegetated areas.

In the summer months, Southern Kingfish can travel up the rivers in search of food, and can be found up to fifty miles from the ocean. It is not uncommon for them to be found at depths of more than sixty feet.

Conservation Status

Southern Kingfish are not currently listed as a threatened or endangered species. However, since their decline in the 1970s, conservation efforts have been underway to increase the population. The most effective measures have included reducing bycatch, reducing harvest levels, and enacting restrictions on fishermen.

In the United States, the Southern Kingfish is managed under a joint management plan between the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council. This plan sets limits on the number of fish that can be taken per trip, reduces fishing effort in areas critical to the species’ recovery, and encourages the use of circle hooks.

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