King Mackerel Vs Spanish Mackerel: The Key Difference

Failing to know the difference between King Mackerel Vs Spanish Mackerel may lead to an unfortunate hefty fine for anglers: The fishing regulations for these two fish are completely different! However, it is hard to tell them apart as both look very similar, especially when the Kings are still small.

If you are still struggling to differentiate between Spanish Mackerel vs King Mackerel, read this article. We’ll look at their key differences and get some information about their living habitat, mercury level and how they taste in meals.

King Mackerel Vs Spanish Mackerel

Difference In Fishing Regulations

Before we get into the details, let’s make sure you are aware of the difference in fishing regulations.

  • Size limit: For Spanish Mackerel, it is 12 inches and for King Mackerel, it is 24 inches and above.
  • Bag limit: For Spanish Mackerel, it is 15, which means anglers can only keep 15 of these fish a day. For King Mackerel, it is between 1 and 3 depending on each state regulations.

The size limit for the Kings is twice the length requirement for the Spaniards, and the bag limits for Kings are, well, much more limited.

This means that if you are mistaking a juvenile King for a regular Spanish, it would be a costly mistake. Therefore, it is important for anglers to learn the difference.

Similarities of King Mackerel vs Spanish Mackerel

There are some similarities that make it difficult to tell  Spanish and King mackerel apart. 

  • Same family and genus: Despite being two entirely different species, both are members of the Scombridae family, Scomberomorus genus. 
  • Similar in appearance: Both are long, slender fish with a greenish color. Both Spanish Mackerel and King Mackerel have yellow spots running along their bodies.
  • Similar in size:  When fully grown, King fish are a lot bigger than their counterparts. However, before maturing, most juvenile Kings are the same size as an average Spaniards. 
  • Similar in habitats: Both can be found in the Atlantic Ocean, United States and in the Gulf of Mexico.
King Mackerel

King Mackerel Fish.

Key Differences of King Mackerel vs Spanish Mackerel

To be able to tell King Mackerel vs Spanish Mackerel apart, the key is to look at their dorsal fin and lateral line.

Both fish are very similar, but if you look closely, Spanish Mackerel has a shorter dorsal fin. It also has a distinctive black tip on it, while King Mackerel do not have this feature. 

Both have a lateral line running from the tail to the head. But it is a gentle curve for Spanish Mackerel, while for King Mackerel, the line has a sharp dip right after the fist dorsal fin. 

Appearance and Size

In terms of color, the Spanish has a bluish-green back and with yellow eliptical spots on its silver sides. Meanwhile, adult Kings have a lighter-colored back and black spots that are positioned in a leopard-like pattern. 

However, bear in mind that juvenile Kings also have yellow spots on their body, which makes it easily mistaken with their Spanish cousin. Therefore, to distinguish between the two species, it is best to look at the first dorsal fin and the slope of the lateral line.

Difference in Size and Weight

While both species are large, Spanish Mackerel is a smaller fish. The King Mackerel is a larger species, weighing up to 100 pounds.

The Spaniards is typically a small fish, weighing between 1 and 5 pounds, but occasionally reaches 10 pounds.

Therefore, if you come across a mackerel that is over 20 pounds, the likelihood is that it is a King.

Spanish Mackerel

Spanish Mackerel Fish.

Difference in Habitat and Fishing

The habitat of Spanish vs. King mackerel is different and is best characterized by the type of environment in which they are found. 

Both species are found in the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and in the Caribbean. However, the Spanish is commonly found in warmer waters, while the King lives in cooler water near South Florida and the Indian Ocean. 


The Spanish Mackerel tend to live in shallow, warm waters and spend most of their time on the continental shelf. Their habitats are varied and include nearshore, offshore and live bottoms. They are likely to be found in depths from 10 to 40 feet.

While young King mackerel often stay in shallow waters, the older ones move inshore during summer tides. They can live as deep as from 40 to 590 feet under water. 

Difference in Nutritional Value

There is a considerable difference in the nutritional value of these two fish. In terms of mercury level, Spanish vs. King mackerel are both high in mercury, so be careful what you choose. 

Although Spanish mackerel has a lower mercury content than King mackerel, it is still listed on the FDA’s list of choices to avoid. The FDA recommends two to three servings of fish per week, and those pregnant or with young children should consult with their health care provider before eating fish. 


Spanish mackerel contains more omega-3 fatty acids and a higher protein content, and the other is slightly less lean. Both species have healthy levels of protein. 

The Kings generally contain fewer calories than their counterparts, and they have less total fat and saturated fat.

Both are good sources of magnesium. However, the Spanish contains more potassium than King. This mineral helps the body balance sodium levels. 

Difference in Spanish Mackerel vs King Mackerel Taste 

Both of them have similar appearance but are slightly different in flavor. King mackerel taste fatty with firm meat, while the Spanish is mild and flaky. 


Both are great choices for a seafood meal. Spanish mackerel can be easily filleted and is great for baking, broiled, or steamed. 

Meanwhile, although King is not considered good for table fare, it can provide an excellent flavor when prepared correctly. Cooking them on the grill or in a hot cast iron pan will enhance their flavor and texture. It is also good for those who don’t like fishy tastes.

How to Catch King Mackerel vs Spanish Mackerel

There are several ways to hook Spanish and King mackerel, and a good charter boat skipper can tell you which baits to use and at what depths. However, it is important to ask other fisherman for their tactics, because you may want to use different color, weight, and number of feathers. A good leader is essential, as these fish are very strong, and they can easily snare the hook.

How to catch

King and Spanish mackerel are very aggressive fish that can bite even when they’re in a relaxed state. Use live baits when possible, or artificial lures. 

Live bait is the best option, but if you want to try trolling, use feathers, ballyhoo, or a threadfin. Sardine-like fish are also excellent baits. Always use a wire leader for your fishing line, as King’s teeth can easily cut your line.

A jig will also work very well, but you will need to be patient when fishing. A tube lure like the Gotcha is ideal for both troll fishing and casting. 

If you’re a beginner, it’s a good idea to fish with someone who has more experience. You can also go along with a pro to increase your odds of catching one.

Conclusion about King Mackerel vs Spanish Mackerel

Because of the difference in size limit and bag limit, it is important that anglers know how to distinguish these very similar types of fish. The key difference between Spanish mackerel and King mackerel is the lateral line and the dorsal fin.

The Spanish has a gentle sloping lateral line and shorter dorsal fin with a black tip, while the King’s lateral line has a abrupt drop mid-way and no spot on the dorsal fin. They also slightly differ in their size, their living habitat, flavors and nutritional value. 

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