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AKA: hardhead, pinhead, kingfish

Description: Atlantic croaker is a silvery fish with a faint pinkish bronze cast. Its back and upper sides are grayish with brassy or brown spots that form oblique wavy lines on the fish’s sides. Its body is moderately flat and elongated. The dorsal fins are continuous with a deep notch between the spiny and soft portions. It has a long head with a conical snout projecting beyond its downward-positioned mouth. It has a slightly pointed tail and small barbels on the lower jaw. A member of the drum family, Atlantic croaker derives its name from the croaking sound it produces by vibrating its swim bladder.

Size: Catches are commonly 9 inches and 1/3 pound, but Atlantic croaker are found as large as 20 inches and 5 pounds.

Sometimes confused with: pigfish, kingfish, undersized red drum

Habitat: Atlantic croaker are found in both muddy and sandy bottom areas all along the East Coast from Cape Cod, Mass., to the South Atlantic and Gulf coasts to central Mexico. In North Carolina, it is found throughout coastal waters.

Eating habits: Atlantic croaker are opportunistic feeders that eat crustaceans, worms, organic debris, mollusks and small fish.

Life cycle: Atlantic croaker mature between ages 2 and 3 and spawn offshore over a protracted period which usually peaks in October. Eggs and newly-hatched larvae drift toward land, and later, as juvenile fish, swim into estuarine nursery areas where they remain until the next fall when they migrate into open waters.

Fishing tips: Recreational anglers can catch croaker from the spring through the fall by fishing on the bottom with light tackle and natural baits, like shrimp, clams, bloodworms and squid. Fishing is best just before or just after high tide in channels or deep holes.

N.C. Saltwater Fishing Tournament

Award for harvest of fish, 1.5 pounds or greater.

See the list of weigh stations


Persons engaged in recreational fishing in North Carolina coastal waters are required to possess a Coastal Recreational Fishing License in accordance with G.S. 113-174.2.

Current Proclamations

Recreational Size and Bag Limits

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