Big Kings off Georgia CoastEven before the startled angler could jump from his seat to retrieve the rod, the drag on the saltwater baitcasting reel was screaming! Moments before, the laid-back fisherman had been watching the live minnow lazily swimming at the end of his line some 50 feet behind the boat. Suddenly a three-foot flash of silver exploded the water and the minnow disappeared.
The angler’s arms were weary by the time the over 20 pound king mackerel was hoisted onto the deck of the boat. Though not heavily publicized, these big predators can be caught during most of the year, and have to be considered one of Georgia’s most exciting fishing adventures!
When the surface temperature starts approaching 80 degrees, king mackerel are found in 30 to 40 feet within 5 to 7 miles of the beaches at locations like “F” Reef off St. Simons Sound, KBY Reef off Cumberland Island, the ALT Reef in the mouth of the Altamaha River, KC Reef off of Savannah, the ship channel near St. Simons Island, the Fernandina Jetties at the mouth of the St. Marys River and at Tybee Roads (Savannah Ship Channel). They will remain in those depths until the water temperature reaches 83 to 85 degrees, then kingfish will begin seeking cooler water farther offshore again. Their sojourn to the shallower waters normally lasts from around June through August before they begin to reverse the process.
Besides the resident schools of mackerel that tend to move from east to west, other large concentrations of much larger kings pass through Peach State waters. These big fish annually migrate from south Florida up the eastern seaboard as the water warms, and many are caught by Georgia anglers. This phenomenon normally occurs during the period from June through August at the same time the largest number of resident mackerel are also in the shallower waters.
The most universal methods used by experienced king mackerel fishermen are slow trolling, drifting, and anchoring. The most commonly used bait is the menhaden or “pogey”, especially when the kings are closer to shore. These baitfish are easily found along the beaches during the early morning hours by watching for pelicans diving into the water, and can be caught with a cast net.
Captain Judy Helmey from Savannah prefers to troll with cigar minnows and ballyhoo. She makes these offerings more attractive by adding skirts of chartreuse to the deeper baits that are run on a downrigger or planer board. On the surface, Captain Helmey often uses a naked ballyhoo or cigar minnow, but may add a slightly weighted nose section that slides on the line in front of the minnow. This added attractor usually incorporates long strips of tinsel with sparkle or colored hair to make the bait more visible to marauding kings.
The normal terminal rig consists of a #10 or #12 Crane barrel swivel tied to the end of the mono, followed by 2 to 4 feet of either single or multiple strand 40 pound wire leader with a #4 Laser-sharp treble hook at the end. Add another 6 inches of leader to the first hook and tie an additional “stinger” hook to that. The baitfish is then hooked through the nostril with the first hook, and the “stinger” hook trails free. Since king mackerel often slash at a baitfish below its head, they are frequently caught by the free-swinging trailer hook.
Slow trolling means just that. The speed that the bait is presented is critical. If the boat can’t idle down to less than 2 miles per hour, then buckets or sea anchors will have to be employed to slow the speed. The bait has to be allowed to swim at a normal speed, or it will become stressed and die quickly. Even at the right speed, however, bait should be changed about every half hour for best results. In fact, the changing of the bait often triggers the kingfish into a feeding frenzy.
Despite the popularity of other places along the eastern seaboard, the coast of Georgia has got to be one of the best places in the country to catch a limit of big kingfish. So, for a “reel screaming” experience with an incredibly powerful fish on fairly light tackle, the “Peach State’s” Atlantic coastline is the prime spot!
Additional fishing information can be obtained by calling the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia DNR at (912) 264-7218. For excellent charter service in the Savannah area, call Capt. Judy Helmey at (912) 897-4921.