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Kingfish Tactics For Georgia

Kingfish Tactics For Georgia Kingfish Tactics For Georgia
By Bill Vanderford

Even 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!

During the colder parts of the year along the Georgia Coast, king mackerel tend to seek the deeper but warmer water out near the Gulfstream. These fish are generally found at depths of around 150 feet near places like the Brunswick Snapper Banks and the Savannah Snapper Banks, which are large expanses of natural reefs, or "live Bottoms" as they are called by local anglers. Even during the colder months, the temperatures of the deeper water in these areas are usually between the upper 60's to the low 70's.

Captain Judy Helmey from Savannah likes to fish around the Navy Towers R7, M2R6 and R2 during the cooler months as well. These are places that have a hard bottom with uneven ledges.

As spring approaches, the waters along the continental shelf of the Atlantic Ocean begins to warm into the 68 to 72 degree level, and the kingfish start moving westward toward the mainland of Georgia in search of the abundant schools of baitfish. These kings are primarily caught in 50 to 100 feet of water near closer reefs like "J" Reef, "G" Reef, and the Sapelo Live Bottom, which are a mixture of natural and artificial reefs. Also the remains of the old Talmadge Bridge are scattered between two huge sunken barges about 13 miles from the Wassaw sea buoy in roughly 60 feet of water. Judy Helmey pointed out that six separate sections of this old bridge are spread out between the two barges, which makes this stretch of water excellent for trolling.

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 reverse the process.

The cycle is generally complete by November or December, and the big mackerel will have returned to the deep water out by the Gulfstream.

With the warming of spring, however, the migration will start again. Besides the resident schools of mackerel that tend to move from east to west and back, 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. Knowledgeable anglers prefer a 10-foot net with 5-inch mesh, which allow it to sink faster.

One can usually catch enough 5 to 8-inch pogeys in an hour or so to last all day with an ample amount of baitfish left over to make fresh chum. If needed, more bait can be caught offshore by using a rig with a series of small hooks on it dressed with beads and feathers to catch the smaller cigar minnows, Spanish sardines, or thread herring ("greenies"). A few mullet or ribbon fish are usually brought along in case the kingfish are looking for bigger bait. The dead ribbon fish are probably more effective as a teaser than even the most active live bait.

Captain Judy Helmey 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.

Capt. Helmey prefers revolving spool reels with very smooth drag systems that hold at least 300 to 400 yards of 15 to 20 pound monofilament line. She mates these reels to a 7-foot, medium-light action rod with a fast tip.The fast tip allows the bait to stay in the water better when the boat is moving around, and prevents big kings from breaking the lighter monofilament line with a sudden burst of speed. Large capacity spinning reels may also be used, but they must be able to hold at least 200 yards of 20 pound test mono and have a very efficient drag.

Since they only set it tight enough to prevent backlashes, Judy Helmey stresses the extreme importance of a smooth operating drag. When used in combination with the fast tipped rod, anyone can land a more than 30 pound "smoker" king with only 2 to 3 pounds of pull.

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. If the kings are hitting lighter, drop down to a smaller #6 treble hook or even a single hook.

Presenting the bait when slow trolling is accomplished by using six rod and reels with slightly different configurations. The first is a long line, usually 150 to 200 feet behind the boat, baited with a pogey on a regular two-hook rig. A "prop wash" rig is next, which is dropped into the swirling water right behind the engine, and this is then followed by two rigs that are usually 40 to 70 feet behind the boat. These rigs are often weighted with a 1/2 to 3/8 ounce sliding bullet weight or egg sinker above the swivel or a rubber-core sinker pinched onto the monofilament about a foot above the swivel. This will usually take these rigs down 8 to 10 feet below the surface of the water.

The last two rigs are lowered to the proper depth by utilizing downriggers. These are especially important during the hotter months when the surface temperatures might soar into the mid to high 80's. The downriggers then give an angler the capability of reaching below the thermocline to pass through schools of bait that might be found around the 40 to 50 foot depths where the water is cooler.

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.

Drift fishing is basically a variation of slow trolling, but it allows the bait to be presented at an even slower speed. This is especially effective when fishing over larger areas of live bottoms like those off Sapelo Island or during colder periods of the year. Though it is often more productive than slow trolling, the total area covered is considerably less.

The downrigger rigs, prop wash bait, and single long line are eliminated when drift fishing. In their place, two surface rigs out about 50 feet, and two lines weighted with the 1/2 to 3/8 ounces at about the same distance, which will put them at 10 to 15 feet below the surface. If lively bait is scarce, these rigs often prove to be very productive when baited with dead cigar minnows.

Anchoring the boat over an active live bottom is another variation of this type fishing for king mackerel. Normally four rods are also used when applying this technique. Two baits are usually allowed to drift near the surface under floats or balloons, and two weighted rigs are dropped down to a suitable depth. This method is very effective for catching the larger kings in an area where smaller ones have been caught with one of the other systems.

Fifteen to twenty of these smaller "snake" kings is a fairly common day's catch over any live bottom along the Georgia coast. When fishing closer in around the ship channels for "smoker" kings, however, one boat might land as many as six kingfish in excess of 30 pounds during a day of fishing and a few larger Spanish mackerel, but more varieties of fish other than kings are caught over the live bottoms farther offshore.

One of the most important ingredients of success when fishing for kingfish is the chum used by the best anglers. A properly mixed chum not only draws in the predator fish like kings, it also helps to concentrate the schools of baitfish, and even if the temperature is right, without lots of baitfish, there won't be any king mackerel.

To make the best chum, one has to catch several coolers of menhaden with the cast net, and grind them into tiny pieces. These are then put into one gallon Ziplock bags and frozen until the next fishing trip. It usually takes 8 to 10 of these bags per trip.

Prior to each trip the bags are thawed in a five-gallon bucket, mixed with a cheap grade of catfood and soaked in about a gallon of good quality menhaden oil, which can be purchased at many of the tackle stores and marinas along the Georgia coast. It is imperative that the menhaden oil is not rancid or spoiled, or the chum will detract more than attract.

Despite having all the right chum, knowledge and equipment, Captain Helmey agrees that finding schools of baitfish is the key to success with king mackerel. She stresses the importance of water between 65 and 85 degrees as being the temperature limits for kingfish.

WhenCaptain Judy Helmey finds schools of baitfish that appear to have a "funnel-look" to them, she knows that mackerel will be caught. She says that the kings will herd the bait up by going around them in an ever tightening circle. When these round bait pods are located, trolling around the outside of them is guaranteed to produce good catches of kingfish.

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!

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Georgia | Posted: May 14, 2009

I'm new to the area. Here for a year, and its like pulling teeth to get the locals around here to "give up" real information on where and how to catch fish. This article helped out alot with telling where and how these fish can be caught. Now, can I get a redfish write up!