The murky waters of the Intracoastal Waterway were a poor substitute for the blue serenity that awaited over the horizon for Capt. Robert Olsen and the crew of Knot@Work Fishing Charters.

But Olsen knew he needed to spend a little time near the Ben Sawyer Bridge on the Mount Pleasant side of the ICW to pick up some "insurance" before he made the run, which could be a long trek into blue water or just a short hop off the beach, to find king mackerel.

"We troll a lot of menhaden during the late spring and summer, and there's still plenty around to be used for bait," he said, "but with the mullet run in full swing, it's nice to have some of those too in case the kings decide to get picky."

Just how long Olsen's run would be before he met up with September's nearshore royalty depended on a number of factors.

"From late August all the way through September, you can catch kings off the beach as long as we don't have any severe weather pattern where the ocean has been rough for a few days," Olsen said. "If that happens, then you want to move out to 50 to 90 foot of water, and if it stays rough for more than a week, you want to move even farther, out to 90 to 110 foot.

'They will all stack up out there, and the fishing will be really, really, really hot all the way through December. September, October and November can be some of the best king mackerel fishing in terms of size fish caught."

Kings are known for their lightning-fast speed and even sharper teeth. As such, enticing them to bite typically entails trolling live-bait rigs armed with multiple hooks and bite-resistant wire leaders. As sight feeders, kings prefer to hunt in the upper half of the water column, so Olsen covers all bases by trolling some free-lined baits and some baits tethered to downriggers.

"Depending on the weather, I like to fish at least four rods, and if it's calm I can get away with six rods," he said. "Downriggers are a must, if you only have one, that's fine. I'd tell people to put that one in the middle of the water column, at whatever depth they're in, to start with. If they don't get a bite in 30 minutes, adjust the height up or down a little bit."

Like any type of fishing, catching kings is not entirely about the right water depth. Structure plays a big part in where baitfish congregate - and where there's bait, there's a better chance of finding kings.

"I love to fish rocky ledges, any kind of true live bottom, and that's usually anywhere from 12 to 20 miles offshore," Olsen said. "Those places are going to hold all the bait. After live bottom, a lot of the artificial reefs will have kings on them. With reefs, it's a matter of a little bit of technique of fishing around the outside of those reefs rather than trying to fish on the inside.

"You've got so many amberjacks and barracudas and other predators that are going to break you off on a lot of the big structure on the artificial reefs, so fishing reefs can be a little tricky."

Olsen indicated his trolling speed has more to do with the bait than the fish he's targeting; it's not a question of whether a king can catch the bait, but how fast the bait will tolerate the trolling speed.

"Part of my speed will depend on the weather and how much chop I'm dealing with," he said. "We're mainly just putting the boat in gear, trolling anywhere from a half-mile to 2 mph, depending on the size bait.

"If we have little, small bait, we're just putting the motor in and out of gear. If we're using big baits that can handle being pulled behind the boat a little bit quicker, the boat stays in gear."

Robbie Byrne of The Charleston Angler in Summerville, who frequently gives seminars on king mackerel fishing, agrees with Olsen's assessment of water depths to target this month.

"That zone of 60 to 80 feet of water is hard to beat this time of year," said Byrne, who pointed fishermen to a Maps Unique chart that provides GPS coordinators for live bottom off Charleston. "Anglers can either look for live bottom or head to one of the marked buoy reefs to fish. We have a lot of guys who like to fish an area called 'The Gardens' - it's about 35 miles off the north end of the jetties. Or the Edisto 40 and Edisto 60 are good reefs to try."

After a long, windy summer, Byrne looks forward to autumn, when things begin to calm down offshore. Barring a tropical event, he expects to see calmer water, which clears up the visibility so kings can see.

"We're not having to pull as many skirts with the king rigs to get their attention now," he said. "Most guys are trolling bigger baits, blue runners or mullet for the bigger kings, and some are even pulling trolling plugs and crankbaits."

The final piece of the puzzle is gear. Olson and Byrne here recommend 20-pound-class tackle. Byrne suggests the Shimano TLD 15 paired with a fast-tipped 7-foot rod, while Olsen is a Penn fan.

"King mackerel-size gear is 15- to 30-pound-test, spinning rod, open-face, high-retrieve, high-speed reels, 6:1. Penn 545s are my reel of choice," Olsen said. "They hold a lot of line. They're capable of 400 yards of 20-pound test. If I'm fishing a tournament, I'll set up with fluorocarbon line; if not, just straight line to the leader.

"A good reel with a delicate drag is important. All the drag you're ever going to need is only 2 to 3 pounds, so as long as you don't tighten that drag down, those fish aren't going to break off."

After an up-and down summer, wind-wise, both Olsen and Byrne are hoping to see a calmer autumn pattern develop. If that's the case, the king fishing forecast is a good one.

"The fishing this fall should be non-stop, if you can get on a good bite," Olsen said. "Like I said, over that live bottom, it's either hit or miss. Just keep looking for places to fish.

"If you pull up to a place that looks good and you fish there for 30 minutes and don't catch anything, by all means, regroup, pack up and try another spot. Start shallow, then head either north, south or into deeper water, until you find where those fish want to be."

 

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE - Fishermen have plenty of public ramps to use to access Charleston Harbor and the king mackerel grounds beyond, but three stand out:

• Remley's Point on the Wando River in Mount Pleasant, off County Road 56, just north of US 17;

• Shem Creek Landing off SC 703 on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant;

• Wappoo Cut off SC 171 near its intersection with SC 700 on Wappoo Creek between West Ashley and James Island.

WHEN TO GO - King mackerel begin to show up closer to shore as baitfish become more abundant in early June. Offshore waters out to 100 feet of water may hold fish as late as December.

BEST TECHNIQUES - Fishing for king mackerel involves trolling live baits such as menhaden, mullet or a multitude of smaller fish caught on smaller tackle. Live baits are trolled on a combination of flat lines and down lines using down riggers to get the baits to depth. Kings attack prey at high speed, using their sharp teeth to inflict injury. Due to this type feeding, rigs incorporate either wire leaders with multiple hooks to prevent cut offs, often hooking the fish outside the mouth. The best trolling areas are livebottom areas or artificial reefs that attract baitfish. Kings are also frequently caught just outside the surf zone where pods of baitfish wander off the beach.

GUIDES/FISHING INFO - Capt. Robert Olsen, Knot@Work Fishing Charters, 843-442-7724 or www.knotatworkfishing.com; The Charleston Angler, 843-571-3899 or www.thecharlestonangler.com. See also Guides & Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS - Best Western Patriots Point, 259 McGrath Darby Blvd, Mount Pleasant, 843-971-7070; Town and Country Inn & Conference Center, 2008 Savannah Hwy, Charleston, 800-334-6660; La Quinta Inn & Suites, Charleston Riverview, 11 Ashley Pointe Dr., 843-556-5200.

MAPS - Maps Unique, 910-458-9923, www.mapsunique.com; Sealake Fishing Guides, 800-411-0185, www.thegoodspots.com.