If a stranger walked up to J. Gary Early Jr. and suggested that he "go fly a kite," he would probably take it as a compliment - not an insult.

That's because Early, a yacht broker from Mount Pleasant, has flown many a kite in his pursuit of bluewater gamefish off the South Carolina coast.

When he climbs aboard Patriot, a charterboat he owns, and heads to the Winyah Scarp, Georgetown Hole or Edisto Banks in search of yellowfin tuna, wahoo, dolphin or billfish, flying a kite is just part of the deal.

"In June, water temperatures are getting too hot for yellowfin tuna," Early said. "But we catch them along with everything else. We catch yellowfin later than most boats because we fish with a kite.

"We used to think the yellowfin left as soon as the water got too hot. But I saw another boat fishing with a kite, and he was catching them. I bought a kite, brought in onboard and told everyone we were going to learn to fish with it."

Along with Charles Kerley, who captains Patriot on a daily basis, and mates David Lee and Kate Creech, Early learned the basics of kite fishing and figured out quickly how and why the rigs will help fishermen catch big bluewater fish when traditional trolling spreads are less than productive.

"It's a lot of trouble to fish a kite," Kersey said. "But it's a great way to catch yellowfin tuna, as well as blackfin tuna and dolphin."

Early said that kites add to a captain's bag of tricks when tuna fishing gets more difficult, after the great April-May run about 70 miles off port at Toler's Cove Marina. Yellowfins and blackfins tend to get a little spooky when the water warms up, and a kite that can get his baits away from the hull of his 55-foot boat gives him a much better chance of hooking up.

"You've got to have confidence there are some yellowfin in the area before you start kite-fishing," Early said. "You might get one to hook up on a conventional bait, or you might have caught them in the same place recently. But when the water gets around 80 degrees, they shy away from the boat and the leaders, and that's what makes kite fishing so effective. The baits are away from the boat so it doesn't run over the fish, and the leaders are suspended out of the water."

Patriot uses a standard fishing kite - sometimes two kites - when fishing for tuna. The kites are about 36 inches square and are flown from short, stiff rods set in the tower rod holders. The favored lure for tuna fishing with a kite is a Yummee Fly'n Fish, which is rigged with a pair of hooks - 6/0 and 9/0 - cabled together and threaded through the lure's body. They are tied to 12 feet of leader - at least 130-pound test - then to a pair of crimping sleeves sandwiched around a 2- to 4-ounce egg sinker. A 200-pound barrel swivel connects the rig to the 50- to 80-pound monofilament that runs back to the fighting rods. The bait is attached to 200-pound braided kite line by a release clip.

"We use standup rods with Shimano 50Ws for kite fishing," said Early, who uses electric reels on the reels that control his kites. "You don't need heavy gear, just lots of line capacity."

Kite fishing is extremely specialized. The boat can only go one direction, essentially downwind. While it's possible to reel everything back in and head back in the opposite direction, that burns a lot of fishing time. Sometimes, Patriot trolls several baits on an outrigger on the opposite side of the boat from a kite, along with some other lines from the deck rod holders. But usually, everybody has their hands full when the kite baits are doing their thing.

"With a conventional spread for tuna fishing, you get a hit, circle back and keep working the school," Early said. "But with kites, you keep going, trying to stay over the structure where the fish are holding. The action is so exciting, You can't always mess around with the conventional lines."

The kite is usually set up about 100 yards from the boat. Two kites can fish up to six baits. To spread the kites, a small split shot is crimped to the outsides of the top corner of each kite. Baits are dropped so they form a straight line from each kite so they are easy to spot.

"It can get tricky," Early said. "Kites tangle. The wind is too high or not strong enough. The kites made today fly in most conditions where it's reasonable to be out here, and light wind is best for using kites."

While many kite fishermen use live baits or ballyhoo rigs, Patriot uses the life-like Yummee flying fish lures made by Carolina Lures. They can be rigged in a number of ways and everyone rigs them a bit differently. Even Lee uses a couple of different rigging techniques.

"The trick is rigging the Yummee Fly'n Fish so it skips across the water like a real flying fish," Lee said. "It has to do that without fouling or digging too deep or the leader (will) pop free of the release clip because of the line drag."

A kite is just more of a technical bother than an outrigger, but it gets the lines farther than any outrigger is capable of doing.

"Yellowfin will chase the bait, sometimes missing it three or four times until they hook up," said Early, whose girlfriend, Cynthia Graf, caught the South Carolina state-record blackfin tuna aboard Patriot. "Watching them chase the bait is one of the most exciting things about kite fishing. The flying-fish lure looks so real when you fish it from a kite, the fish just can't stand it. It incites the feeding instinct so it's irresistible. You can see the fish coming from hundreds of yards away, keying in on the commotion."

A tuna hooked up, and Creech, who has been fishing offshore since she was 10 years old, took the rod and took over the fighting chair. A big blackfin came over the side. Other yellowfin tuna followed. Before the day was over, everyone aboard Patriot was exhausted from the early dock time, the long ride out and the ride back in. But mostly, the crew's arms were tired from reeling in a boxful of big game fish.

While other areas of the country, especially Florida, have good luck with sailfish using kites, Early said he has yet to perfect kite fishing for sailfish aboard Patriot, which has been named Charter Boat of the Year the past two years by the Charleston Regional Fishing Tournament

"Sailfish strike the baits and knock them loose from the release clips, and (that) should create an automatic drop-back for sailfish," Early said. "But we hook them up more easily on conventional rigs, saving our kites for finicky yellowfin."

Fishing the edge of the continental shelf means a long, predawn run to the fishing grounds to take advantage of the early-morning bite that is standard. It gives the crew plenty of time to check tackle and rigs.

"We find fish along the 100-fathom curve," Early said. "They places we fish are: Winyah Scarp, Georgetown Hole, Big Dump, Little Dump, 226 Hole, 380 Hole, Southwest Banks and Edisto Banks. Anywhere there's a change that creates an eddy, there are going to be fish. You pick your spot, watching for baitfish on the surface or on the depthfinder. You watch for birds and weed lines or try to spot color changes or current rips that indicate a temperature break."

When it comes to traditional trolling spreads - and Early likes to fish several rods on the side of the boat opposite the kite - he and Kersey will rig rods with standard ballyhoo and rubber-squid daisy chain. Without the kites to worry about, the Patriot would easily fish nine lines at a time.

"The more lines in the water, the better the chances of catching fish," Lee said. "The number of lines depends more on the strength of the bite than anything else. When the bite's hot, you run over a school of fish, and half the reels go off."

Early hooked up with a 35-pound bull dolphin that Lee gaffed after a short fight. It was a gorgeous fish, lit up in neon greens, blues and yellows.

"Dolphin make your day when the fishing's slow," said Early. "You're going to catch big dolphin nearly 100 percent of the time."

Several billfish struck ballyhoos, but none hooked up.

"That's the way it goes sometimes," Kersey said. "Sometimes the billfish are finicky, or you aren't quick enough on the drop-back to get them to hook up. When the billfish strikes a ballyhoo with his bill, he expects to see the injured bait drop down before he eats it. If you can't drop the bait back quick enough, he loses interest."

But a big wahoo needed no drop-back. He struck with power and speed. Creech sat took the rod from Lee and got into the fighting chair as the fish made several long runs. Unlike the dolphin, the wahoo never jumped, and when it came alongside, it was exhausted. It was easier to gaff than the wriggling dolphin, just heavier to lift. Bostic commented on its weight as he gaffed it and hoisted it into the fish box.

"Any wahoo is a nice fish, but that's a really big one," he said after giving Creech a high-five, then replacing the line in the spread with another rod that was already igged. Lee had put one rod in a transom holder, placing the ballyhoo bait in a ballyhoo holster, which was a rod holder placed along the outside wall of the cabin. It kept the bait out of the way, ready for use so the rod on which a fish had been caught could be re-rigged with no downtime.

"Every minute is valuable out here when you're charter fishing," Lee said. "Figure the cost of the fuel, the boat, and the charter and efficiency is critical to success. It's little things like the having extra rods ready that mean more fish in the boat at the end of the day. It's the difference between being the best boat or just average."

"It would have been be nice to have caught some billfish today," Early said. "But we really wanted to fish the kite for tuna. Every day out there in the bluewater is different. Next time, maybe all we will catch will be billfish. You just never know what you're going to catch when you go. It's part of the fun of fishing the break."