Southbound And Down, The King Mackerel Are Coming

Roll out the red carpet. When the bulk of the migrating king mackerel pass back by the Georgia coast this month, fishing will be fantastic.

Brad Gill | May 4, 2006

Here’s saltwater guide David Newlin with two king mackerel caught off the Georgia Coast.

This is a very special month, no matter what you like to do. Weather it’s just being outdoors enjoying the changing weather, being up in a tree in your favorite deer stand in pursuit of a Georgia whitetail or taking some time to stock the freezer with fresh fish, things just turn plain awesome when October comes to Georgia. In this particular instance I’m talking about the rod-bending action that’s about to take place off the Georgia coast for king mackerel.

Southbound traffic out of the north Atlantic Ocean is about to be a nose-to-tail, and when these king mackerel arrive off the Georgia coast they’ll be easy to find, and even more fun to catch. These beautiful kings seek out warmer water, and they’ll find just that when they get here.

A few kings will stay off the coast of Georgia, and a few can be caught in the summer months. A large wave came through in May on their way north and some just stayed. However, the vast majority of them kept on going up north to the cooler water. October is the month when the large bulk of them return south.

According to saltwater guide David Newlin, things could turn on any day now. David, who runs his charter business out of Richmond Hill, said that he looks for the water temperature to hit 78 degrees before he really starts expecting big numbers of king mackerel.

“The day that the weatherman says the water temperature is 75 degrees, the next 10 days after that – look out,” said David. “They’ll just start showing up and getting thicker and thicker for a couple of weeks. They’ll hang around until it gets about 68 degrees, but thats usually the first part of December.”

If you’re looking for some of this fast-paced fishing action, you’ll have to make a few arrangements before you do so. Don’t expect to visit a local fishing pier while on vacation this month and catch a king mackerel. David says that inshore conditions just aren’t conductive for these running kings.

“When I’m running charters for kings, I never pull back on the throttle until I get about 18 miles offshore.” said David. “The further you go, the warmer the water temperature will get. Also, your water is so muddy inshore. You’ve got to have clear water to catch kings.”

Once David gets at least 18 miles offshore, he’s looking for two additional ingredients that go along with this fall king run: bait and structure.

“If you pull up on a structure and find a big school of bait when the water temperature is right, there’s going to be some kingfish around there,” said David.

Whether you’ll be making the shorter 18-mile run, or going way out to 40 and 60 miles, you’ll need to have the proper boat to get you there. When October gets here, weather conditions offshore tend to worsen, and you don’t want to get caught 60 miles out in a boat that is too small.

“The closest places for kings are going to start about 18 miles out,” said David. “Greys Reef is a real popular spot. It’s right at about 18 miles off Sapelo Island. These closer-in areas are accessible with 18-20 foot boats. In the next few weeks it’s going to be kind of miserable on those center consoles, if you plan to get much farther out than that.”

Besides Grays Reef, David mentions several closer-in buoys (reefs) that will be holding bait-fish this month, and of course plenty of king mackerel. Try looking around the CCA, L and J Buoys.

Since David runs a charter boat business, he runs a 38-foot Miami Yacht Works, which is named Captain D, he has no problem running out 60 miles to the live bottoms and Navy towers. “All the Navy towers out there are going to be full of fish,” said David. “We’ve got about six or seven of those. They’ve always got lots of kingfish around them.”

If you’ve got a bigger boat, you may want to try the longer run, because more than likely you’ll be the only one out there fishing.

“There is zero fishing pressure,” said David. “After deer seasons opens up, you got the whole ocean to yourself and once these things show up, we’ll have a limit by lunchtime.” The Georgia limit for king mackerel is three per angler and they must be at least 24-inches long.

When David charters a group, he’ll usually fish for kings during the first half of the day and finish the day out bottom fishing. One, everyone usually has their limit early, and two the best bite for a king is usually early.

“The best king fishing is usually always the first few hours of daylight,” said David.

When David arrives on structure, he always looks for bait before he begins trolling.

“On a calm day you can see bait on the surface, but on a rough day you pretty much have to depend on your depthfinder,” said David. “You need to get good with your Loran and GPS. Have a pencil on the dash and write down your coordinates and get back on it.”

David is now ready to catch a king. He’s done everything necessary to locate a group of kings – he’s waited for the cooler water temperature, located either a buoy, live bottom or Navy Tower and he’s found and marked a group of baitfish. He can now begin to troll.

“I’m strictly a dead-bait and artificial-lure fishermen,” said David. “I like to listen to the radio on Saturday mornings, and I can usually have 10 to 12 fish in the boat before the livebait fishermen catch their bait. It just flat isn’t true that you catch the big kingfish only on live bait. I catch a lot of fish in the 35- to 45-lb. range, and if you can catch enough fish, you’ll catch a big one. My 35-lb. plus fish will usually average about one out of every 40 fish caught. My biggest kingfish is 54 pounds.

“My trolling set up is usually two downriggers and two No. 3 planers. A trolling planer is a big piece of steel that allows the lure to go down deeper. I usually am fishing 50 yards of line out from the planers, and my downriggers are usually anywhere from 35-55 feet down.

“On the downriggers, if you let them much deeper than that, they don’t work. The weights get too far behind the boat. When I get on structure, I sit on it. I want it to where I can turn the wheel just as hard as I can and go round and round. If you let the downriggers out any farther than that, they’ll get tangled.

“The planer is going down 35-40 feet. I use a No. 3 stainless-steel planer and I put 30 feet of 120-lb. monofilament behind the planer. You don’t have to fight a sinker with the planer. Be real careful when landing the fish with these long leaders. Those stainless steel planers are real sharp. If the fish are hitting real good, shorten your leader to about 6-8 feet. It’s a whole lot easier to handle.”

When David trolls this month for kings, he’ll be using a combination of dead bait and a 1/2-oz., skirt rig called a Sea Witch. He’ll tie on a black barrel swivel and then attach three feet of 50-lb. monofilament and tie on about six inches of 80-lb. single-strand wire.

“Tie your line straight to the wire – put an improved clinch knot and it’ll hold,” said David. “The Sea Witch slides up and down on the wire with a skirt on it. I put two 7/0 hooks behind it and then I put on a cigar minnow or ballyhoo running right up behind the sea witch.”

David said to try different color skirts until you find what the fish will hit. Try green, pink, blue/white, chartreuse and green/yellow.

“When you’re trolling with the natural bait, the best speeds I’ve found seem to be between 3-5 knots,” said David. “With the spoons and artificial plugs, pull them about 4-7 knots. A lot of times I think with the artificials, you’re scaring the fish and he’s hitting it on the fly. Artificials work real good in the afternoon when they won’t hit anything.”

David recommends trolling big deep-diving crankbaits, like a Mann’s Stretch 30. Also, try No. 3 1/2 Drone Spoon in a silver/red combination. These spoons have a strip of reflective tape glued on, and both re or yellow tape will work.

Once you put a king fish in the boat, keep fishing that area. “If there’s one there, there’s going to be more than that,” said David.

Pay attention. This advice is coming from a guy who’s catching between 1,000 and 1,300 kings every year.

Another hint David recommends is to start taking notes on when and where you are catching kings. You’ll start learning when to go to certain areas year after year.

“Some placed are better with the tide going out and some are better with the tide going in,” said David, “If you’ll keep a log book for a couple of years, you’ll figure out when the fishing is best at certain areas.”

The next few months are the easiest to try and land a king mackerel off the coast of Georgia. Just get out where there’s some, clear, warmer water and locate these areas of structure- Navy towers, artificial reefs or live bottoms. Search for the bait, and just start trolling either your artificial or dead baits.

If you don’t have access to a boat, David will be available for guided fishing trips this fall. You can reach him at (912) 756-4573 or visit

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