King Mackerel

Capt. Robert Olsen of Knot@Work Fishing Charters and son Andrew with a large tournament king mackerel. Provided.

Walking through the garage recently, I saw an old unused fishing rod that brought back a lot of fond memories. It was one of the rods I first carried when I would venture out to the Charleston Jetties early in the morning in a boat much too small for where I was headed in quest of a big king mackerel.

As my boats got bigger, I would travel out a little further. But that rod continued to be a mainstay in my fishing arsenal.

Was it a perfect fishing rod?

No.

Competitive king mackerel fishermen today prefer much longer rods with softer action. But it's what I had, and it worked for me which is the beauty of king mackerel fishing, whether you're chasing the big bucks in a tournament or just enjoy the thrill of having a big fish stretch your line.

You don't have to have the biggest or fastest boat to catch king mackerel and you don't have to head to distant offshore waters. And you don't have to fish tournaments, although they can be a lot of fun and are great learning experiences.

The Palmetto Kingfish Tour began its season this weekend with the Lowcountry Open. The Hooked on Miracles King Mackerel Tournament will be fished July 13 out of Ripley Light Marina. The James Island Yacht Club King Mackerel Tournament is scheduled July 27. And the final regular event in the Palmetto Kingfish is the Marlin Quay Shootout in Murrells Inlet on Sept. 7.

"Kingfishing is good and it's bad," said Capt. Robert Olsen of Knot@Work Fishing Charters (knotatworkfishing.com). "Right now, it's good if you go out deeper. There are no king mackerel on the beach. They were on the beach about a month ago, but now you find them in 60 to 140 feet of water. But they'll be moving back in.

"It all depends on the weather patterns. Usually when it gets real rough for a few days, those fish swim out deeper. When it stays calm for a long period of time, they swim closer and closer."

Olsen has had lots of success tournament fishing with sons Andrew, 19, and Eli, 8, along with his wife Melissa Langston. He fished the Southern Kingfish Association circuit for 12 years and won the national SKA 23-under class in 2003. He's generally someone to watch for during tournament season.

"We've had a lot of success and it's been fun. It gives us a chance to all get out on the boat and fish together. We've been lucky to get the right bites at the right time," Olsen said.

If you are targeting king mackerel, Olsen slow trolling live menhaden. But when menhaden are difficult to come by (and that does happen), he suggests slow trolling or drifting dead cigar minnows on kingfish rigs.

"I would definitely start in 60 to 90 feet of water. Fish over any type of live bottom or structure that holds bait," he said. "If you are going to fish the artificial reefs, try to stay around the outer edges and don't troll right through them. There are a lot of barracudas and other predators that till eat whatever fish you're catching. There also are a lot of amberjacks around the big artificial structures. They can be fun to catch, but they don't let other fish eat."

When fishing for kings, Olsen said he uses a standard style of kingfish rig — a 2- to 3-foot piece of 40- to 60-pound single strand or seven strand wire with a No. 2 live bait hook in front and a No. 4 treble hook about six inches further back. Hook the menhaden through the nose and have the stinger hook at the back of the tail so the menhaden can swim freely. He said he slow trolls between 1 and 2 miles per hour.

Olsen fishes 20- to 25-pound test monofilament line on reels with a 6-to-1 gear ratio that will hold at least 250 yards of line and sets the drag between 1 and 3 pounds. He likes rods that are 6 to 7 feet long with 8 to 10 eyelets.

"Bigger fish will make 1 to 2 long runs, but smaller fish will make a bunch of small runs and seem to fight harder," Olsen said.

When he is tournament fishing, Olsen said he will fish five or six lines. Two lines go on downriggers, one of those halfway down in the water column and the other about 15 feet down. Another line goes back 60 to 80 yards behind the boat. He fishes another 35 to 40 yards back and yet another right behind the motor.

He prefers not to use chum because the chum not only attracts king mackerel, it also attracts predators like barracudas and sharks.

Olsen not only likes to catch king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, he also likes to eat them.

"They are fantastic when they are caught fresh. I don't recommend freezing them, but if you do freeze them in whole chunks so you can cut them up later and trim the meat out a little," Olsen said. "They're very good to each fish. I like to either steak them and cook them on the grill or fillet them straight out and bake them skin down in the over. I do a little light frying, but I'm not as big on fried fish as I used to be. It' a good fish to cook when you have them fresh, no doubt about it."

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