If you are into the fishing scene, then I am almost positive all you are hearing these days is "cobia this" and "cobia that." It's like a virus is going around. I haven't kept count, but I swear there are dozens of cobia tournaments scheduled; and because I am a softy when it comes to these wonderful game fish, I wonder if our Port Royal Sound fish will be able to stand up to so much pressure year after year. But enough of that, because there is an alternative to cobia, and pound for pound they are as an exciting a fish to catch as any cobia -- no matter how big it may be or how strong it fights.
That fish is the king mackerel.
Remember when shrimp-baiting first started? That, too, turned viral, and on any given night you could look out toward Calibogue Sound and see the shrimp baiters shoulder to shoulder night after night. There were so many boats with lights that it looked like a city out there.
Nowadays, the cobia craze has gone viral and for the next month or so Port Royal Sound will be the scene of hundreds upon hundreds of boats jockeying for space. There are so many boats out there I am willing to bet that a 6-foot, 6-inch guy with long legs could hop from boat to boat and not run out of boats to hop on for 10 minutes.
It is that insane out there.
My question is this: Why doesn't anyone fish for kings anymore? I have heard folks say, "There aren't any king mackerel around," but I don't believe it. Though I haven't done all that much king mackerel fishing in the past three or four years, I have always caught fish on the days I have. For people with boats 18 feet and longer, missing out on a good king mackerel bite is a shame. You won't find another fish short of the Gulf Stream that hits a bait with such savagery and runs with more blazing speed than a big smoker king mackerel.
The neatest part about this tale is that you don't have to go far to catch a big fish. The biggest king I have ever landed around here weighed 49 pounds, and I caught it right there at the mouth of Port Royal Sound.
Here's another king fact. Until around 10 years ago, nobody ever fished for cobia during the Food & Beverage Tournament, by far this area's biggest fishing tournament. It was all about king mackerel.
One real advantage of king mackerel fishing over cobia fishing is that it sure is a lot less effort. For the inexperienced king fisherman, all you need is a few drone spoons, some wire leader and a planer or two, and you are in business.
For the more experienced angler, "bump trolling" live menhaden is deadly. All you need for this technique is a live well full of live bait such as menhaden, croakers, spots or small bluefish and, as the name implies, you "bump" the boat in and out of gear just enough to keep the baits swimming straight behind the boat. When a king does hit, it will blow your mind. At times, they will come straight up in the air 10 feet or more, but more often you will see an explosion of water where the bait was swimming followed by line scorching off the reel in a blur.
I have had kings dump 200 yards of line off a reel so fast it will make your head spin. It's more than exciting -- it's exhilarating.
Before bump trolling came along, most of us trolled ballyhoo with a Sea Witch in front of the bait. We would run two or three up on the surface and two lines down deep on No. 3 planers. My color preference for those Sea Witches is red, white and blue. Hey, American colors for American fish.
So where do you go to have the best shot at a king? Starting at buoys Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8 and working your way out to buoy No. 1 in the Savannah Ship Channel can be hot. Zigzag across the ship channel (especially on the south side) and chances are you won't come home empty-handed. The Middle Grounds, just south of Gaskin Banks, is good on the incoming tide. Look for birds diving and Spanish mackerel feeding in 30 to 35 feet of water, and you can bet your bottom dollar there will be a toothy monster hanging around. Wire leader is a must, as is a light drag setting. These fish hit so hard and so fast that a tight drag setting almost guarantees the line will pop from the shock of the fish hitting. My line preference is 20-pound test.
Just writing about kings has got me all fired up to get back into this exciting type of fishing. If you have never tried king mackerel fishing then you are really missing out. If you are worried about reports of mercury content in kings, don't be. Fish that are 20 pounds and lighter are great fried up, and if it makes you feel any better, I have eaten enough kings in my life that I should have grown an extra arm by now. The only side effect I can tell is I have is the uncanny ability to know exactly what temperature it is, which actually comes in pretty darn handy.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.