Mackerel: The Kings of South Carolina
Bob McNally 08.10.15
South Carolina has some of the best king mackerel fishing in the nation. The season runs May to November, with peak action in August. Excellent kingfishing is had along the entire South Carolina Coast. But, naturally, the bulk of the fishing is done out of large coastal towns where access to the Atlantic is most convenient. Much of the state’s kingfishing is done out of the towns of (listed from south to north) Hilton Head, Edisto Beach, Charleston, Georgetown, Murrells Inlet, and Little River.
Over the last 20 years, anglers have learned some of the best mackerel action can be found just outside inlets. This is where many small boat owners do their fishing, and it can be outstanding–trolling along tide lines, current edges, water-color changes, and channel drop-offs within just a couple miles of land.
Some Charleston fishermen start right in the harbor because even before they clear the jetties they can catch good kings. But similarly good mackerel action can be found at sounds and inlets along much of the South Carolina Coast.
Offshore waters near all the larger river mouths and sounds along the South Carolina Coast are productive for kingfish. Among the best are: the mouth of the Savannah River, Port Royal Sound, St. Helena Sound, Charleston Harbor, Bulls Bay, Winyah Bay, and Murrells Inlet.
Most South Carolina anglers use natural baits for kings, and live baits are the preferred choice. Live menhaden, mullet, Spanish mackerel, and bluefish are the chosen live baits. Normally, anglers cruise near-shore areas at daybreak and cast net menhaden or mullet for use as bait.
Fishing for kings often is best at river mouths and inlets during high tides. Troll baits along tide lines and rips, and keep baits in clear water, not the dark or dirty water on a tide line. The clear water has a higher saline content, and that’s where most kings station themselves when feeding. Some kings can be caught in the dark water, but it’s generally not as good as trolling in the clear water near the dark water edges.
Another great way to troll live baits close to the beach for kings is around shrimp trawlers. The small fish that are caught and killed in their nets draws kings, and successful fishermen often troll right up near the stern and around the sides of the trawler’s nets.
Farther offshore, there are hundreds of productive deep-water spots for kingfish along the South Carolina Coast. Natural ledges and reefs, shipwrecks, and artificial reefs make up the bulk of the prime offshore kingfish spots. Most of the deep-water fishing ledges and reefs are 12 to 30 miles offshore. The state has an excellent artificial reef building program, with large ships periodically sunk, which, of course, draws kingfish and many other species. Locations of South Carolina Coastal reefs and wrecks are available to the public by contacting the Artificial Reef Section of the South Carolina Marine Resources Department in Charleston (phone 843-762-5082). The department also can provide a list of marinas and registered kingfish charter boat captains at coastal fishing centers.