Money-making Kings

John E. Lewis (far left), aboard Second Chanze of Morehead City, NC, caught the first-place-winning king mackerel in the 2013 tournament. His fish weighed 47.05 pounds, and Lewis took home $25,000 plus a copper trophy. Courtesy photo

John E. Lewis (far left), aboard Second Chanze of Morehead City, NC, caught the first-place-winning king mackerel in the 2013 tournament. His fish weighed 47.05 pounds, and Lewis took home $25,000 plus a copper trophy. Courtesy photo

What: U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament
When: Thursday, October 2nd to
Saturday, October 4th
Where: Southport Marina,
606 W. West St.
Cost: Free to spectate, fees to compete

My favorite time of year to fish is October. It’s when all the fish are on high alert to feed almost every day. As the weather cools, the catching heats up. The only downside is the days are getting shorter so there is not as much time in a day for fishing. We just have to rise earlier.

Many local fishermen are gearing up for the fall king mackerel run and the best king mackerel tournament around, the U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament in Southport, held this year on October 2nd through 4th, hosted by the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce It’s the one every king mackerel fisherman loves the most! They come from everywhere to fish this one and for good reason. It’s the best time of year and this tournament pays big money. With over $100,000 in guaranteed prize money, no other compares to it in pay out and amount of fishermen that fish it.

Good points about this tournament are that it’s as easy for a 20’ skiff to win the big payout as it is for the sponsored, triple-engine, professional king mackerel tournament circuit teams that also fish this tournament. So don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t win it in that 18’ jon boat just as easy. If the weather is good, and we hope it is, you can motor right out into the Cape Fear River Shipping Channel and catch a 40 to 50 pound king mackerel to win it. It’s very possible!

Last year, John E. Lewis of Morehead City, NC, and the vessel Second Chanze nabbed the first-place prize of $25,000 with a 47.05-pound king. The largest to date weighed in at 52.45 pounds, reeled in by Joe Winslow of Little River, SC, in 1999. An all-cash guaranteed prize structure adds to the enjoyment of the event. There are plenty of special weight prizes, too.

A few things can make a big difference in catching that big fall king, and here are a few pointers:

• Know where to find your bait and get it fast. Sometimes the first boat to the “hot spot” catches the big fish!

• Pre-fish if you can a few days before the tournament to see where bait fish are located near the bottom on good spots. They move, and the kings move with them.

• If you decide to anchor up for the day, make sure you’re in a spot that has bait fish on the bottom.

• Have fresh chum and use it often. Creating a chum slick around your boat or behind your boat as you slow troll can make a huge difference. It’s almost like making a phone call to the kings and letting them know there is a meal in the area. They’ll follow that slick right to the boat!

• Have a good gaff man that has experience and knows to stay behind the line so it doesn’t tangle or hit the gaff if the king makes a run just when he’s about to get the gaff.

• A good king bag is also critical. Putting the winning fish in a bath of ice water slurry will keep it from dehydrating as much and losing valuable ounces before it’s weighed in. This can make the difference between being first place or second place, and that’s a lot of money. It’s happened before!

• If you get a big fish, head to the scales with it right away. The first fish in if there is a tie on the weight wins, and that can also happen. You normally can go right back out and fish the remainder of the tournament but check the rules! That is also very critical when fishing these tournaments. Some rules change from year to year, so do not assume that you know them and let it cost you big money.

• Last but not least, be sure you have the correct fishing license. Not having one can also cost you big money and can yield a ticket from the Marine Fisheries or Wildlife Officer.

Kings are very fun to catch just for fun but there is serious money to be made if you know how to catch them, you’re good at it and you enter a tournament.

Find out more about the U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament by visiting their website at or call (910) 457-5787. Registration will be open from 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Thursday, October 2nd at Southport Marina.

“After midnight on October 2nd, registration is closed and you won’t be eligible to fish in one of the largest king mackerel tournaments on the East Coast,” Karen Sphar, executive vice president of the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce, tells.  “Looking for a reason to fish the tournament? How about the excitement of competing against the best anglers in the area? Or how about the family tradition of fishing the tournament with multiple generations on a boat? Or the $25,000 in cash, which if you enter all the extra contests in the tournament, can reach to over $60,000 in cash.”

For a great time and a chance to see big fish and many nice fishing vessels, be sure to come to the tournament’s weigh-ins held at Southport Marina on October 3rd and 4th. There will be live entertainment on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. with DJ Rodney, and again on Saturday from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. right after the weigh-in with vocalist and guitarist Chris Wright.

The award ceremony starts at 7 p.m., and that’s when the big checks are handed out. It’s a fun event for all and it’s the highlight to the fishing tournament season for our area. For spectators, Sphar says, it’s just as exciting. “It’s a place where dreams come alive for those thinking about owning a boat,” she muses. “Where else can you get to look at so many different types, sizes and outfitted boats in one location.? Not to mention you can see old friends, make new acquaintances as the crowd ‘ooos and ahhs’ as the fish are brought off the boats and make their way up to the scales.”

So until next month, anglers, get out and go fishing, you’ll be glad you did!

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