The king mackerel bite off North Carolina’s Cape Fear doesn’t slow down at Thanksgiving, but the best action does move offshore. Water temperatures are dropping, pushing baitfish offshore, and hungry kings follow them.
The key to limits of kings seems to be water temperatures of about 67 degrees or warmer and schools of bait. When you find these, you score, and sometimes the action is so heated only one rod per fisherman can be fished.
The hottest action may start a little closer inshore at the Horseshoe, but the area within sight of Frying Pan Tower is the best bet. The underwater structure at the tower attracts baitfish, AR 400 is about a quarter-mile to the north-northeast and there is lots of rocky bottom that varies from 45 to 85 feet deep in a 10- mile circle around the tower.
Frying Pan Tower, built in 1964, has attracted bait and fish for more than 50 years. It is about 30 miles offshore from Cape Fear (33.29.100N/077.35.390W). AR 400, a 166-foot former menhaden boat, was added in 2007 (33.26.302N/077.35.265W). These are about 20 miles inshore of the Gulf Stream, but is often warmer than water influenced by the Gulf Stream.
Kings are usually hungry and feeding heavily during December. They aren’t picky and waiting for live baits, although they won’t turn them down. This is a time when frozen cigar minnows and lures catch them well. The kings will also hit larger spoons, sea witches rigged with strips and swimming plugs.
Most days there will be a mixture of recreational and commercial fishermen on the site. Many recreational fishermen leave the dock with several boxes of cigar minnows catch a limit, then release fish until they’re tired. They sometimes also pull lures, especially swimming plugs that resemble baitfish. Commercial fishermen often fill their fish boxes while primarily trolling spoons behind planers. They also troll rigged sea witches just below the surface or behind planers to get them deeper.
In addition to king mackerel, Frying Pan Tower holds a variety of bottomfish, and occasionally, the warm water attracts a bluewater predator like a wahoo. This is a great spot to catch a limit of December kings and then add a variety of grouper, snapper, black sea bass and more. December weather is usually mild, but this is a long trip and checking the marine forecast before heading out is advised.