One of the high points of spring fishing is the annual run of king mackerel along North Carolina’s southern beaches. Kings migrate up the beach and take up residence for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks between the ends of fishing piers and nearshore artificial reefs. During exceptionally warm springs, it may begin in late April, but it has usually fired off by mid-May.

Kings’ appearance in May won’t be the longest or strongest run of the year, but it usually includes some of the largest fish. The record kings at Ocean Crest Pier and Oak Island Pier on Oak Island — and the defunct Long Beach Pier — all weighed better than 50 pounds and were caught during the spring run.

These big kings stayed south and west of Frying Pan Shoals for many years, but some have been turning the corner at Cape Fear the past few years and being caught from Kure Beach Pier, Carolina Beach Pier and Johnnie Mercer’s Pier in Wrightsville Beach. The better action around nearshore artificial reefs remains at Yaupon Beach Reef (AR 425) and Tom McGlammery Reef (AR 420) off Oak Island. A handful of nearshore hardbottom/livebottom areas and wrecks also hold bait and attract early kings. 

The spring run can be explosive and begin without warning. The triggers are the arrival of bluefish and water temperatures above 65 degrees. Once these thresholds are met, kings may arrive at any time. 

Fishermen targeting kings from the ends of ocean piers use trolley rigs to position baits. Fishermen in boats slow-troll, anchor or drift live baits from just off the beach to several miles offshore. Standard rigs use wire leaders and two to three treble hooks. 

This is exciting fishing, as kings make at least one long, fast run that buzzes a reel’s clicker into an almost painful wail. This fishing is available to all fishermen, as those without boats can fish from the piers. On calm days, boat fishermen may be in anything from hot rod center consoles to Jon boats and even kayaks. The action begins right off the beach.