Skip and Sandy Conklin, and Jay Russell have caught enough large king mackerel they are rarely surprised, but the 60.3-pounder they caught on Saturday (July 30) to win the Raleigh Salt Water Sportfishing Club King Mackerel Tournament was indeed a pleasant surprise. In fact, it established a new record for the tournament.

“It was early in the morning and we were already considering leaving,” Skip Conklin said. “We began fishing about 6:30, and immediately caught a big barracuda. Then we put the lines back out and caught another barracuda that might have been even larger.

“We set the spread again, but I was getting antsy that there were enough big barracudas in the area that we might not be able to get a large king through them if we hooked one. I was seriously considering moving.”

Conklin said their third strike came a little after 7 a.m., and the fish didn’t run like a king. He said he had decided that if this was another barracuda, they would move – and it was fighting just like a barracuda.

“It did nothing kingly, especially like a big king” Conklin said. “Jay was fighting it, and it ran downwind, stayed deep and never gave a long, fast fun.

“I wish I had a better story to tell about the fight, but there was no long run or anything spectacular. Until we saw it, we really didn’t think it was a king.”

Conklin said the fish gave up after about 15 minutes and came to the boat head first. He said it had quit fighting and was coming in just as weight, and that usually isn’t a good sign because it usually indicates a barracuda or a king that has been bitten off by a barracuda.

Conklin said when the big king rolled up beside the boat that it was a complete surprise to all of them. After a second or so of stunned surprise, he quickly gaffed it and hoisted it aboard to avoid a last minute ’cuda attack.

Once the big king was lying on the deck, the Ocean Athlete crew realized how big it was.

“We’ve been fortunate to have caught some big kings before, but this one was huge,” Conklin said. “It was both long and fat. It was totally given out and just laying there and not flopping, so I grabbed a tape and measured it.

“It was 59 inches long and 26 inches in girth. At that point I didn’t have to do the math: We high fived, yelled a little and then iced it down.”

Conklin said they put the lines back out due to force of habit, but didn’t fish but a few minutes longer. He said somewhere between 7:30 and 8 a.m. they had straightened the boat up, so they pulled in the lines and headed back to Beaufort Inlet to be closer to the scales and wait for them to open.

The massive king hit in the same area they landed a 51.08-pounder that earned them second place in last year’s event.

Conklin said they decided to go back to the same spot and see if they might get lucky again and seal the deal. Both years they were fishing in approximately 110 feet of water at the Atlas Tanker shipwreck, approximately 15 miles east of Cape Lookout Shoals.

“She hit a naked pogy on a standard, two-treble hook rig fished on the short T-top line,” Conklin said. “We like to keep things simple. The rig was No. 4 wire, with a pair of size 4 treble hooks.

“The fish ate it and was hooked well.”

He attributed the tournament-record fish to the stars lining up for them.

“There are some things you can control in king fishing and some you can’t,” Conklin said. “You keep your equipment in the best shape you can, make good guesses about where the fish might be and try not to make mistakes fighting a fish once you have it hooked. You don’t have any control over weather, what the fish does and what might happen with fishermen around you. You put in your time and congratulate others when it works for them and celebrate when it comes together for you.

“This time it worked for us.”

The Ocean Athlete crew has been a force to be reckoned with in Tar Heel king tournaments for more than 15 years, and have claimed several wins and numerous high finishes.

The Conklins and Russell have now scored the trifecta in this tournament with first, second and third placings.

However this win, with the tournament record fish, was a big thing to celebrate and the highlight in their tournament fishing career. A 60-pound king is special at any time, but boating one in North Carolina in July and during a tournament too is exceptional.

The Brown Eyed Girl, with Capt. Kevin Radford and crew was second with a 40.58-pound king that also earned Top Junior Angler Honors for Brooke Radford.

John Parks and Animal House finished third with a king that weighed 39.38 pounds.

The Ocean Athlete king also secured Top Lady Angler honors for Sandy Conklin.