King mackerel tournament fishing is most often a team exercise, but Johnny Lewis of Morehead City doesn’t mind fishing by himself. So when a couple of fishermen cancelled on him at the last minute before the Oct. 4-5 U.S. Open out of Southport, Lewis fished by himself, like he was on a day-off from work. When he caught the tournament’s biggest fish, he didn’t have to share the prize money with anyone.

 

Lewis weighed in a 47.05-pound king and took home the first-place check of $67,120: $25,000 for the tournament win and $17,145 and $24,975 for several Tournament Within a Tournament contests. It was the largest prize ever paid by the U.S. Open, which set an overall payout record of $170,000.

Lewis said he was fishing in a group of boats at the Cucumber, a popular area of livebottom with some small ledges a few miles east of Frying Pan Shoals off Cape Fear. He said the day had been slow, but he was concentrating on a section of bottom that was holding bait and felt like eventually fish would come to feed on the bait.

“I pulled across one of the bait marks, and a fish struck one of my lines and buzzed the reel a little, but missed the hooks,” Lewis said. “I quickly turned around and replaced that bait with a nice pogey and went right back across the same place. The second time, it got the hooks too and took off. I was by myself, so I grabbed the rod and began fighting the fish as I turned the boat toward it.

“I got it close enough to see it only had one barb of the treble hook in the corner of its eye, and then it took off again,” Lewis said. “At that point, I got nervous and tried to be careful not to pull the hook. At some point, it picked up the long line, and I had to stop and cut it off before I could bring it in. 

“Finally, with the line clear, it came to the boat and started doing the death roll,” Lewis said. “On about the third roll, I backed up when it went down and was ready with the gaff when it came back up. It rolled up right where I thought it would and I had an easy shot with the gaff. I felt a whole lot better when it hit the deck inside the boat.”

Second place went to Boyce Broadwell of Oak Island, his son Andy and grandsons on the Nauti Lady. His 45.9-pound fish was Broadwell’s first heavier than 30 pounds in 33 years fishing the tournament.

Nauti Lady’s day wasn’t without its own special circumstances. Because new engines Broadwell had ordered for his 31-foot Fountain did not arrive in time, the crew fished Andy Broadwell’s 21-foot bay boat. The second-place fish also came from the Cucumber.

Brian Malcolm of Myrtle Beach and his crew on the Rough Book finished third with a 39.55-pound.

Lori Lanier of Southport weighed in a 37.15-pound king aboard the Dixie Minner. It was the sixth-largest fish overall and the biggest caught by a lady angler.

The tournament, which drew 425 boats, paid down through 55 places; the last fish in the money weighed 29 pounds.