A Manteo angler who hadn’t fished for several weeks made a big splash on his return last Saturday, landing a 65-pound king mackerel from the end of Jeanette’s Pier in Nags Head on what was supposed to be a trip for cobia.

C.J. Rice landed the great fish the afternoon of July 18 after it slammed a live bluefish around 5:15 p.m. – or 14 hours after he’d arrived at the pier.

"My day began early," Rice said. "The pier opens at 5 a.m., and when I got there at about 3, there were already fishermen waiting to be sure to get a good spot at the pier's end. The word was out cobia were moving along the beach, and I knew the pier would be crowded. I was there to fish for cobia and really wasn't thinking about a king at all."

Rice said the day was uneventful for a long time, with many fishermen passing the time catching bait, repairing equipment, taking naps and such. Late in the afternoon, a thunderstorm began to form and move towards the pier. Rice said some fishermen decided the approaching storm was a good reason to call it a day and a couple of places opened up at the front of the pier. He wasn't planning to leave unless conditions got real bad, so he relocated and slid a 10-inch bluefish down his trolley line shortly after 5 p.m.

"Less than 15 minutes after getting the bait in the water, the king hit." Rice said. "I was rigging a bottom bait and wasn't standing by my rod when it happened, but heard a reel scream, and when I turned to look, my rod was the one bouncing on the rail.

“The fish wasn't running hard then, but when I picked up my rod and pushed the lever forward a quarter-inch to add a little drag, it must have felt it. Man, that fish took off. It screamed about 250 to 300 yards of line straight out and did it in just a few seconds.

"I've got about 550 yards of line on my reel, and it was quickly less than half full," Rice said. "Just as I thought about having enough line, it slowed and turned to the south. It must have caught its breath or something, as it then turned north and ran back across the end of the pier faster than I could reel. I couldn't keep up and was afraid I had lost it at one point. There wasn't any pressure on the line, but finally I caught back up and it was still there." 

Rice said he hadn’t seen the fish but was beginning to believe it wasn’t a cobia, because most cobia would have come to the surface within a few minutes of being hooked. And the fish hadn’t even busted the surface at the strike like most cobia and kings caught from piers.

Next, the fish turned around the north end of the pier and slowed again. Rice said it made one more run at about half of its speed and then gave up. It struggled a few times, but after about 20 minutes allowed itself to be led back to the pier and the waiting gaffs. 

"I didn't have any idea how big this fish was until it was on the deck," Rice said. "It happened so quick, and no one saw the strike or the fish until it was at the pier ready to gaff. By then, I was running on adrenaline and just wanted it over the rail and on the pier before anything happened. Fishermen were standing by and ready, and we stuck it with three gaffs to haul it up.

"About the time I realized this was the biggest king mackerel I had ever seen, some of the other fishermen realized it, too," Rice said. "I didn't have anything to compare it to; I just knew it was huge. I catch cobia from the pier and some of them are pretty nice, but I had only ever caught one other king, and it was 25 pounds. This fish dwarfed it."

Rice's king was 61 inches long (fork Length), with a 26 ½-inch girth. The bluefish it hit was hooked to a rig Race made of 90-pound test Surflon coated stranded wire, with a 5/0 J-hook in the bait’s nose and two No. 4 treble hook trailers.  

Rice’s rod was heavier than those most fishermen use when targeting kings from piers, primarily because he was targeting cobia. The rod was a 5-foot-2 Tsunami jigging rod with new guides and wraps, mated with a Shimano TLD 15 reel loaded with 400 yards of 50-pound braid backing and a top shot of 150 yards of 30-pound mono.

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries doesn’t keep records for pier catches, but avid fishermen immediately began texting Rice that his king was the second largest ever caught from a North Carolina pier, trailing only a 68-pounder caught off the Avon Pier in 2004. Rice’s big king does rank in the top 10 of all kings caught in North Carolina waters.