Plenty of fish stories are about the big one that got away, but there aren’t too many about the big one that got away and was still caught. But a couple of fishermen at opposite ends of North Carolina’s coast got lucky on Aug. 14 when trophy sized king mackerel pulled escape acts and were still landed – even though it took a while.
The first of these fish tales took place on the Outer Banks on Rodanthe Pier, a pier has suffered its share of damage over the years from storms and has been gradually shortened from its original 1,000 feet, with some pilings broken off under the surface off the end of the pier.
Early that afternoon, Jason Tyree of Lynchburg, Va., hooked a nice king and fought it to submission, but the king had a little energy left, making a short, diving run and hanging up on one of the broken pilings – without breaking the line. Pier management had seen this before and called Eric Anglin, a local fisherman with diving experience who had retrieved several kings and cobia that had been hung up on the pilings.
Anglin arrived in short order, paddled a kayak to the end of the pier, tied off, put on flippers and a mask and swam to the king. In short order, he dove and returned to the surface with his hand in the mackerel’s gill covers, then swam to the pier and hooked the king on a gaff so it could be hauled up to the pier’s deck. The king weighed 38.5 pounds. The feat is documented in a video on the pier’s Facebook page.
Christopher Wickline of Rodanthe Pier said Anglin is a local legend, having retrieved at least a half-dozen fish hung on the pilings. Wickline said Anglin once headed to a small wreck about 400 yards north of the pier to retrieve a king that had hung there, and then stopped on the way in to get another that was hung in the old pilings.
The second king that was lost and found spanned overnight, like a deer whose trail hunters lose one night, then come back and start over trailing the next morning.
The same afternoon that Tyree hooked up, Derrick Sawyer of Wilmington was fighting a king from Johnnie Mercer’s Pier in Wrightsville Beach. The fish just wouldn’t tire out, and one on pass past the pier, Sawyer and other fishermen discovered why. The fish, estimated at 45 pounds, was hooked in the tail.
Seeing the precarious position and grip of the small treble hook, Sawyer lightened his drag to avoid pulling the hook. That worked, and he stayed hooked until the fish died. However, it was a ways off the end of the pier at that time, and he had to nurse it back to the pier. Now, a different problem presented itself. Being dead and hooked in the tail, the kind was hanging vertically and was difficult to gaff. After a few tries, disaster struck and the hook pulled loose while other anglers were trying to gaff it. Sawyer and company watched helplessly as the king sank slowly out of sight.
Seas were not too rough, and apparently, the king settled to the bottom beside or between a couple of pilings at the end of the pier and didn’t wash away, and it wasn’t attacked by sharks or crabs. When fishermen returned the next morning, one of them noticed something in the water right off the end of the pier – the big king, floating to the surface as its stomach gasses expanded.
Two fishermen, William Price and Caleb Jackson, gaffed the floating fish and hoisted it to the pier deck. Much of the fish’s color was gone from one side where it had rubbed against the pier piling all night, and there wasn’t any argument that it was Sawyer’s king from the previous day.
The fish weighed in at 50.3 pounds, and after some deliberation, pier management decided to accept it as a catch, making it the new pier-record king.