The ocean fishing piers along the southern coast of North Carolina have a reputation for producing fish in May, and things are shaping up for 2016 to be another banner year.

Two of the most popular May pier fish are called kingfish by some folks, but they have little else in common. Whiting — aka sea mullet, Virginia mullet — are known to biologists and a few fishermen as kingfish, and the Gulf, southern and northern subspecies all visit piers during the spring.

All of them are bottom-feeders caught using speck rigs or double-drop bottom rigs tipped with pieces of shrimp. They are very popular table fare as they have light meat with a light flavor. 

The other kingfish are king mackerel. While it may seem odd, the spring kings caught from southern piers are often the largest of the year. The piers on Oak Island are the epicenter of king mackerel fishing, with pier records all 50 pounds or heavier. Many fishermen believe that with the early spring and warmer than normal water, the spring 2016 run might include fish that could break the existing records.

 Checking years of catches shows the southern pier king run could begin a few weeks earlier, but it typically occurs during late April and May. Before 2006, Oak Island had three ocean piers, but Long Beach Pier was sold in 2005 and dismantled in early 2006. Yaupon Beach Pier (now Oak Island Pier) is the oldest and dates from the early 1950s. Ocean Crest Pier was built in the late 1960s.  

The largest king mackerel caught from an Oak Island pier, 53 pounds, 6 ounces, was decked by Bo Crump on May 7, 1998, from Ocean Crest. Chuck Huthmacher holds the Oak Island Pier record with a 50-pound king caught on April 15, 2002. A few fishermen believe the spring king run could start that early this year. Kathy Davis caught a 53-pound, 3-ounce king from Long Beach Pier on April 27, 1991. Davis’s king still holds the IGFA World Record for the largest king landed by a woman angler on 16-pound class line.

King mackerel ranging into the 40s are caught each spring, and pier fishermen are sure there are kings large enough to top these. Maybe this will be the year. 

Kings are typically targeted from the ends of the piers by anglers using a combination of several rods to suspend live baits at or just below the surface, clipped to an anchor line that keeps them in place. Live bluefish, spot and menhaden are popular baits, but whatever panfish happen to be biting might wind up with a treble hook in its nose.

One thing you can count on is fishermen being on the piers during May. On Oak Island, some will be at the ends of the piers trying to catch king mackerel and some will be just beyond the breakers catching whiting. Other May pier catches typically include flounder, speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, red drum, black drum, blowfish, and cobia.