The waters around the mouth of North Carolina’s Cape Fear River typically see several king mackerel runs each year, but the one in October is the biggest and best. It is one of those wonders of nature that biologists haven’t figured out; even when indicators say otherwise, hordes of king mackerel appear in this area as the calendar is flipped to October.
No one is complaining, but there are questions at times of how there is no buildup, but overnight, there are schools of hungry kings in the area. These kings arrive like clockwork each year, and fishermen even plan vacations around them.
Four of the largest king mackerel tournaments in North Carolina are scheduled for the area in October: The U.S. Open out of Southport Sept. 30-Oct. 1, the NC Kayak Fishing Association tournament Oct. 6-8, the Fall Brawl King Classic out of Ocean Isle Beach on Oct. 8-9 and the Rumble on the “T” on Ocean Crest Pier Oct. 8-9. They are popular because there are lots of large, hungry king mackerel close to the Cape Fear beaches, and there’s good fishing just outside the inlets. Kings are caught from the Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach and Holden Beach piers, but the best action is typically from Ocean Crest and Oak Island piers on Oak Island. Kings caught from the piers are within 1,000 feet of the beach and in water less than 20 feet deep.
Moving offshore a little, the Long Bay Artificial Reef Association maintains nine artificial reefs between Frying Pan Shoals and the South Carolina state line. Of these nine reefs, only AR 400 and AR 465 are beyond the sight of land. The WOFES, a huge reef constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with rock removed from the Cape Fear ship channel, is a few miles offshore of Bald Head Island. AR 420 and AR 425 are the most popular, but all hold kings and shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Cape Fear River’s shipping channel and sea buoy have reputations as king mackerel magnets. Bait flushes out of the river on every falling tide, and kings lie in wait along the channel to pounce. Some days it seems like every boat has a fisherman holding a bent rod.
Lighthouse Rocks are about a mile beyond the sea buoy, and a line of limestone outcroppings extend from there roughly southwest for more than 20 miles. Other popular spots along this ridge known to hold kings include: 15 Mile Rock, 18 Mile Rock and the Shark Hole.
The waters off the mouth of the Cape Fear River hold king mackerel from early spring to late fall, but October is the optimum time to fish. At times it seems like kings are on every rock and reef, and all of them are hungry. Some of them are big too — really big.