Since early September, kayak anglers near Oak Island, N.C. have been catching mixed bags of king mackerel, bull red drum and false albacore, with all showing on some days. An unusually warm last week of October spurred on the king mackerel bite and fishermen in the plastic boats caught some almost every day, including the huge 38.5 pounder that Jonathan Grady of Fayetteville, N.C. caught on Saturday, Oct. 29.
Grady is no stranger to catching big fish in his kayak. He had a day earlier this fall when he released a dozen citation size (40 inch minimum) bull reds and a previous personal best king mackerel of 34.5 pounds, which he caught last October.
"I knew the kings were biting and I was really anxious to be fishing for them," Grady said. "I launched before daylight and sat just beyond the breakers looking and listening for bait until it began to get light. Unfortunately the bait wasn't showing early that morning. There were plenty of glass minnows, which is probably why the false albacore were in, but I only saw two pogie flips and no bluefish chasing anything. We didn't find pogies until after lunch.”
Grady said in desperation he began trolling a Yo-Zuri Deep Diver hoping to catch a Spanish Mackerel or a bluefish. After a while he caught small bluefish and immediately put it out on a live bait rig and continued trolling with it and the Yo-Zuri.
"The king bite had been in around 20 to 21 feet of water most of the week, so as I reached there, I decided I should probably reel in the Yo-Zuri," Grady said. "The thought was a good one, but I didn't get to do it right then. That's when the big king struck.
"The king headed down the beach at first and then turned offshore," Grady said. "It wasn't running fast and I told several kayak fishermen that were fishing near me I didn't think it was a large fish. Boy was I fooled."
Grady said the king headed off and made a decent run, just not fast. He kept pressure on it and it turned after about five minutes and let him reel it back to his kayak. It surged a little a couple of times, but really wasn't fighting hard.
"When I saw it the first time, my whole day changed," Grady said. "It was huge in the water about 10 yards off my kayak. My adrenaline started pumping and I leaped into high gear. I knew this would be the largest king I had ever caught in my kayak."
Grady’s anxiety surged when his first gaffing attempt failed. He said all he could think about was nicking the line or pulling the hooks. He got the gaff in it the second try, but down by its belly, not up in the back where he wanted.
"I almost turned over the first time I tried to pull it into my kayak," Grady said. "I had to shift my weight back to the middle and just drag it over the side. That was all right though, as I just wanted it in the boat and it was."
Grady said he just looked at the big king for a few minutes and took in its size and how lightly the little treble hook had snagged it. He said when he began to slide it into his fish bag, the fishermen around him began to razz him about the king he had said would be small. He had another problem too as it wouldn't go all the way in the fish bag. More than a foot of fish and its tail was sticking out.
Around mid-day, Grady caught a smaller king, which hit a pogie on a live bait rig and fought like he thought the larger king should have. He tried for a third one, but the false albacore moved in and destroyed baits and stretched lines for the rest of the afternoon.
Grady's big king had been partially sticking out of the fish bag for about 10 hours when he finally got to weigh it. Even with some dehydration, it weighed 38 pounds and 8 ounces. It was 55 inches long (fork length) and 21 inches in girth. He said the smaller king was around 20 pounds.
There aren't official records on N.C. kayak catches, but quite a few kayak fishermen are calling Grady's king the "Unofficial N.C. Kayak King Mackerel Record." It was quite a catch and would have placed third in the 200 plus boat king tournament fishing in the same area that day.
The big king ate a live bluefish being slow trolled on a Blue Water Candy plain, 2 treble hook, king rig. It was about 50 feet behind the kayak being fished straight off the rod tip. Grady was fishing a Key Largo Live Bait Rod with a Truth SG Reel filled with 20 pound mono line. He added a 30 foot shock leader of 30 pound fluorocarbon between the mono and the rig.