Ocean Crest Pier has been a king-fishing hot spot almost since it was built.
If experience is the best teacher, then aspiring king mackerel anglers might consider visiting the end of Ocean Crest Pier on Oak Island.
At many piers, visitors or novices may encounter grizzled veterans or hot-shot anglers who don’t want to be bothered, even to the point of convincing pier owners to build gates or post signs barring newbies from reaching a pier’s final few feet. But that’s not how things operate at Ocean Crest Pier, one of two remaining fishing platforms on Oak Island. And that’s because of the friendly natures of three veteran anglers who set the tone starting at dawn from April through October.
“This is a family-friendly pier,” said Dave Roseman, the 83-year-old patriarch from Maiden who may have landed more kings than anyone from the 893-foot structure.
A Korean War Army veteran, Roseman moved with his wifefrom Lexington to Oak Island in 1990 and has been an Ocean Crest Pier stalwart ever since.
“My wife, who died in April 2013 after 63 years of marriage, came out here all the time,” Roseman said. “She liked to fish for spots.”
Now, his two fishing friends include 72-year-old John Gornton, a retired Navy master chief originally from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and 70-year-old Manuel Bryant of Burlington, who moved to the island in 1975 after a first visit in 1954 with his parents after Hurricane Hazel devastated the island.
“We keep things good for wives and children at the end of the pier,” said Roseman, who became hooked on pier fishing long before he moved to Oak Island. “You can bring little girls out here and never hear a cuss word.”
“I started in 1947 at Windy Hill Beach Pier, which was north of Myrtle Beach, S.C.,” Roseman said.
Gornto moved from Florida to Burlington to be near his three grandchildren and eventually bought a house at Oak Island.
Bryant and his brother, Harold, started Bryants Corners at 52nd St. and Oak Island Drive, which later became Jiffy Bait & Tackle. He sometimes fishes for king mackerel but would rather catch smaller species. He often furnishes live bait for OCP’s king anglers, landing bluefish, spots and pinfish that he drops his into the community bait tank.
“May is probably the best month for king mackerel pier fishing at Oak Island,” Roseman said. “But we’re out here in June and July, too, because you never know when the bite will turn on.”
Water temperature and clear water are keys to good pier king fishing, he said.
“When the water temperature hits 62 degrees in May, that’s when we start to see the first schools of (menhaden), king mackerel and Spanish mackerel,” said Roseman, who landed a 44-pound, 10-ounce king in May 2002, the biggest king caught off Ocean Crest in 13 years. “It gets better through June and into the first few weeks of July.”
Water clarity is the main key to enticing kings and Spanish mackerel, he said. Summer thunderstorms stir bottom sand and reduce fishing success.
“When you have clear water, that’s when kings and Spanish mackerel bite,” Roseman said. “A king’s gills suck water through them, but when the storms stir up the bottom and the water has suspended sand, the kings avoid that type of water.”
Roseman said the best baitfish for king mackerel rigs are small bluefish, menhaden and pinfish. Cobias like pinfish the best.
“When the (menhaden) are coming by, one of the guys will throw a cast net to get enough baitfish to put in the live-bait tank and start the day’s fishing,” Roseman said. “It’s a community bait tank, and anyone who is fishing for kings can get a bait. A lot of people add fish to the tank.”
Ocean Crest has a large tank with aerators under a large roof that provides shade at the end of the pier. Water is pumped from the ocean some 30 feet below and re-circulated to keep baitfish alive. Few piers have such an arrangement for live-bait anglers.
“Most guys would rather have a small bluefish to put on a king mackerel rig, but an 8-inch (menhaden) will work just as well,” Roseman said. “They also have caught a lot of kings.”
King mackerel anglers will hook a menhaden onto a king mackerel rig and slide the bait into the water, then pick up a small casting rod and throw Got-Cha lures, hopefully to land bluefish to add to the tank. Bryant, Gornto and Roseman also use bottom rigs baited with shrimp pieces to land pinfish.
“I caught my first four kings (of 2014) using pinfish,” Gornto said.
When large menhaden aren’t in the bait tank, small menhaden will entice Spanish mackerel, he said.
“I don’t mind catching Spanish at all,” Gornto said. “I think they taste better than kings.”
End-of-pier king rigs require two rods: an anchor rod and a fighting rod.
The reel on an anchor rod is spooled with 25- to 30-pound monofilament that’s tied to a 4-ounce weight festooned with metal spikes that dig into the ocean’s sandy bottom to anchor the line. An angler casts this weight as far as he can from the pier’s end, yanks it to dig the spikes into the bottom, then reels up the slack. When he’s ready to lower a live bait to the water, he attaches a sliding, 2-ounce weight over the anchor line. Below the 2-ounce weight on the sliding clip is an outrigger clip; old-timers once used clothespins or heavy duty rubber bands. The line from the fighting rod — with the baitfish and hooks on the business end — goes through the clip. When a gamefish eats the baitfish and gets the hook in its mouth, the pressure pulls the line free from the clip, and the angler battles the fish on the fighting rod.
Roseman favors stout tackle to get kings back to the pier.
“I like (Penn International) 50-TW reels with 200 yards of 130-pound line on a 6- to 7-foot medium-stiff rod,” he said. “I like 5-foot leaders of seven-strand wire, and I use two No. 2 treble hooks for my baitfish rig.”
He sinks one of the treble hooks behind the baitfish’s gill plate and another just in front of its tail. The wire leader prevents cut-offs.
“The No. 2 drop hooks for the baitfish are joined by a 6-inch piece of wire and are the same lengths and hang straight down,” Roseman said. “When a king attacks a baitfish, he’s usually going to hit one or both hooks.”
Once Roseman has his baitfish ready, he pays out line from his bait rod through the sliding outrigger clip on the anchor line. Fishermen want the baitfish to swim in a circle, 2 to 4 feet beneath the surface, hoping to attract attention from a bigger predator like a king, a Spanish, a cobia or even a shark.
When a baitfish frantically swims to the surface, there is usually a predator close by.
“When a king mackerel hits one of these baitfish, they almost always go straight out, away from land,” Roseman said.
Kings may peel several hundred yards of line off the reel in their initial run, before the reel’s drag slows them down.
“That’s when they start going to one side or the other, and you can pump and wind,” Roseman said. “You never want to try to crank a king back to you while he’s going straight away. That’ll pull the hooks.”
At the end of king’s first run, Roseman said, “He’s usually about dead. I think they bust their hearts.”
With so many anchor and bait rods extending from a pier’s end, cooperation is essential to land a hooked fish. A king’s run away from the pier helps initially, then other anglers clear their lines when the fish gets near the pier. As Roseman noted, king mackerel often are exhausted at the end of a fight, and it’s fairly easy to lead a fish to the pier’s side.
Someone will lower a huge grapnel gaff under a king, then jerk it upward to snag the fish and haul it topside.
King mackerel fishing success is cyclical at Ocean Crest Pier and other piers along the coast.
From 2010 through 2012, Roseman, Gornto and Bryant said Ocean Crest anglers landed 150 to 300 kings each season.
“Then, for some reason, it dropped off in 2013 to just 26 kings,” Roseman said. “A bad year.”
The 2014 season saw anglers land more than 100 kings at the pier.
“We had a lot of cobias, too,” said Roseman, who has earned 21 citations for the two species.
Gornto, whose largest king weighed 34 pounds, 7 ounces, said pier fishing has become his life.
“I live for nothing but fishing on this pier now,” he said. “I get up at 5 a.m., come to the pier at 6 a.m. and leave at 9 p.m. Whether I catch anything or not, it’s a good day.
“I don’t play golf, and my wife of 50 years is happy I’m not 40 or 50 miles out in the Gulf Stream. If I fall down, she knows somebody will call 911.”
Gornto became so enraptured by pier fishing, he learned to make his own tackle.
“I like Avet level-drag reels, but I make all my rods,” Gornto said. “Most of my fighting rods are 6-feet long, and I like 7-foot anchor rods. My fighting rods are short, so when I get a fish on, I don’t have to lift the tip so much.”
Gornto paints a mermaid on his rods above the reels “to remind me what I’m fishing for,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.
Bryant said the ocean finally lured him to Oak Island after he worked jobs in several southeastern states.
“A friend owned Yaupon Pier, so I fished there, then I fished at Long Beach Pier (now demolished), and now I’m at Ocean Crest,” he said.
Roseman and Gornto call Bryant a “magician” when it comes to pier fishing, but their younger friend doesn’t focus on king mackerel.
“When I feel like I can catch a king, that’s when I try it,” he said. “I like small blues for kings, but I might use pinfish or I might fish for flounder or whiting.
“I don’t eat trout, so I never use treble hooks. I like to eat flounder, but I lose a lot because I use a small Kahle hook, not treble hooks. I prefer shrimp baits because you can set a hook quick, and I don’t like to deep hook a fish.
“I don’t like to fish around a lot of people either. I don’t bother them, and I don’t like to be bothered.
“I’ve just got friends at the end of this pier, so that’s where I like to be.”
HOW TO GET THERE — Oak Island is most-easily accessed via I-40 to Wilmington and NC 117 and NC 133 south, or from US 74 east to NC 211.
WHEN TO GO — Pier fishing for king mackerel and Spanish mackerel begins in late May and extends through the fall.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Stiff, 6- to 7-foot roads with 50TW reels loaded with 80- to 100-pound monofilament, with anchor rods spooled with 25- to 30-pound mono or braid. A clothespin rig will help slide live baits to the water. Terminal rigs of No. 7 wire with two dropper lines containing No. 2 treble hooks and 5-foot wire leaders. Live bluefish, menhaden or pinfish are top baits.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Ocean Crest Pier and Motel, 910-278-6674, www.oceancrestpier.com; Blue Water Point Motel and Marina, 910-278-1230, www.bluewaterpointmotel.com; Southport-Oak Island Chamber of Commerce, 910-457-6964, www.southport-oakisland.com.
MAPS — Delorme’s North Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, www.delorme.com.