Two-Front War

This N.C. State University student (or fan) got a thrill by catching a 25-pound king mackerel off Bogue Banks while fishing with Capt. Jeff Cronk.

When spring arrives, Bogue Banks anglers don’t mind king mackerel invading their waters from the east and the south.

It’s a terrible thing to be invaded on two fronts, especially if you’re a soldier.

However, it’s a wonderful thing if you’re a fisherman.

That’s what’s happening this month if you’re a king mackerel angler who calls ports near Bogue Banks your home.

You’ll have kings coming at you from two different directions — fish moving inshore from the warm, azure waters of the Gulf Stream, and fish swimming north parallel to the coastline as warm water pushes northward.

“You’ve got two migrations. You’re beginning to have fish move toward the beach (from offshore) and moving up the beach as well,” said Eddie Cameron, president of the Carteret County Sportfishing Association and a regular winner at king mackerel tournaments up and down the coast. “As the water warms, you have more fish moving to the beach, and more fish moving up from the south. By the end of the month, they’ll be right at the inlets — and they’ll stay for a while.”

Cameron and a pair of veteran captains understand that while kings that arrive each June aren’t likely to be the huge smokers that are abundant in the fall, the summer kings that regularly weigh between 5 and 15 pounds will provide plenty of action for experienced and rookie anglers.

Joe Shute of Atlantic Beach and Jeff Cronk of Swansboro know kings will chase prey of all kinds, roam between all kinds of rocky or live bottom, and stay in close contact with big schools of baitfish. Being able to figure out the wheres and whens will usually lead to excellent catches.

Fishing out of Bogue Inlet at the southwestern end of Bogue Banks, Cronk’s fishing season gets cranked up a little earlier than Shute’s.

“We start catching them by mid-May; that’s when we start to get a lot of 10- to 15-pound fish inshore, just off the beach,” said Cronk, who operates Fish’N-4-Life Charters out of Dudley’s Marina in Swansboro. “We’ve got a really good variety of live bottom down here — really good places — and they’re close enough together that you can almost fish every one of them in a day.”

Shute, who fishes out of the tackle shop that bears his name at the Morehead City-Atlantic Beach Causeway, doesn’t get that good 68-degree water at the beaches close to Beaufort Inlet until well into June, but there are still plenty of kings within reach of anglers in center-console boats who make up the majority of the king mackerel fleet.

“They’re close enough that we can catch ‘em, but in June, you’re not going to catch anything big,” Shute said. “But you’re going to catch a lot of fish in the 5- to 10- to 15-pound class, and you never know.

“I’ve caught 20-pound fish in June. They’ll show up every once in a while, but most of the fish you catch when you find a good concentration will weigh within 2 or 3 pounds of each other.”

Cameron said anglers coming out of Beaufort Inlet have two options when June arrives: making a 15- to 25-mile run to find kings that are moving in from offshore or running to the south. He believes the best early-season kings are in the Swansboro area or even farther south.

“Around the first of June, you’re looking for the right temperature around structure,” Cameron said. “When you find 68-degree water, you’ll typically find fish, but the bigger ones will be in 72-degree water. You’re starting at WR-14, 240 Rock, West Rock and Northeast Places.

“Later on, when the fish move onto the beach, I like to fish the channel coming out of (Beaufort) Inlet, between the inlet and Cape Lookout, and the rocks and reefs between our inlet and Swansboro are good.

“What I think happens is that you get your kings moving up the beach, and when they come around Cape Fear, they’ve got to swing out a little. They won’t dive right back onto the beach at Carolina Beach or Wrightsville Beach; they’ll come past there and hit the beach around Swansboro, following the glass minnows.

“Typically what happens is that the Spanish come in around the end of May, and the kings are two or three weeks behind the Spanish.”

The rocks off Swansboro and Bogue Inlet include Bear Inlet Rock, the Keypost Rocks, the Tom Smith Rock and the East Rock, as well as A.R. 342 and A.R. 340.

“We’re always fishing within 15 miles of the beach,” said Cronk (910-326-7512 or 336-558-5697). “I don’t pay attention to the temperature as much as I do where the bait is. It’s more about getting over good, live bottom because there’ll be pods of bait on all of those places.

“You’ll have a little bit of everything on the rocks: cigar minnows, a lot of greenies, grass minnows and shad; the menhaden will be closer to the beach.”

Cronk said late May and the entire month of June provide some fantastic fishing for the expert and beginner alike because early summer kings tend to bite aggressively.

“The average person in a small boat can fish three or four rods at a time, and trolling deep-diving lures is good for the average person,” he said. “I like to troll baits like a Yo-Zuri (Crystal Minnow) with about 6 inches of single-strand wire in front of it — just enough to keep the kings from cutting you off, but not enough to hurt the bait’s action.

“You can pull them up to about 6 miles per hour, and they’ll do well on schooling kings. I like to pull two shallow divers and two deep divers at the same time.”

But Cronk’s favorite way to catch kings is to downsize his tackle and light-line with live baits.

“We go even lighter than most of the boys who are tournament fishing,” said Cronk, who shares tactics and spots with Capt. Mike Taylor of TaylorMade Charters out of Swansboro. “We use the same rods we trout fish with, but with better reels.

“As you get into June, they come in gnawing so hard, but as you get more into the month, you have to start light-lining. We catch a lot of 8- to 10- to 12-pound fish, but we’ve caught them up to 30 pounds. We’ve really gotten into scaling down the size of our tackle and baits.”

Cronk typically uses medium-action spinning tackle, spooling reels such as Penn Slammers or Shimano Stradics with 50 yards of monofilament backing and 250 to 300 yards of 14-pound braid — he likes PowerPro and Fireline.

“Braided line has allowed us to drop our leaders down to 4 to 6 inches, and because of the (smaller diameter) braid, you have reels that can hold 300 to 350 yards instead of 200 to 250 — so you’ve got enough line to catch a 30-pound king,” he said.

Cronk fishes small baits, typically menhaden that barely push 4 inches in length, or mullet minnows of a similar size. He builds his terminal tackle using 8 inches of wire for the leader tied to two gold treble hooks, usually between No. 4 and No. 6. One goes in the nose of the bait, the other somewhere along the bait’s back or tail.

“There’s one trick with kings; you can turn ’em on,” Cronk said. “I’ll get over a piece of live bottom and take some popcorn pogies or mullet minnows and toss ’em out to see if the kings are there. I’ll throw out 30 or 40 — if I have enough. The menhaden will tend to go down, but the mullet minnows will stay on top.

“If kings are there, it won’t take 5 minutes before they’ll be blitzing them. Mullet minnows on top are a good way to find where fish are feeding; it’s a visual thing.”

Another trick Cronk uses to keep his baits down in the water column is to take a 2- to 3-ounce ball weight that’s poured around a barrel swivel, loop one end of a rubber band through the swivel, then loop the other end around the running line. He’ll put out the bait, and the weight will keep it down — much like a down-rigger ball but without the 10-pound profile. “When a king hits, the line will pull through it, and when you reel it in, you’ll be able to pull it off,” he said. “It’s much more of a stealth technique.”

Shute (252-240-2744) isn’t wedded to live-baiting in June; he loves to pull Yo-Zuri and Mann’s Stretch lures that summer kings readily eat up. But as far as bait is concerned, he’s just as likely to pull dead cigar minnows or ballyhoo.

When his first kings show up in late May, they’re typically well offshore, around the 240 Rock, approximately 17 miles due south of Beaufort Inlet. When they move inshore, following the warming waters, they’ll set up in 50 to 60 feet of water around popular rocks and live bottoms, including the Suloide Wreck (former site of the WR-13 buoy), A.R. 330, Northwest Places and Big 10/Little 10.

“Your deep-diving plugs like a Yo-Zuri — in clown, blue mackerel or green mackerel colors — will really work well on the fish you’re catching in June,” Shute said. “You can troll them at about 3 or 4 knots, or you can slow-troll cigar minnows or ballyhoo — they’re just as good as live bait. I think you can catch just as many fish on dead bait as live pogies.”

Shute said kings are generally scattered as they move in from offshore, but when they get around the better rocks and reefs, they tend to congregate more because of the bait that’s available.

“You’re looking for bait and structure — rocks and live bottom,” he said. “Normally, when you find a big pod of bait, you can circle it, and if you catch one or two, you’re going to catch four or five.”

Shute likes to thread the hook on a jighead through the lower jaw and out the upper jaw of a cigar minnow, with a stinger hook (a No. 4 treble) tied to the hook eye and pinned somewhere to the body of the bait. He’ll pull the bait at about 2 knots. He’ll also pull a small ballyhoo with the same rig.

“I like to fish relatively light spinning rods — a 7-foot GLoomis LR 844, which is a 10- to 20-pound rod — with something like a Daiwa BG30 reel spooled with 20-pound braid or 15-pound monofilament,” he said. “My leader is a 12- to 18-inch piece of No. 4 or No. 5 wire, attached to the rig with a haywire twist.”

Cameron also loves to fish diving plugs early in the season. He’s had kings skyrocket on Yo-Zuris and (Mann’s) Stretch 25s. He has no qualms about pulling ballyhoo rigged the same way that offshore fishermen troll for dolphin, and he’ll pull live menhaden or dead cigar minnows.

“You can troll ballyhoo at 4 to 6 knots, the same way you troll for dolphin, and they’ll hit them, or you can pull cigar minnows or pogies,” he said. “I like to use a standard two-hook pogey rig with two trebles and a 3-foot leader of No. 5 wire.

“You just look for signs of Spanish and bait inshore or on the beach. As long as the weather’s getting hotter, they’ll keep moving to the beach — and you keep moving to the beach.”

About Dan Kibler 887 Articles
Dan Kibler is the former managing editor of Carolina Sportsman Magazine. If every fish were a redfish and every big-game animal a wild turkey, he wouldn’t ever complain. His writing and photography skills have earned him numerous awards throughout his career.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply