Get in on Cape Fear’s king mackerel fall run

king mackerel
The fall run of king mackerel off Cape Fear puts a lot of big fish within range of a lot of boats — plus anglers on piers.

King mackerel anglers are having a field day

King mackerel are truly kings along North Carolina’s southern coast this month. They are chased by fishermen all year. But when they move close to the beach at the end of September, they get everyone’s attention for a few weeks.

These are big kings and lots of them. The action gets hot, and many anglers catch them from the ocean piers. Fishermen in any seaworthy boat from kayaks to large sportfishermen also hook their share.

When king mackerel move close to the beach in the fall, they are feeding hard. Their hunger makes them easy to catch. Most fishermen use live baits, but they will also hit rigged natural baits, swimming lures and spoons. Menhaden, locally called pogies, are the prime forage for kings, and they are just off the beach in large schools. Some fishermen take the extra time to catch live bluefish for bait, saying they stand out in all the pogies like a filet mignon on a plate of sirloins.

Brad Honeycutt heads the Unplugged Fishing Team, from Oak Island, N.C. He pays special attention to where the big kings are.

Slow-trolling live baits is a good tactic

“(We) have good king mackerel fishing most of the year, but in the fall, it moves to another level,” Honeycutt said. “There are lots of kings, and they are biting from just off the beach out to 100 feet of water. They like live baits, pogies and bluefish, which are usually right outside the inlets in good schools.

“We pen baits in advance to have some early and relieve the stress of looking for bait with the crowd. This puts us in position to be fishing early. Still, we make a quick pass to see if there is bait and if we can catch some real quick. We catch fish on our penned baits, but I believe we get more strikes on fresh baits.”

The popularity of the fall king run comes from there being so many large fish close in. If you don’t have a favorite rock, wreck or artificial reef, slow-trolling a spread of live baits around a school of bait will usually produce strikes. The sea buoys at Carolina Beach, Cape Fear, Lockwood Folly and Shallotte Inlets are all known to hold kings. Artificial Reefs 370, 372, 378, 420, 425, 430, 440 and 460 are all just a few miles off the beach, and local hotspots like 10 Mile Rock, Lighthouse Rocks and the 90/90 are inside the horizon.

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About Jerry Dilsaver 1114 Articles
Jerry Dilsaver of Oak Island, N.C., a full-time freelance writer, is a columnist for Carolina Sportsman. He is a former SKA National Champion and USAA Angler of the Year.

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