Spring king mackerel run has pier, kayak anglers on fire

Doug Smith caught this 261/2-pound king at Ocean Crest Pier on Oak Island last May 14.
Doug Smith caught this 26 1/2-pound king at Ocean Crest Pier on Oak Island last May 14.

Kings are accessible to many anglers right now

May is a special time along many Carolina beaches. That is especially so along the beaches of Long Bay, between North Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Cape Fear, N.C.

Most fishing is good in this area, but there is an annual run of king mackerel that isn’t duplicated anywhere else in the two Carolinas. These kings move up the beach between mid-April and Memorial Day and thrill pier, kayak and other nearshore ocean fishermen.

This run has been tracked for decades, and pier tournaments and kayak tournaments are planned around it. The northern end of Long Bay holds a lot of baitfish, and the migrating kings move close to the beach, using it as a layover to feed up before moving again. The pier-record kings for Ocean Crest and Oak Island Piers and the former Long Beach Pier were all caught during this run.

Plenty of kings hang around the piers this month

“The spring run wasn’t the best last year. But it’s already shaping up to be good this year,” said Jonathan Grady, holder of the (unofficial) North Carolina record for king mackerel caught from a kayak. “The water didn’t get as cold as in the past few winters, and there was bait showing up at the end of March. The water temperature was right at 60 then, and it only has to warm into the upper 60s for the kings to arrive. A few snapper bluefish are already showing. Kings usually arrive a couple of weeks after the bluefish get thick.”

Grady slow-trolls two live bluefish behind his kayak, one on the surface and the other a few feet below. Wire leaders are a must. He begins with a pair of treble hooks and adds another if the baits are large. Grady said the kings are occasionally closer in than the ends of the piers. But he usually finds them from the pier ends out to Yaupon Reef.

Pier anglers cash in on this run also. Most of the kings run 20 pounds and larger, the largest recorded being a 53-pound, 6-ounce brute Bo Crump caught at Ocean Crest Pier on May 7, 1998. Crump added kings of 41 and 36 pounds later that day to fill his 3-fish limit.

Boats close to the beach can get in on the action, but don’t crowd the pier ends. Stay at least 1,000 feet off to give pier fishermen room to fight and land fish.

Jerry Dilsaver
About Jerry Dilsaver 1147 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.