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The Jolly Mon King Mackerel Fishing Tournament, organized by the Ocean Isle Fishing Center, attracts many competitors for an obvious reason: First place pays $25,000.
“Typically, every year, the first-place winner takes home over $25,000,” said Capt. Brant McMullan, the tournament director. “The entry fee is only $215. That is the lowest of any tournament that I know of. So the ratio of risk to reward is very good. The reason that the payout is so good is we have a lot of boats. Last year we had a record number of boats, 360.”
And the competitors have enjoyed the experience.
The tournament has been voted the last two years as the favorite king mackerel tournament in Fisherman’s Post Magazine,” McMullan said.
The tournament is June 19-22, and registration details are available at 575-3474.
“I feel the reason it is so popular is that this is a very family-oriented fishing tournament,” McMullan said. “We offer prizes for top-20 king mackerel caught by junior anglers, top 10 caught by lady anglers and top three caught by senior anglers. We also have a 23-feet-and-under division for boats that are smaller. If they don’t feel they can compete against the larger boats, they have their own prize category.”
Giving more people a chance to win attracts more competitors.
“I have been king mackerel fishing for close to 20 years now,” McMullan said, “and I have traveled the East coast and the Gulf coast tournament fishing. So I have seen a lot, and what I gather from tournament fishing is that for most folks it is only fun when you win. The idea of going fishing is that it is supposed to be fun. When you’re in a tournament, for a lot of folks they don’t feel like they’re having fun if they don’t win money. Winning money is nice to do, but the reality is you’re fishing against 300-plus people that know how to catch fish. There is a lot luck involved and you can’t always catch the big fish. So how do you find more ways to win?”
One way is the hunt for the jolly jugs.
“They’re fluorescent-painted Clorox jugs with dollar amounts on them,” McMullan said. “The morning of the tournament, I take an airplane and fly down the coast and we drop these jugs out of the airplane. If you’re in the tournament and you pick up a jug, you bring it back to the awards (ceremony) and you collect the money.”
Another novelty is the pogie-bobbing contest. It takes place the day before the start of the tournament.
“We started it in 1997,” he said. “A pogie is a live bait that is known to be one of the most popular baits to catch king mackerel with. So before the captains meeting, we catch some. We put half a dozen of these live fish in this clear tank and give you 15 seconds to see who can catch (a pogie) with their teeth.
“They dive in head first and they’re chasing this fish around. When I first did it in ’97, I had two people sign up. The last two or three years, I bet I’ve had more than 50. The majority of them are junior (anglers), younger than 16. We have a lot kids who fish, and they enjoy the entertainment, the pogie-bobbing. But we do have adults who do it, too. The winners are usually kids, 7, 8, 9, 10 years old.”
Making a return this year is the mud minnow spitting contest.
“A mud minnow is a popular bait fish for a flounder,” McMullan said. “You take a live mud minnow and you place it in your mouth and you see who can spit his mud minnow the farthest. That one we started last year. It had some pretty good initial interest. So it has some room to grow.”
McMullan wants all members of the family to have fun.
“It’s really about families,” he said. “It’s not just a fishing tournament in a sense where a bunch of guys go fishing and they put their money in. All of it is geared to making it family friendly and fun. There are quite a few who plan their vacations around this.”
Through the years, McMullan has seen youngsters become young adults.
“I have watched junior anglers become ineligible,” he said. “I have even watched some of them go from fishing with dad to now fishing their own boat.”
Besides making sure that families have an enjoyable fishing experience, McMullan ensures that some of the proceeds benefit other organizations. Portions of the proceeds benefit the Teaching Youth to Fish Foundation, the Ocean Beach Fire Department and the Long Bay Artificial Reef Association, he said.
The tournament was started in 1992 by Jamie Milliken, McMullan said.
“He grew the tournament to about 100 boats within a five-year period,” he said. “In ’97, I took the event over from Jamie. He’s probably the guy I tournament-fished with the most growing up. He taught me a lot about king mackerel fishing. In ’97, he had his business to run and the tournament was growing and I was young and enthusiastic. I took over and the tournament has grown. King fishing was growing at the time and the tournament kept growing.”
And McMullan deserves most of the credit for creatively blending top-level competition with a vacation-like atmosphere.
“I grew up fishing with my father,” he said, “and grew up tournament fishing with my dad and a good friend. I just wanted to try to create some incentive and some opportunity for families to want to go fishing together. A lot of the moms are really into fishing this tournament for their kids and for the lady angler prizes. If you can get mom to come, then dad is definitely going to come, because he’s just looking for an excuse to come.”
MICHAEL PAUL is the sports editor at the Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.