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There’s a common saying among tournament fishermen, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” If you are a fisherman you understand exactly what this means. So much of fishing is about circumstance. Right place, right time and then having the fish bite your line instead of someone’s beside you. Also the factors that lead up to catching a particular fish can be a tangled web of fortune and misfortune, but somehow you end up where you are and then the fish bites. As such, let me tell you the story of one of the most unbelievable days of fishing in my life. It happened Sunday.
My father, Rube McMullan, and cousin, Brian Aycock, joined me aboard the OIFC 1 to fish in the annual Got’em On King Classic tournament out of Carolina Beach. I fish the tournament every year, as it is well run and typically has a large number of participants and thus a substantial payout. Also, I have historically done well in this event with several top-10 finishes, and it was my hope this might be the year we crack into the top five and, who knows, maybe win it.
On Wednesday before the tournament fishing day, I had captured menhaden and mullet and pinned them up in a custom live tank I had designed. The plan was to have good bait right off the bat and be fishing early. Sunday morning, I met Rube and Brian at the bait tank and we began loading the well. Unfortunately, the menhaden were half dead and not worth using. The mullet were good to go, and thus we still had confidence in our original plan to be fishing early.
We were clear of Shallotte inlet at 6:30 a.m. and were fishing at the Jungle by 7 a.m. We were all alone at a spot that typically produces big fish, and I had confidence there was a big fish waiting for us.
By 8:30 a.m. we had not had a bite and a few boats had moved in. Our confidence was slipping. At 8:45 a.m. I turned around from the helm and said, “OK boys get them up,” and no sooner had I closed my mouth than the downrigger Ribbonfish went off with a fish that made a strong run.
I manned the rod and Rube steered toward the fish. The fish made a good 200-yard run and I hoped it would be a good one. Rube pulled up alongside the fish, which I then presented to Brian, who adeptly stuck home the gaff, pulling an estimated 28- to 29-pound King aboard. We were all smiles. We had a decent tournament fish that would at least have us on the leader board, now we just needed the big one.
We fished another hour or so before deciding to start looking at some areas offshore, where a bigger fish might be holding. We hit three or four spots from 75 to 110 feet of water but had no luck. Around noon my brother Barrett, who was operating the parasail boat along Ocean Isle Beach, gave me a call on the VHF to let me know he had seen a nice king skyrocket on some bait along the beach. We knew we could not run all the way back to Shallotte inlet to fish and still make the weigh-in at Carolina Beach, but it did give us the clue there might be some fish close to shore.
We decided to run toward Carolina Beach and catch fresh bait and finish up around the inlet. We caught fresh menhaden along the Frying Pan Shoals and then stopped at a rock 2 to 3 miles away in 40 feet of water. The area was loaded with bait and looked good, but after fishing there from 2 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. without a bite, we decided we’d run to Carolina Beach inlet to finish up.
We were fishing again by 3:30 p.m. and the water really didn’t look that great: it was kind of silty and there wasn’t much bait around. We were basically killing time as the minutes passed and our enthusiasm for a miracle weaned.
I had trolled offshore of the sea buoy some one-half mile, and at 4:15 p.m. I turned the boat with the seas and put it in neutral. I grabbed a scrub brush and started cleaning and told Rube and Brian to get ready to go.
Then it happened.
The downrigger Ribbonfish rod went down as a fish grabbed the bait and made a slow move back offshore while rising toward the surface. My first thought was a shark, but the fact the line was coming up gave me hope for a king. Seconds later the run sped up past shark speed and then it went into supersonic gear as the fish smoked the reel, headed straight offshore. There was now no doubt, we had a big kingfish.
I spun the boat as Brian headed to the bow as we gave chase. The king smoked off several hundred yards, a very impressive run. We worked back toward the fish and it went deep, we still had not seen it. The fish then made another lunge and surfaced in front of the boat before taking off. Brian looked back at me and his eyes were big as he said, “Brant, it’s a hog.”
The actions of the fish already had me thinking this could be the one, and the sight only confirmed we were dealing with a fish that could potentially win the tournament.
We caught back up to the fish as it went deep again. Brian began working it up, but we soon could see the big king was foul-hooked in the stomach and any wrong move would tear the hooks from its flesh. We were nervous!
Rube manned the wheel as I grabbed the 12-foot gaff. The king was easily in sight, circling below the boat. I stuck the entire 12 feet of gaff and my forearm into the water and swiped. The end of the hook just grazed the fish. Brian lifted and again I just bumped the fish’s tail. I reached a little deeper, and as the fish circled past the hook, I eased the hook up and felt the oh so sweet “crunch” as the hook sunk into the fish. I pulled her upward and over the gunnel and she was ours.
We were shocked.
The fish was big and we’re excited about that, but the shock of what just transpired left us in absolute disbelief. We had just been struck by lightning. The King was very long with a huge head, but we immediately noticed how skinny it was and then started worrying it wasn’t going to be big enough. On another day, this fish was easily 40-plus pounds, but at this stage in its life, I hoped it would be mid 30s.
We packed up and headed only 15 minutes to the weigh-in at Carolina Beach. We passed the check-in boat and they told us a 32-pounder was leading. I was now very excited, I couldn’t believe it. It normally takes a 40-plus pounder to win this event. It was 4:45 p.m. and there weren’t many boats behind us to weigh. We might have a chance.
We came to the scales to cheers and camera flashes and posed with our fish before weighing it in at an official 34.15 pounds, the new leader! We were very excited and nervous, but honestly I had still not gotten over the shock of catching this fish.
The last few boats weighed and our “miracle” fish held on to win the OIFC 1 first-place honors in the 2008 Got’em On King Classic, defeating 186 other top-fishing teams.
Now, analyze how we got where we were and you can quickly see that fishing is often about circumstance and timing and, above all, luck. We got lucky, and as a wise fisherman once told me, “I’d rather be lucky than good any day.”
As for the fishing report, the fishing is exceptional right now. As we approach the full-moon cycle, the fish are feeding strong. On Friday, I hosted a live -bait fishing school and we accomplished something I had never done before—we caught a near shore “trash slam” of barracuda, amberjack and shark and then topped that with a near shore “superslam” of king mackerel, mahi-mahi, cobia and sailfish. The kings were caught in 65 feet of water and the cobia, mahi and sailfish were caught in 80 feet of water. We had an awesome day.
There are a ton of menhaden on the beach, and catching live bait to fish with is no problem. The bite is red hot for kings at the 390/390, Christina’s Ledge and Shark Hole, and there are scatted mahi mixed in and also a few cobia and sailfish as well.
It’s a great time to go fishing, so get on the water and see if luck will turn your way to bring home the catch of a lifetime.
BRANT McMULLAN is a charter captain and fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at email@example.com.