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In 2009, Team OIFC (Ocean Isle Fishing Center) consisting of Brant, Barrett and Rube McMullan, won the Southern Kingfish Association’s (SKA) National Championship title.
The victory was a record-breaking feat, as the family team weighed a monster 74.1-pound king mackerel to anchor its winning 118-pound, two-fish aggregate. The 74.1-pound weight was a Mississippi state record, an all-time SKA record and it was the largest winning aggregate in SKA history.
It was the grandest stage in king mackerel tournament fishing, and it was the grandest catch in king mackerel fishing history. The McMullans and Team OIFC have been featured and pictured in numerous articles and ads as a result of this historic catch.
Fast forward to 2011. Team OIFC has now grown to include Brant’s wife, Amy, and his 6-year-old daughter, Caroline. Otherwise, the gang is back together as Brant, Barrett and Rube are hoping for another miracle catch. Here is the play-by-play as it occurred.
Brant and Barrett have the team’s 32-foot Yellowfin loaded with all the equipment and on the trailer. The brothers head out of Ocean Isle Beach at 5 a.m., headed for Biloxi, Miss. After a 13-hour drive, the brothers arrive at The Isle of Capri hotel and casino in Biloxi. The truck and boat are parked, suitcases are unloaded, rooms checked in and lights out. The plan is to launch the boat and get to work the next morning.
Brant and Barrett launch the boat at 6 a.m. A dock is secured at The Isle and bait pens, etc., are unloaded. Outdoor writer and friend Gary Caputi join the brothers on board for the day of fishing/scouting. The weather forecast has caused the SKA Pro tournament to be canceled because of strong southeast winds, but Brant and Barrett are confident the Chandeleur islands and Louisiana bayou will provide good wind blockage and nice seas in the famed West Delta of Louisiana.
The crew leaves the dock at 7 a.m. and twin 300-horsepower Yamahas help crank off the 110-mile run across the state of Louisiana, passing through the bayous, crossing the mighty Mississippi River and popping out on the west side of Louisiana. The plan is to scout the area for schools of kings and capture large blue runners to bring back and pen up for bait.
The duo works oil rigs from 50 feet to 250 feet and catches a variety of species, including a 40-pound wahoo, but no kings are in sight. The big blue runners are plentiful and after a long day of scouting and covering ground, the brothers load up the baitwells and make the run back to Biloxi. The last 20 miles are in the dark, but the boat is moored safely at 7 p.m. Tomorrow is another big day of scouting.
Brant and Barrett head off the dock at 6 a.m. There is an approaching cold front scheduled to pass in the late afternoon, so the plan is to get things done by midafternoon and head in. The morning weather is great with light southeast winds, although a large southeast swell makes running offshore a bit tough. The plan is to scout the area east of Louisiana, due south of the Biloxi and Mobile area.
Brant and Barrett already know there is a large school of kings at the Horseshoe salt dome, some 80 miles south of Biloxi, where they won this same event in 2009. However, the desire is to see whether there are other schools of kings in other “less known” places that might allow the brothers to find potentially winning kings and not fish in the crowd of boats headed to the Horseshoe salt dome.
The 32-foot Yellowfin makes its first stop in the 110-foot depth range, where Brant and Barrett scout bait concentrations and then do a little fishing. The first couple of oil rigs have little bait and no king mackerel action.
The third rig is in 125 feet and the water temperature has risen to 74 degrees. The bait is plentiful, and while jigging up some fresh baits, both Brant and Barrett have baits get cut in half by predator fish.
Soon after, lines are deployed and minutes later reels are screaming. It is a welcome sound and the high speed run indicates king mackerel. Brant and Barrett fight a double header and bring to boat side a pair of monster kings, both estimated at high 40- to low 50-pound class—tournament winners.
This starts the wheels turning and certainly could be good information for the tournament. The brothers continue their rig hopping as they scout different rigs, continuing to head offshore. They find no other kings, but at one rig they boat a monster wahoo that is later weighed in at 85 pounds—a great catch and ton of fun on light tackle.
The brothers do a little more scouting before turning the boat back inshore to make one final stop to load the baitwells with more bait to pen up for the tournament. Unfortunately, the last stop proves costly as the cold front passes and winds shift to the northwest and breezes up to 20 knots. Now Brant and Barrett face a 50-mile ride home in 3- to 4-foot, choppy head seas. It is not fun, but weather is just part of the game.
This same day the SKA hosted its Pro tour event and the winning aggregate came for a North Carolina-based team, captained by Stacy Wester. He and crew weighed a pair of Kings, 46- and 48-pounders, caught at the Horseshoe salt dome. The 25 other teams competing also weighed 40-pounders and the report was the bite was red-hot.
The front that passed the evening before has pushed winds in excess of 30 knots and seas to 6 feet. Brant and Barrett take the day off the water and head to the airport to pick up the family, which is flying in to fish and cheerlead. Additional crew members now include: Brant’s wife, Amy; daughter, Caroline (6); son, Brayden (2); head baby sitter, Katelyn Kincer; Barrett’s wife, Stephanie; and daughter, Blakeley (4 months). Rube arrives by vehicle midday from Atlanta to complete the family fishing team adventure.
The marine forecast for Friday is calling for rough seas in the morning, but lying down nicely by early afternoon. Despite questioning and some dissent, the SKA decides to cancel the tournament on Friday and make it a one-day shootout, Saturday fishing only. Brant and Barrett are among the dissenting faction but decide they will use the extra day to make a final scouting and bait mission.
The family/fishing team gets to sleep in, but by 11 a.m. everyone is at the boat and loading up. The wind has died to near nothing and seas are lying down. On board for this mission are Brant, Barrett, Rube, Amy, Caroline, Brayden and Katelyn. The plan is to fish near-shore oil rigs to try to catch large bluefish for bait and then head offshore; hopefully, to the same rig where Brant and Barrett caught the big kings a couple of days before to scout whether those fish are still there.
The bluefish mission is successful, as several 3- to 4-pound bluefish are boated. In addition, the crew finds the near-shore rigs covered up with 20-30 pound Kings, good knowledge but not likely to produce tournament winners. Brant points the Yellowfin offshore and is determined to make the 50-mile run to check whether those big kings are still holding at that one particular lone rig; a potential jackpot of information for the tournament. However, it is also a potential nightmare as those fish are likely on the move and could easily be gone.
Lines are deployed at the “rogue” king rig but all is quiet. The baitfish, which were easy to catch a few days before, are difficult. The kings are not present. The fish have moved on. That is fine, as it solidifies the theory that the kings are on the move offshore.
There is no question now: the team has no choice but to fight the crowd at the Horseshoe salt dome and hope to pull out the winners. The brothers feel that through use of superior bait and angling fish aggressively to catch as many as possible to cull through for the large kings, the team has a good chance of excelling.
The wake-up call comes at 4 a.m. and everyone is at the boat and ready to go at 5 a.m.: Brant, Barrett, Rube, Amy and Caroline. The team wants to get in the checkout line early to be near the front and, hopefully, one of the first teams to the fish.
Gear is loaded, rigs tied, baitwells filled and then it is off to sit in line until the 6:40 a.m. checkout. Everyone blasts off in flat calm seas at 6:40 a.m. Brant pushes the throttles to the twin Yamaha F300s to the dash and the Yellowfin loaded to the gills with bait, ice and fuel tops out at 58 mph. For 84 miles, Brant does not touch the throttles as Team OIFC settles into the ride and focuses on what hopes to be an epic king mackerel bite.
At about 8 a.m., Brant pulls the throttle back at the Horseshoe salt dome, but 15-20 of the super fast boats are already there and it looks as if every boat is hooked up. The bite is on!
Brant, Barrett and Rube each hook up baits, pitch them over, free-line them for a few seconds and then all three are hooked up to kings who are screaming off line in different directions. Amy takes over on Brant’s rod while Brant grabs another bait and hooks up a fourth fish. Amy’s fish is particularly stubborn, hanging deep and hard to move. The other crew members release several kings in the mid 30-pound range. Amy’s fish finally comes into sight and it is a much larger fish. Brant and Amy work the fish to the gaff, where it is boated and estimated in the mid 40-pound range; a good fish that will help their needed two-fish aggregate. The feeling is that it will take 100 pounds aggregate to have a chance to win. Thus this mid-40 fish, along with a similar or larger fish, will put the team in position to have a high finish.
The McMullan family continues to sit at idle, free-lining baits into the mouths of ravenous king mackerel below—and not just small school fish either. These kings are all between 30 and 40 pounds.
Barrett and Rube are in the bow doing battle and Brant reaches in the well and hooks up a large bluefish and pitches it over. The bluefish swims down deep and out sight, then stops, makes a few nervous twitches and takes its final breath as a big king mackerel inhales it.
Brant sets the hook as the big fish sits idle, shaking its head trying to interpret the new sensation. The situation is finally digested and the reel’s drag slips uncontrollable as the king spools off several hundred yards. It is either a bigger fish or a really mean one, but the crew has to turn the boat and head toward the king to get it back under control. Other hooked fish are put on “hold” until this situation is resolved.
Brant does battle with the stubborn fish, which makes a couple more good runs and then hangs deep and strong. Finally, Brant gets a glimpse and recognizes the fish as particularly long, a potential good fish to go with the one currently on ice.
Rube grabs the gaff and boats the kings. It is long, has a huge head, but is skinny; a hard fish to estimate weight but definitely at least as big as the one in the bag. It is about 10:30 a.m. and Team OIFC has an estimated pair of 45-pounders in the bag, probably good for a top-10 finish, but a big “kicker” fish is needed.
At 11:30 a.m. the baitwells are empty. The crew has gone through 60 baits and caught more than 30 kings ranging from 30 to 45 pounds. Brant sets course for the nearest oil rig, which is 15 miles away, with the hopes of securing more bait.
At the rig, the crew finds small blue runners only. Barrett manages to catch two large “Jack type” unknown fish that are roughly 5 pounds each. Brant and Barrett discuss options of whether to keep searching bait or to take the two large, different baits back to the hot bite and hope they produce an odd, big bite. It is a gamble with only two good baits, but the brothers know it only takes one bite.
Lines are reset at the Horseshoe salt dome at 1:30 p.m. and one big Jack and a couple of small blue runners are deployed. The runners are immediately engulfed, while the Jack sits idle. A quick twitch and sharp bend of the Jack rod indicates a bite, but the line immediately goes limp.
As has been a problem throughout the day, a king has bitten the bait while another has bit the swivel and thus cut the line. Brant grabs the last hope, a 5-pound Jack and sets it out. Only minutes go by before the rod bends over and line slowly creeps off the reel. Barrett grabs the rod and sets the hook. The fish sulks and circles the boat, not acting much like a king.
Then the scene changes as suddenly the reel comes to life and line smokes off. Team OIFC is in the middle of a pack of boats and this fish has gone supersonic, peeling off three-fourths of the spool and heading toward potential conflict with other boats. Evasive maneuvers are made as Brant turns the boat and makes chase to get back on top of the fish. Barrett collects the line after several more strong runs but eventually gets the big fish into a stalemate up-and-down battle.
Big circles around the boat indicate a king mackerel and as the fish comes into sight, it looks as if it may be bigger than anything they have in the bag.
Brant readies the gaff, reaches out the entire length of the 12-foot gaff plus an additional arm’s length and nails the king. It is hauled aboard and obviously the biggest fish of the day. It is long and has a huge head, but is skinny; another hard fish to judge, but still clearly the largest fish on board.
The two fish in the bag are judged and weighed (using a scale on a rocking boat is not exact) and it appears the first king kept is bouncing between 44 and 46 pounds while the second king kept is bouncing between 46 and 49 pounds.
The second king and now this most recent king are iced in the fish bag and zipped up. The king bag is 60 inches long and the second king kept will just barely fit if the tail is bent and the third king kept is longer than the bag—two fish tails stick out of the end of the bag, a good sign.
The team picks up lines at 3 p.m., averages 45 mph for the ride home and makes it through check-in with 15 minutes to spare.
In the line, Brant reweighs the kings to make sure the right decision has been made on which fish to weigh. Brant takes the chance to scale the biggest king and the scale bounces past 53 pounds before he quickly re-ices the fish. He does not tell the crew, as he is now cautiously optimistic about what may be a high finishing-aggregate.
In line, Brant is keeping track of what has been weighed. The leading aggregate is 100 pounds. According to what Brant has seen, he believes the team’s aggregate should be around 99 pounds, not likely a winning aggregate but possibly good for second. Fingers are crossed.
Barrett and Rube are thinking low 90-pound aggregate. At the weigh-in off-loading site, the crowd is responsive to the team’s catch, an indication they may have a high-placing aggregate. There is a line of teams with their fish bags waiting to get on stage. Brant and Rube lug the bag one step at a time. Passersby note the two big tails hanging out the end of the bag.
Finally the entire team is on the stage. The leading aggregate is 100 pounds. Brant unzips the bag and hands the weighmaster the smaller of the two fish, knowing this fish will tell the tale. The scale zips right past 46 and settles at an amazing 48.43 pounds. The entire team is astonished. Brant gives a small fist pump as he now has an idea they may have a shot at taking the lead.
The crowd applauds the next fish as its length makes it particularly impressive. The scale hits 52 pounds, then 55 pounds, and settles at 54.70 pounds. Barrett and Rube turn to Brant with astonishment. Amy and Caroline are in shock and Brant pumps his first and holds up a finger, “First place!”
The SKA announcer gives a total aggregate of 103.13 pounds and new leader. Team OIFC has taken a late lead and is absolutely in shock. They knew they had a good catch, but never considered it a winning catch. The line to weigh is still long and the nervous anticipation is overwhelming. Other teams and spectators are trying to congratulate the team, but shock mixed with the fear of a jinx keep them near silent.
Finally the last fish is weighed and it is announced that Team OIFC has won the Open Class of the 2011 SKA National Championship. High fives, thanks, cheers and a variety of emotions of shared.
For their efforts Team OIFC won nearly $15,000 in cash along with a new 21-foot Contender boat/motor/trailer package valued at $40,000. Just as important and most impressive, the team has added another national championship trophy to their resume and will cherish the memory of sharing this accolade with Amy and Caroline.
Amy, Brayden, Stephanie, Blakely and Katelyn all catch a 6 a.m. flight back to North Carolina. Caroline has decided to skip the flight and ride back in the truck with Brant and Barrett so she can be at the awards presentation and get up stage. Awards are at 8 a.m. and trophies, money and boat are received and many pictures taken. Many congratulations are given to the McMullan family and many thanks are returned. The family is obviously still in awe over its accomplishment.
The crowds finally part ways and its back to reality as suitcases are loaded into vehicles, the boat is washed and loaded and finally put back on the trailer for the long ride home. The family departs Biloxi at around noon and travels to Atlanta, where its spends the night with mom, a good halfway stopping point.
Brant, Barrett and Caroline depart Atlanta after morning traffic and arrive back to Ocean Isle at 5 p.m. There is no ticker-tape parade, but there are smiling children, wives, dogs and “normal” life as they know it—with one small change: Team OIFC is the new and current reigning national champions.