Fall Brawl current title holder Team Miller Time's 2016 winning king (41.85#)
Fall Brawl all-time record fish (56.8#) from Team Cape Contender
“Here’s my best advice for this weekend. You know it’s the fall, and you know you’re fishing on the beach. Make your decision, stick with it, and grind it out, because one bite changes EVERYTHING!” Team Miller Time Captain Brent Gainey, 2016 Fall Brawl Champion.
Folks, it’s official. The water on the beach is clear, and the fish are here. The U.S. Open has come and gone and it’s time for the second half of the Kingfish Cup season, which means that this weekend is the Fall Brawl at the Ocean Isle Fishing Center.
The post hurricane conditions saw a lot of dirty water on our beaches. The clearing of the water, of course, started to the east, above Frying Pan Shoals. The king bite from the piers fired off there first, and worked its way down to and past Brunswick County. While other piers had already reported king mackerel action, it took until September 29 for the bite to start at Apache. King mackerel action that far to the southwest means that most of the Grand Strand beaches will be in play this weekend, in addition to the water that has been productive for multiple weeks. Based on the way the Open played out, reigning Fall Brawl champion (and Kingfish Cup contestant) Brent Gainey is hoping for the exact same conditions as he fished last weekend. Chances are good that he will get them, and that could mean an epic bite and leaderboard.
Another sign that fall is here is the presence of the big red drum, also right on our beaches. These fish come in to snack on the exact same bait that the kings are pursuing, the schools of menhaden. While the drum are usually too wire-shy to bite king mackerel leaders, it absolutely can and does happen. Years ago, during the second week in October, we were attempting to chronicle the incredible fall king mackerel bite that we were experiencing with Sport Fishing Magazine Editor Chris Woodward. Fishing just out of Shallotte Inlet, we immediately found bait, saw multiple king mackerel sky, and put out the kite. The drum were so voracious we couldn’t get through them to get a king bite, and we had to push further offshore. Finding the right depth, just off of the beach, and just away from the drum, might prove to be the right strategy this weekend. Anglers in the U.S. Open reported bait from just about every location from this weekend, with a particular concentration of the largest pogies right of the beach at Bald Head Island.
The 2017 edition of the Fall Brawl marks the 10 year anniversary of Scott and Austin Allen’s victory in this event, with a 36.75 pounder caught just offshore of Shallotte Inlet. While father and son victories are always special, this one may have even been a bit sweeter. While the Allen’s and Team “Double Down” typically fished a bigger, twin-engine Wellcraft when they went offshore, they chose to fish this tournament from their bay boat, a Nauticstar with a single Yamaha. Certainly this limited them a bit on range, but it didn’t matter. It was well known that the fish were right on the beach (it’s October, right?) so that’s where they went fishing on that Sunday, the second day of that year’s tournament. Most of the fleet that day went towards Oak Island, then started working their way back home. Early in the afternoon the bulk of the boats had amassed near the Shallotte sea buoy, looking for the Hail Mary fish that would pay. Either the Allens had the right bait, in front of the right fish, at the right time, or they had just been living right, because it was their number that got called on that chilly fall day. That king came over the gunwale in plain view of at least three members of the OIFC charter fleet. Now in college, at the time Austin was a fixture at the docks of the Fishing Center. He was always respectful and fun to be around, just an overall great kid. Seeing him smile from ear to ear on that day certainly was a great feeling for everyone who knew him. Certainly that is a fish and a tournament that the Allens will never forget.
We all want to have that same feeling on this upcoming Sunday, so how is the 2017 Fall Brawl going to be won? Looking at last year’s leaderboard, there are trends, but there are also outliers. Of the top ten fish, nine teams reported catching them almost in the breakers, as far away as Topsail Inlet. Miller Time’s 44.20 that took home top honors was hooked just outside Carolina Beach Inlet. However, the second place fish was reported as coming from just a bit further offshore, on the other side of the shoals, in the vicinity of the General Sherman wreck. Could a hotspot like the 90s, the 10s, Myrtle Beach rocks, or even the Jungle area be what holds the 2017 winner? It’s certainly possible, but statistically speaking, the top fish will be caught either right on the beach or in the Cape Fear River Channel. These fish got to be big by eating, and the bait buffet has arrived!
By advanced statistical analysis, here’s how this year’s Fall Brawl will play out. The winner will have chosen to fish close to their home port, thus extending their fishing time. They’ll fill their livewell with jumbo fall menhaden, and might choose to make the short run back in to the breakers to freshen their baits. There’s a small chance they might work in a bluefish or two to the spread. The winning king will bite a big, frisky, naked bait on either the long line (40% chance), a downrigger set fairly shallow due to the proximity to the beach (40% chance), or the kite bait (20%) chance. When it’s all said and done, the team that executes this plan (or something very similar to it) is going to be 100% thrilled with not only their victory check, but the automatic qualification to Ocracoke.