It is the first tournament of the new season; the Jolly Mon King Classic is upon us, and it is time to start thinking King Mackerel. This year’s Jolly Mon, as it has been for the past 10+ years, will be hosted from the Ocean Isle Fishing Center. The event will offer nearly a week of festivities centered around family involvement in fishing.
June 14th starts the show with the newly reformatted Jolly Mon VIP. This year’s VIP will be open to the public, and adds in a twist from the tournament fishing norm. Most times you fish a King Mackerel tournament and curse the frequent encounters with Amberjack and Cudas; not this time. Your final score will be based on a three fish aggregate of one King, one Amberjack and one Cuda. Visit www.OIFC.com/JOLLYMONVIP for details and entry.
June 15th is the Rock the Docks kids fishing tournament. This dock fishing tournament has grown very popular over the years and is a real pleasure to host. How fun is it to watch dozens of kids between the ages of 3 and 12 catch their first fish? Registration is from 7:30am-8am the morning of the event with fishing taking place from 8am-10am. Prizes are awarded to the youth who weigh the largest Flounder, Crab and Pinfish. Visit www.OIFC.com/ROCKTHEDOCK for details and entry information.
June 16th is the Jr. Jolly Mon fishing tournament. This event was set up as a way to give the youth fishermen their very own event, free from the pressure of the main event. The Jr. Jolly Mon offers families a way to do some scouting and pre-fishing on the water for the Jolly Mon, while also involving their youth and making them the focus of the day. There is a lot pressure and money on the line in the Jolly Mon, so this event insures the youth get to catch the fish and be more involved. Prizes are awarded for the top catches in the King Mackerel, Cobia, Mahi and Spanish Mackerel categories. Visit www.OIFC.com/JRJOLLYMON for details and entry information.
June 17th and 18th are competition days for the Jolly Mon. This is the main event and the first qualifying event to make the Kingfish Cup Championship. Teams can choose to compete EITHER Saturday, June 17th or Sunday, June 18th. The base entry fee is $215, but there are multiple TWT level options for those who want to gamble for higher stakes. The Jolly Mon will pay out 30 places overall, 3 places in the small boat division, 20 places in the Jr. Angler division, 10 places in the Lady Angler division, 3 places in the Sr. Angler division, 3 places in the Mahi division and 3 places in the Spanish Mackerel division; not to mention 3 places in each of the optional TWT levels (Big Fish, Whale, High Roller, Small Boat and Lady). Visit www.OIFC.com/JMKC for details and entry information.
And for all you Kingfish Cup teams looking at the first Championship qualifier of the year; it is time to get serious. The stakes are raised and the opportunity as a tournament King Mackerel fishermen has never been better. It is game time!
Capt. Brant McMullan
A Legend and Some Pioneers
Originally from Richlands, North Carolina, a small town near Jacksonville, Clayton Kirby made his first king mackerel trip to Cape Lookout in 1973. Fishing with a friend on a Wellcraft V20, the trip paid off with a lot of kings, but none were caught slow trolling. That’s because, prior to about 1974 or 1975, no one slow trolled for king mackerel. If you caught king mackerel then, they were either caught by float fishing from a drifting or anchored boat, or by faster trolling with spoons. It was effective, but not nearly as effective as what was to come.
Fast forwarding a year or two, Clayton was fishing for kings out of his new home port of Carolina Beach. He was catching fish, but he saw that others were catching more. In particular, a group that towed around a modified 55 gallon trash can behind their boat was smoking him. He figured out that their trash can was a simple, constantly aerating livewell. Then he made friends.
Being sportsmen that enjoyed hunting in addition to fishing, Clayton took Bill Collins deer hunting on some of the land owned by his family. It took an eight point buck to get him really talking, but that’s sometimes how these things work. Bill filled him in on how he, Ronnie Lewis, and Harold Hagler had caught sailfish out of West Palm Beach by slow trolling goggle eyes, a technique used in South Florida to this day during the winter. The trio decided that the same technique could work in New Hanover County, North Carolina, so they went home and tried it. Just like that they had captured lightning in a bottle. Clayton was specific, Bill Collins, Ronnie Lewis, and Harold Hagler were the pioneers of the technique in this fishery; they were the first to adapt live bait, slow trolling techniques to king mackerel fishing in North Carolina. Thus, the true home of this technique for kingfish is Carolina Beach, despite other localities stating otherwise!
The timing of this new technique was fortuitous. It was but a few years after this development that the Arthur Smith tournament came to be, followed by the U.S. Open in Southport. Other, smaller tournaments sprung up as well. Clayton was hired by Reggie Fountain in 1986 as newer, faster, and more specialized boats came about to support a growing fishery. By now living in north Florida, he became the face of Team Fountain Fishing, as Fountain developed a reputation as one of tournament kingfishing’s premier boats.
As the sport continued to grow, the Southern Kingfish Associate was born as a sanctioning body. In 1991, the first national championship was held. When the smoke had cleared, Clayton Kirby was announced as national champion. This, by the way, was not the only time he won this honor.
Now at 63 years young, Clayton Kirby is living in North Florida. He’s still fishing and still he’s winning. He says he fishes approximately four tournaments a year now, just to keep the competitive juices flowing. It’s the same fire that caused him to chase king mackerel around on the circuits for years, and the same drive that caused him to reach out to another team to understand and adapt their system. He has one of the most impressive tournament resumes of all time, but when you speak to him, you get the sense that he’s more interested in the next tournament (wherever it may be) than resting on his laurels.
On the drawing board, Clayton and his wife have been planning a second home on the Crystal Coast, just to the north of Kingfish Cup territory. It looks as if the legend may truly be coming home, if just for part of the year. It would be something to have Team Kirby entered into the 2018 Kingfish Cup, and it just might happen if the stars align just right. Certainly nothing is written in stone as of now, but it might just be premature to say that the North Carolina tournament king mackerel landscape has seen the last of Clayton Kirby.
Raising the Stakes Part Two
Other than a successful day on the water, there’s not much better than a good debate. The original “Raising The Stakes” article, in the May newsletter got almost an immediate response from Randolph “Kaz” Prince, who was quick to point out that higher levels of entry in the Kingfish Cup actually lead to a smaller ratio of payout. For instance, if you simply entered Level 1 and won the championship, your payout is 22.5 to 1 on your initial investment. At Level 2 (assuming you only entered Level 1 and 2) that ratio drops to 18.28 to 1, based on 75 boats. Based on the numbers given, Kaz is one hundred percent, absolutely correct! When I spoke to him, it was clear that this is a not only a guy who fishes, someone who can hold his own at a poker table. Then we took the debate to the next level…
Level 1 is mandatory. If you are in the lucky 100 that is entered into the Kingfish Cup, you are in Level 1. The payout ratio on Level 1 cannot change, it is eternally locked at 22.5 to 1. Level 2 and Level 3 are voluntary. We won’t know exactly how many boats have Leveled Up until right after the Captain’s Party, and at that point we can determine the exact payout ratio. For brevity’s sake, we’re only really going to look at Level 2, but let’s consider at a few scenarios that could occur:
Less than 75 boats enter Level 2. This would decrease the payout ratio, but increase the individual team’s odds of winning. With 50 boats entering Level 2, each team has a (strictly mathematical) 2% chance of winning the Level. The payout for the winning boat (assuming they win both Level 1 and 2) would be $28,123.33. On a $2,000 bet, the payout ratio is right at 14 to 1. Still not a bad payday, but not fully what we want to achieve from a season of work on the water.
Exactly 75 boats enter Level 2. This is what has been projected, and it is the number that other conclusions have been drawn from. At an 18.28 to 1 payout ratio, you have a 1.3% chance of taking the full pot. There is a comprehensive betting advantage at this point. At strictly Level 1 numbers, with the standard 1%, your true odds are 0.225. All you do is multiply the ratio by the percentage chance any single boat has of winning (22.5 * .01 = .225). With Level 1 and Level 2, 18.28 * .013 = .237. Slightly better odds, but a lot more money.
All 100 boats Level up, and are thus both entered in Level 1 and Level 2. My math tells me that the winning boat will then take home a check for $44,996.67. On a $2,000 bet, that’s a ratio of 22.498 to 1, or so close to the original odds of 22.5 to 1 that it is statistically indifferent. Not to mention, a lot more money. Of course, your comprehensive betting advantage has been lost because everyone would be in the same pot (both Level 1 and Level 2). At this point, for all intents and purposes to the teams, the Levels have merged.
Kaz went on to describe the higher Levels as identical to a side pot in a poker game. We respect the lesser bet in full (the lesser bet being Level 1) but it is only respected to the max that it can pay out (in this case the original 22.5 to 1, and you’re taking home $11,250). Even with a bigger fish/better hand, the minimum bet can’t touch Level 2 or 3 money, which can be where the meat may really be found. This is risk/reward strategy at its most simple form. If you want the bigger payout, you have to make the bigger bet.
Stay tuned to the Kingfish Cup newsletter, because next month we’ll look at the exact payout scenarios for both Level 2 and Level 3. At that point, we’ll know the hard numbers, so we can say for certain what the ratios and odds are. In the meantime, we encourage all Kingfish Cup teams to Level Up. The risk might slightly change, but the reward only increases!
Many thanks to Randolph “Kaz” Prince for his help with this piece. He’s retiring from the Navy soon, and we all thank him for his service to this great country. He’d be a great addition to the Kingfish Cup competitive field in the future!
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
King Mackerel Status: A Perspective from Fishery Managers
While this hasn’t always been the case, just about every fishery manager agrees that the current population of Atlantic king mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla, is in good shape as of today. Kings were considered overfished well into the 1980s, but we are at a point where even the least fishing friendly sources list their status now as either “No Concern” or “Not Threatened.” At the North Carolina state level, their stock status is listed as “Viable.” This is certainly good fortune, not just for them, but for all of us who enjoy fishing for them, either recreationally, commercially, or competitively.
Biologically, king mackerel are pretty much the exact opposite of a dolphinfish, another pelagic species that is caught in North Carolina in abundance. At four years of age, a male king mackerel has reached sexual maturity. A four year old male dolphin, in the extremely rare occurrence that one reaches that age, is probably a great grandfather about 30 times over. However, the 40 plus pound smoker that wins you the big check in the Kingfish Cup tournament is almost certainly a female. Kings are a much more long-lived and slower developing fish than dolphin, and have been reported to reach 26 years of age. This biology has led to the three-fish-per-day recreational bag limit that is found throughout the majority of their range. In Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, where a lot of their spawning takes place, that recreational bag limit drops to two fish.
Where it gets a little with tricky with king mackerel is when we start to consider the “groups” of them that allegedly exist. Fisheries biologists have divided the population of king mackerel into two separate groups, one for the Atlantic and one for the Gulf of Mexico. However, there are absolutely no genetic differences between the two groups, and the groups are known to mix freely at different parts of the year. Because of this, the Atlantic and Gulf stock of fish have been divided into two zones apiece, and a “Winter Mixing Zone” exists in the vicinity of the Florida Keys, where the Eastern Gulf and Southern Atlantic Zone fish are known to mingle, mix, and most likely spawn. If this is a bit confusing, don’t worry. The existence of these zones is mostly to regulate the commercial industry in these places, and has little to no effect on the recreational side of the fishery. It is worth noting, though, that this is merely a theory on king mackerel reproductive and migratory behavior. Reality may be more simple (or perhaps more complicated) than our fishery managers are making it out to be.
At the time that king mackerel were considered to be overfished, it was deemed to be commercial pressure, most notably in the Gulf of Mexico, that pushed the stock to the brink of collapse. In response to this issue, greater restrictions on the net industry were put into effect. Commercial net fishing for king mackerel still exists today, just in a more regulated rate than occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.
While king mackerel are seen as a success in federal fisheries management, there are other actors that have contributed to their relative well-being as well. One could make a strong argument that a growing tournament scene, which began just as commercial pressures on these fish hit their all-time high, has created an ethic where more and more, only the largest of the species are kept, with juveniles and mid-sized adults being released. As the economic benefits to the localities that host these tournaments became known, (Little River got jetties, visiting anglers buy fuel, ice, and bait…) more and more in the fishing community became aware that king mackerel had a value that outweighed their value as simply dinner. So here we are today, with a very functional tournament scene, chasing after a species that a stock assessment (completed recently in 2014) tells us is in pretty darn good shape.
Certainly there will be other factors that affect king mackerel fishing on a year to year basis. Variables like temperature, decreased salinity from large rainfall events, and the presence or absence of bait might contribute to certain years being better than others when it comes to king mackerel fishing in any given locality. The good news is that if we continue roughly on the path we are on with king mackerel, the tournament scene that we all love should be able to exist in roughly its current state for many years to come.
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
King Mackerel Status: A Perspective from Two Generations of Aycocks
“Tournament kingfishing is all about who can persevere through adversity.” Austin Aycock, May 2017
Team Hail Yeah spans two generations of fishermen. Brian Aycock has two sons, Austin and Brandon, and both will be active participants in the Kingfish Cup when their schedules allow. In their spare time, the trio restores older center consoles to their former glory, or to exceed it. First it was a Sea Craft, now it’s a Contender that’s getting reworked to fish the new series. While Brian is halfway across the country working, Austin keeps fishing, be it for fun or commercially. Graduating from high school next week, he’s headed to the Maritime Academy in Maine this fall. Brian bristled a bit when it was mentioned that his oldest son might be saltier than he, but he eventually admitted that it was probably true.
When asked about the current status of the fishery, Brian thinks that while cyclical, it is on the upswing right now. He was quick to quote statistics to support his claim. In 2006, Division 9 was won with a total of 79.38 pounds, and the small boat category winner caught 61.9 pounds. Those totals would have put the 2006 winners in third and sixth place, respectively, in 2016. Brian thinks that we are seeing better leaderboards, especially in fall tournaments, throughout the sport.
Additionally, Brian is seeing improvement in the beach king mackerel bite. He suggested that anyone walk out on Ocean Crest pier on Oak Island on a decent weather day and just observe what gets caught in visual range. Brian also made it clear that he has a number of inshore spots that are holding fish again, after a lengthy hiatus. He wouldn’t say exactly where they were, but would anyone reasonably expect him to?
When pressed as to the “why” regarding this question, Brian remained adamant that it’s a cyclical situation. Some seasons are good, and some are not. Sometimes good seasons get strung together. He’s hopeful that 2017 will be a continuation of good fishing for Team Hail Yeah, a sentiment that his sons certainly share.
On the other hand, Austin sees king mackerel fishing in more of a decline, at least based on the quality of fish. He cited the summer tournament as being especially difficult. He went on to say that being effective during warm weather tournaments was based on remaining creative. His father may disagree a bit on the overall trend, but we can all see where his comment on changing things up is coming from! Speaking to Austin, it seemed like having a conversation with an angler ten years his senior.
Austin is also a bit dismayed at the quality of fish he is seeing consistently in the fall of the year. It’s not a doom and gloom scenario, because he feels he is seeing good numbers, but is always looking for a better class of king macs.
Another trend Austin cited was that he feels more and more boats are getting into king mackerel fishing in general, and tournament fishing for kings more specifically. He feels there is a small amount of localized depletion occurring, based around the tournament schedules. In the timeline he is aware of, he is actually correct. Nine or so years ago, when the economy began to crash and many people were forced to leave the sport, Austin was nine. Now, a lot of those same people are re-entering the hobby, and there certainly are new faces joining as well. Brian is looking a larger timeline when he makes his statements about the trend. Is it possible that they are both right in some ways?
Even though they disagree a bit about some overall trends in king mackerel fishing, no one can deny Team Hail Yeah’s passion for the sport. They have a good blend of experience and youthful enthusiasm. Certainly Brandon will step up and fill his older brother’s deck boots when Austin leaves for college. It should be a good year, and a fairly smooth transition to the Kingfish Cup for this Ocean Isle based team.
Finally, it should be noted that while Austin is currently the Aycock logging the most time on the water, Dad still knows his way around a boat and a camera. Especially a camera. As proficient as Austin is on the water, he couldn’t provide any pictures of his father being hooked in the nose with a bait jig. Sometimes experience trumps youthful experience…