The Kingfish Cup wasn’t born on March 15, 2017. It wasn’t born fifteen days prior, earlier. The concept came to be following numerous discussions (sometimes heated) between Capt. Brant McMullan and his family. Brant originally wanted to cap the field of the inaugural Kingfish Cup at 50 boats. His wife, Amy (also a Captain and IGFA king mackerel record holder in multiple line classes) told him he was crazy, and to “Go big or stay at home.” His wife’s logic and challenge won the day. Brandon Sauls, creator of InterCoastal Net Designs, worked long hours to create a website that wouldn’t crash when registration went live. Health insurance jokes aside, he did exactly that. Chris Campbell put in work marketing the event and made everyone laugh with his graphics in the process. Donna Gurganus and John Gore collaborated with Brant on the format and how their events would fit into the framework of the Cup. With an event of this scale, there are no small parts.
At 9:00 sharp on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, registration for the Kingfish Cup opened. Just after 9:05, the hundred slots (which can’t be traded, bought, or sold) were full. There is a substantial waitlist already for this year’s Cup. Clearly, some people didn’t get in, which is a tragedy. Let’s be clear, however, the demand to be involved with this event shows just how much fishermen want to participate in this tournament series. This is truly a series, made by fishermen, for the fishermen. The anglers have spoken, and the Kingfish Cup is indeed what they want.
Brant has made it clear that while there is no “perfect” number of boats to fish this series, when weighing the payout versus the competition, the field is set at 100 boats, and it will stay at 100 boats. No one wants disappointed anglers, but there has to be a limit on the field. Every effort was made to inform all interested anglers exactly how to ensure that they got in, as will be the case next year. Some may have not refreshed their browsers at the correct time, or were using an outdated web browser. Some credit cards were declined. These are all mistakes that can be corrected going forward, because there most certainly will be a next year.
Speaking of next year, the issues with registration and the format could certainly be tweaked. While the 2017 Kingfish Cup will be fished between 100 boats, there’s no rule that says it has to be that way for 2018. Brant has already made assurances that there will be no such thing as a “locked” field for Year Two. The four qualifiers and the Ocracoke Championship might show that the series can stand a bigger field. Let’s let that script write itself this year.
The field is set, but there is still a lot that has to be done to ensure a successful tournament series. There are a hundred teams that have to be fed when the Kingfish Cup hosts its own Captain’s Meeting. Someone has to keep score and someone document the exploits of the series. There can be no loose ends. Ultimately, the event must be right, or no one will fish it. Nothing destroys a great idea greater than apathy or poor execution. It was a nervous morning while Brant and Brandon sat together and watched the entries roll in, but it went off smoother than anyone could have imagined. You can bet that each member of the Kingfish Cup administrative team will put in their work to make sure that the other stages go off as smoothly.
Anglers can do their part to make sure that this series lives up to its potential as well. Roughly 60% of the field is registered in Level 1 only at the moment. There is time to enter the other levels and get the payout to its maximum, which will only make the Cup stronger. Ultimately, the Kingfish Cup is about who is the best fishermen, not the richest. That’s why each team has nearly three months between the first registration to enter the additional levels of the series, if they so choose. Fishermen have asked for better payouts in tournaments. Folks, entering all three levels across the board is how we get to that point. Not only that, but it grandfathers you in for 2018. Get your team to help, save up the funds, or find a sponsor at work. There is no sense leaving that money on the table. No one wants to kick themselves in November for only being entered in Level 1!
Brant and the rest of the Kingfish Cup are proud of Day 1 of the series truly going live, but you can bet they’re nowhere near satisfied! Not yet. There is still a lot of work to be done in ensuring that the Kingfish Cup is the premiere event of its kind. If you’re in the field, you’re going to be part of history. Make plans, get your team focused and motivated, and by all means, enter the additional levels of the series. It has nothing to do with what kind of boat you fish, what motors you run, where you live, or what you do for a living. It’s time to see who the best king mackerel fishermen really is. All roads and channels, starting today, lead to Ocracoke in November!
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
You can drive from Carolina Beach, North Carolina, to Little River, South Carolina in less than 90 minutes when the traffic is decent. Along the way, you’ll pass by the sleepy town of Ocean Isle Beach. If you blink, you might miss the sign that tells you to turn off of Highway 17. In that short stretch of coastline, though, is the heart of king mackerel tournament fishing. There are more king mackerel tournament teams here than anywhere else in the country, and the tournaments hosted between Carolina Beach and Little River are the richest and (arguably) the most prestigious to be found, anywhere.
Here you will find the four tournaments who used to make up the Southern Kingfish Association’s famed Division 9: The Jolly Mon (Ocean Isle), Got Em On (Carolina Beach), Rumble in the Jungle (Little River), and Fall Brawl (Ocean Isle Beach). These are all events with a long history and stable footing. As long as there are tournaments for king mackerel fishing, these weekend affairs will, in all likelihood, be in existence. A win in any of these standalone tournaments carries a great deal of weight, and instant team name recognition. Registration has never been an issue with any of these events, who routinely get over 200 teams. Because of their popularity with ultra-competitive, traveling teams and families alike, the payouts for these events is much higher that what is typically found elsewhere. If the body of tournament king mackerel fishing starts at the North Carolina/Virginia border and runs all the way down the coast, around the tip of Florida, and all the way to Texas, the heart is certainly the three counties of New Hanover, Brunswick, and Horry, straddling the North and South Carolina line.
This heart was often on display on the national level, as well. The best illustration of this point would be the SKA National Championship held in Biloxi in 2009, where teams from the Carolinas virtually covered the top ten for both classes, the Open and the 23’ and Under. There is a tremendous interest in the sport along the coast of the Carolinas, so it’s not surprising that some of the most successful teams hail from here. If you fish your home waters in North or South Carolina, you are probably used to rapidly changing conditions, rough water, and sometimes finicky fish. Anglers from other locales don’t always have to overcome these issues. Often, when teams from the Tarheel or Sandlapper states put their boats on trailers for a dozen hours or more for a major tournament, they were leaving better king fishing behind at home.
There were other quirks with previous formats as well. If a team finishing higher couldn’t make the trip to the Gulf or South Florida (depending on where the tournament was being held) the organization in charge might simply invite another boat. Previous models of sanctioning and determining a champion were not without its merits, but in all likelihood, it was just too broad. Enter the Kingfish Cup and the most exciting concept of all, the Kingfish Cup Championship.
The Kingfish Cup Championship in Ocracoke will be an event that is truly the first of its kind. Any team who enters the field prior to the start of the qualifying events will have an equal shot at getting to the Championship. There is no bias when it comes to making the field. If you win one of the four qualifying events, you have qualified to go to Ocracoke. If you finish in the top 25 of the field on a three tournament (dropping one fish) aggregate, then you have also qualified to go to Ocracoke. In theory, the field for the second week in November could be as high as 29 boats. It may well be less than 29, if a tournament winner also finishes in the top 25 aggregate or if a team is unable to make the trip. Whatever the final number in the Championship field,
It will be a smaller field than what traveling teams are used to from championship events past in Fort Pierce or Biloxi. The field will be more tightly knit, but with the concept of “win and you’re in,” it will also be made up entirely of teams of skilled anglers and captains. The relatively small size of Ocracoke means that you will be in close proximity to other teams while you’re on the island. You’ll most likely be going out to dinner or drinks with your competition, or staying on the same floor of the motel with them as well. In short, Ocracoke in early November will be ground zero for a small group of the best king mackerel fishermen on the planet. Can your team end up on that elite list?
If you do, in fact, end up on that list for November, you’ll have a series of decisions to make. Of course, one decision you won’t be faced with is whether or not you want to pay an additional entry feel. The registration fee for the Kingfish Cup Championship was paid when you signed your team up for the series. There is no additional buy in, as there was with other championship formats. You don’t need to decide where to dock, either, as the marina at the Anchorage has been reserved for the field. What you will need to decide, first, is how you’ll get your boat and team to the event. You could trailer it on the ferry, of course, or you could trailer to Morehead, Beaufort, or Cedar Island, drop in there, and make the rest of the trip by water. You could even scout, pre-fish, or catch bait along the way, depending on which route you choose. You’ll need to choose where you want to stay on Ocracoke. You can choose the luxury of one of the bed and breakfasts, any of the variety of motels, or even really “rough it” at one of the campgrounds.
Most importantly, though, you’ll need to decide which way you want to run when you go through the first check-out of the tournament. You can run south to the famed Ocracoke hard-bottom bite, or go the other way, to the Hatteras temp break bite. Neither heading will take you more than 20 nautical miles from the inlet, another leveling of the playing field that Ocracoke creates. When the hot bite requires a 100 mile run, the team in a 23’ center console doesn’t have much of a chance. With shorter runs, it can be anybody’s game. Either way, it’s nearly certain that the fish will be there. Ocracoke should rival or exceed any other kingfish bite found in the country, especially in November. You’ll then have to decide, based on your calculations, the right time to pick up and head for the scales. You’ll have to do your homework, just as in any king mackerel tournament, to make the equation work for you and your team. Then again, if you are fishing the Kingfish Cup Championship, you have already made it correctly in the past. You just have to apply it to another stretch of the Carolina coastline, just a few hours away from where you won your way into the field.
Registration for the first ever Kingfish Cup starts on March 1, 2017. The first 100 teams will have an opportunity to settle it all, to crown a true champion, almost in the backyard of the roots of live-bait, tournament, king mackerel fishing. Register, and register early, because when the field hits 100, registration is capped. Family teams, seasoned veterans with tournament wins on their resume, or young guns looking for their breakthrough season, don’t hesitate. Enter the Kingfish Cup, an idea whose time has come.
Just go fishing.
Capt. Chris Burrows
The town of Carolina Beach, already in full-on summer mode, hosts the East Coast Got Em On king mackerel tournament every July. The fish are in their summer pattern, which means spread out all over the place. A winner can come from the beach, hard-bottom areas in 20 fathoms, or virtually anywhere in between. You don’t necessarily need to be good to catch a king mackerel in the month of July. You do, however, need to be good to catch a big king mackerel.
With no checkout, teams leave from a host of different inlets in the area, stretching the footprint of the event well into South Carolina. While the field fans out, however, there are always the tried and true spots that have produced leaderboard fish through the years. Everyone knows about the Cabbage Patch, the Cucumber, and Kure Beach Rocks. Every serious tournament kingfish boat has a few secret ledges along Frying Pan Shoals marked in their chart plotter.
There’s always the last minute Hail Mary spot as well. Carolina Beach has the most easterly facing beach of all the towns that host Kingfish Cup qualifiers, and as a result, the water right on the beach is the deepest you will find in the series. Many a monster king has been caught right in that deeper water at the Carolina Beach sea buoy, and some of these fish have taken home top prize in the Got Em On. There is a rumor out there that the winning fish was caught right there about ten years ago in this tournament. The king was supposedly so fresh that its tail kicked a few times when it was brought out of the bag to get a weight at the tournament scales.
The only issue with this fish story is that the weigh-in complicates matters a bit. And believe this, the weigh-in at the Got Em On is a spectacle, unrivaled by anything this author has ever seen. There is one way in and one way out, with idle speed all the way! A boat will enter and begin a long, slow U-turn that will take you all the way to the end of the docks, and eventually all the way back out to the waterway. Once you’re in line, you will pass by virtually everyone you know in the king fishing world, either as they enter or exit. There’s no real docking, either. A simple touch-and-go sends one of your team over the side and to the scales, then the boat gets back in line. The fish is weighed and then it’s down to another dock, where you rejoin your team with a weigh slip.
The full range of human emotions have been on display in the Got Em On weigh-in line. Most of the time, a simple thumbs up or a quick shake of the head is all that’s broadcasted from one center console to another. Other times, it’s an approximation of a monster with outstretched hands. At this point, are they telling the truth, or are they just trying to get a reaction? What of the ultra-serious team, who refuses to wave or make eye contact with anyone else. Are they just in competition mode, or is it a bluff? In any event, the scales aren’t far, and they don’t lie. What’s more, unless you are the last boat to weigh, there is always drama. There are usually boats lined up right behind you, and they’re close.
The constant motion of the weigh-in prevents loitering and leaderboard watching, so it’s anyone’s guess. Unless of course, you just shot the moon with a stud that you caught last second at the sea buoy. On second thought, there’s no way that particular fish was still alive. Maybe it was rigor mortis or a nerve impulse that fired off when it came out of the kill bag. There’s no way a 40 plus pounder survives that trip through the Got Em On weigh in on ice. Not at Carolina Beach in July.
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
Click on the tournament below to view photo galleries from that tournament. All photos copyright © 2019 The Kingfish Cup Series
Qualifying Event Locations
Tournament Fishing Website by InterCoastal Net Designs