It’s easy to state that Team Wilmington Auto/King Hunter won the East Coast Got ‘Em On this July and just to leave it at that. However, there is a much deeper story there, one that starts way before this year’s event, the Kingfish Cup, and even before king mackerel tournament fishing as we know it today really existed. Robbie Roberts and Ron Sutton have been fishing the permutations of this sport for years. In fact, this year’s victory at Carolina Beach marked the 22nd anniversary of Ron’s victory in the same event, fishing his old boat, the “Hammer.” As the team, complete with angler Timmy Westbrook joked, they are fondly referring to themselves as the “Over the Hill Gang,” seeing as they are all past the age of 50. While the other win at Carolina Beach was “many years and many wins ago,” the payout and the automatic qualification for the Kingfish Cup Championship that this year’s win provided makes this current victory extra sweet.
Even with all the experience, this win certainly was not easy to come by! Proud members of the Mercury Pro Staff, team King Hunter has had their main boat, Robbie’s 23 Contender, on their trailer, with no motors on it, for most of tournament season. They are waiting on a repower with the new Mercury 200 four strokes, but those engines are in very short supply right now. Instead, they have had to fish a backup boat, which is always less familiar that a team’s number one vessel. Not to mention, the team was unable to catch any bluefish, their preferred big fish bait for summer fishing, while they were pre-fishing prior to the start of the tournament. Not to be deterred, they caught pogies in view of the Caswell Beach lighthouse, filled the livewells, and headed offshore to the vicinity of the Shark Hole. They worked around the area until they marked a good concentration of bait, and then deployed their spread. Robbie made sure that he was, of course, wearing his lucky blue shirt, complete with holes worn from years of fishing. So, at this point, the table was pretty much set.
The first fish they hooked didn’t raise much of an eyebrow from this veteran crew. However, when the second bite of the day happened, things were completely different. The king streaked in and destroyed one of the intermediate lines and took off towards the southeast, just like most big kings do. Knowing they had a potential money fish in the line, Robbie (at the helm) took off after the king in reverse, with Ron on the reel and Timmy clearing lines as they went. With what was at stake, they were taking no chances of a crossed line or a time-consuming tangle. With nothing else in the water to worry about, they then concentrated on keeping that single fish in the right position, angling it towards the gunwale, rather than the unfamiliar bow of their backup boat. Robbie made his first gaff shot pay off, leaving a “perfect, dead-center hole” in their kingfish.
Knowing that they had a possible winning fish in the boat, which all three team members agreed was over 40 pounds, Team Wilmington Auto/King Hunter didn’t waste any time or take any unnecessary chances. They bagged and iced their trophy, then started back towards Carolina Beach at a reasonable pace, which was all that the sea on Day 1 of the tournament would allow. They scaled their 40.72 pound, eventual winner. Leaving nothing to chance, they went fishing on Day 2 as well, just in case. However, they couldn’t beat their Day 1 fish, and most importantly, neither could anyone else in the field!
Team Wilmington Auto/King Hunter didn’t weigh a fish in the Jolly Mon. The single smoker that they weighted at the Got ‘Em On vaulted them all the way from a tie for last place in the Kingfish Cup standings to 25th place, which would earn them a statistical qualification if the series ended after two events. Of course, none of that matters, because their victory gives them an automatic qualification to Ocracoke! What’s more, their single fish earned them a cumulative payout of $57,868, of which $14,917 was Kingfish Cup money, the largest KFC payout so far for the season. That’s right, the team leveled up (fully) and entered every TWT available at Carolina Beach, so their fish really was something of a jackpot. It’s worth noting that the “Over the Hill” gang took $275 in Senior Angler TWT money. Don’t let anyone tell them that age doesn’t have its benefits! Of course, the wisdom and experience gained from many years of fishing big king mackerel tournaments are worth more than a few hundred dollars…
Watch out for Team Wilmington Auto/King Hunter at Ocracoke. They aren’t planning on taking any tournaments off between now and then, even though they have already qualified. With a genuine love for the sport, these guys want to stay as sharp as they can and be dialed in to the fishery before they even get there. They just missed the trip to the Outer Banks by a few ounces last year, but this year they have already made plans for November!
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
First off, if you’re reading this with the intention of going fishing, or at least the ability to, it’s important to note that you are luckier than many. Hurricane Florence, and the record breaking rainfall that came with her, wreaked indescribable havoc on wide swaths of North and South Carolina. Some areas are still flooded as this is being written, whereas the recovery efforts are in full swing in other regions. If the storm didn’t affect you much, be thankful. If it did, know that you are in this writer’s thoughts and prayers.
The good news is that Florence didn’t end the fishing season. With the Kingfish Cup series at its halftime, it didn’t really affect the season at all. The series will pick back up with the Rumble in The Jungle out of Little River, then end with the Fall Brawl at Ocean Isle.
The even better news is that Ocracoke Island is just fine. Ocracoke native Joe Winslow, of Team Hooligan fame, was able to describe what happened on the island very quickly.
“Damage on Ocracoke Island during Hurricane Florence was minimal to non-existent. The island was evacuated when it looked like a direct hit, and it stayed buttoned down for about four days. There was a little bit of rainfall flooding, but no flooding from storm surge. Highway 12 at the north end of the island, right by the Hatteras Ferry docks, ended up covered in sand, but that is something that happens with winter nor’easters in Ocracoke. Not a big deal at all, it took about 2 days to get that cleared. In short, Ocracoke was very fortunate compared to a lot of other places in North Carolina.”
With an economy almost entirely run by tourism, any disruption to the supply of visitors can be painful for Ocracoke Island. When the power line to the island got cut by crews working on the new Oregon Inlet Bridge in late summer of 2017, Ocracoke felt the sting. Surely there will be negative economic effects from this year’s storm as well, if only because of limited access and lost warm weather days. An expanded Kingfish Cup Championship, with teams filling hotel rooms and restaurants will be a welcome infusion into the island economy early this November, hopefully assuaging the financial situation like they helped to do last year. At the very least there is little to no infrastructure to rebuild before thirty plus king mackerel tournament teams show up on the scene.
Speaking of infrastructure, there has been one major improvement on the island since the last Kingfish Cup Championship. Joe made it very clear that the boat ramp on the island has been completely fixed. Previously, it suffered from being at too shallow of an angle for boats putting in, meaning that you had to almost swamp your tow vehicle to get it to float off. In addition, there was a drop of nearly 15 inches at the end, resulting in many trailers getting stuck, and even a bent axle or two during various removal processes. You won’t have to fight that any longer! This should be a welcome change for teams that choose to put their boats on the ferry, rather than make their way up under outboard power.
We’ve had a rough start to the fall in North and South Carolina, but here’s to the hope that the worst is behind us and that the best is yet to come. There is a light at the end the tunnel for us fishermen, and both Ocracoke Island and the Kingfish Cup are a resounding go!
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
The Fall Brawl King Classic out of Ocean Isle Fishing Center has been postponed to October 26-28, rather than the originally scheduled dates of October 12-14. There are multiple reasons for this move. While Brunswick County is not being directly hit by this storm, there very well may be problems with flooding and downed trees throughout the state. Further, the 40+ knots of south wind on the Brunswick County beaches is going to turn the water into a mud bath. Conditions were all ready less than favorable, but this will kill all hopes of catching a King within 20 miles of th beach.
The U.S. Open was held last weekend out of Southport, and the poor fishing that most of the field found certainly factors into the decision to delay the tournament. With the Cape Fear region receiving massive amounts of rainfall, the Cape Fear was the main outlet of dirty water onto the beaches. Instead of an all-out fall blitz off of Oak Island and in the Cape Fear River Channel, (per the norm, just like last year) anglers had to head well south to find any concentrations of bait and kings. This was after the fishery had two weeks to stabilize from the storm, which will not be the case following Hurricane Michael. It’s hard to know exactly what anglers will find immediately after this storm, we’ll just have to wait and see.
One issue that went into this decision was the potential conflict with teams fishing both the Kingfish Cup and the SKA, as the Shallotte Point event is scheduled for the same weekend. However, the SKA event is slated to fish on Friday/Saturday, while the Fall Brawl’s fish days are Saturday/Sunday, leaving each event with at least one day that is independent of the other. Thus, there is still a window for teams to fish both events. The fact that these tournaments are literally right down the street from each other makes the job a bit easier for any team attempting to pull the doubleheader. While it’s never ideal to try to fish two tournaments so close to each other, the proximity and dates make the feat at least possible.
As the rescheduled dates turn the Fall Brawl into the final Kingfish Cup qualifier of the year, it certainly goes a long way towards building the drama associated with this event. By the time awards for this event are given, we will know the final field for the 2018 Kingfish Cup Championship. Last year, the margin between going to Ocracoke and staying home was mere ounces. With the probability of clearing water and an improving fishery, the fall generally means bigger fish and a team’s two best fish of the year. If you’re planning on going to the Championship, and you’re not one of the two teams that have already automatically qualified, it’s time to make sure that your line is fresh and that your hooks are sharp. The 45 pounder that can punch your ticket is swimming out there somewhere. Do your homework correctly, and you’ll have hard plans for the first weekend in November.
Just go fishing!
Capt. Chris Burrows
One of the final two Kingfish Cup regular season events will be once again the Rumble in the Jungle, a tournament hosted by the Little River Inlet Offshore Fishing Club. Sure enough, there are changes to the format once again this year, a transition away from the “fish the beach” concept that was used for the first year of the Kingfish Cup. John Gore, the president of the Little River Inlet Offshore Fishing Club, explained what anglers will be seeing and what they can expect for this year’s version of the tournament.
First of all, we have returned to having a checkout, which means all boats will be departing from Little River Inlet. From there, there are some expanded options on where a team can fish, as opposed to 2017. The boundaries for the Rumble have been extended back to what they were prior to “fish the beach,” and they are just about concurrent with what anglers will see in the Fall Brawl. We will be returning to the format that the teams that have fished this event for so long are most comfortable with.
One thing that keeps teams coming back to the Rumble each and every year is, of course, the payout structure. This event guarantees a $25,000 purse, even if only a single boat enters. Of course, the payout goes up from there. Well over 200 boats registered for the Rumble in 2017. There is also a guaranteed $5,000 for the single engine category. The Rumble in the Jungle has always been famous for paying out just about every cent it takes in, one facet of this event that keeps teams coming back year after year.
Sportsman’s Choice Marine, Contender, and Yamaha have been long-term, generous sponsors of the Rumble, meaning they can boast such a lucrative payout structure. Re-joining the team of sponsors this year is the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. After a brief hiatus from the tournament, they have stepped back into the fray. As the only major king mackerel tournament hosted in Horry County in this day and age, this is a great show of solidarity that the local community is behind this event.
Teams can also look forward to some other changes at the dock. Last year, the Rumble moved its base of operations to Capt. Archies, which hosted both the Captain’s Meeting and the weigh-in. The Rumble remains at Capt. Archies, but will have both the Captains’ Meeting and weigh in hosted as Facebook Live events as well. The Little River Club has also streamlined the photography at the dock. Volunteers from the Fishing Club at Coastal Carolina will be on hand to take pictures, then immediately upload them to the website, as well as emailing them to the individual teams. This should speed up the weigh-in process, leading right up to Awards. Anglers will be able to check their phones just after weighing their fish and be able to see not only their own catch, but tournament standings.
Teams can check out more specifics for the 2018 Rumble in the Jungle at www.rumblekmt.com. Based on history, this will be a wide open event, and it will take a fish well into the 40s to win it all. One thing is for certain, though. This final qualifier will generate more than its fair share of drama, as the road to the 2018 Kingfish Cup Championship runs through Little River, South Carolina. We’ll have a better idea of what the championship field will be that Sunday evening. In the meantime, catch ‘em up!
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