“The engines we run now have changed everything. We simply don’t see the problems that we saw twenty, or even ten years ago with today’s four-strokes. That means the world to these kingfishing teams.” Mickey Thompson, owner of Sportsman’s Choice Marine.
What fueled Mickey Thompson’s entrance into the marine industry was quite simply, a love for boats, and more specifically, boat racing. The need for speed was in his blood, and there was nothing he could do about it. He joined the team at Marine Service Center of Murrells Inlet in 1986. Fast forward to the present, and Sportsman’s Choice Marine is now the go-to dealership in Little River. The influence of the dealership spreads both north, south, and inland, and on any nice day, you can see plenty of the boats they have sold or serviced offshore in the Atlantic, not to mention all of the near-shore, inland waterways, and creeks of this area. Sportsman’s Choice is designed to service not only fishermen, but pleasure boaters and hunters as well, so they maintain a wide variety of relationships with manufacturers of boats, engines, watercraft, marine trailers, and ATVs. Following a recent renovation, and name change from Marine Service Center to the present Sportsman’s Choice, the dealership is the feature you can’t miss on Highway 9.
As so many of our Kingfish Cup teams view tournaments (and fishing in general) as a family affair, Mickey applies the same concept to his dealership. His wife, Kayla, runs the front office, while his older son, Chase, is well-equipped to run both sales and service as needed. Younger son McClure is about to embark on a different journey, as he prepares to play collegiate golf at Frances Marion University in Florence, but one gets the sense that he knows his way around boats and the business just fine as well. For many, it would be tough to work with your family, but a firsthand look around Sportsman’s Choice confirms that the setup not only works, but flourishes.
The brands that are carried by Sportsman’s Choice Marine have certainly changed through the years, but there is certainly no shortage of boats for a Kingfish Cup team to choose from. Contender, Sportsman, Cobia, Scout, and even Pathfinder are the ones that generally would draw the most interest from a competitive kingfish team. Contender has a huge market penetration in this field, and you simply need to look down the list of registered teams to realize how many of their boats are fishing king mackerel tournaments. In the Got Em On, 99 Contenders fished the field of 149. Having been in the industry at a time when the Contender 27 was the definitive “big boat” on the series, Mickey has seen the changes in the brand first hand, all brands for that matter, and his business has evolved with them. Obviously, teams are often fishing bigger and faster boats now, changing the range in which they can reasonably fish, and the conditions that they can comfortably fish in. Contender now offers a 39 stepped hull, tournament edition, which is rated for up to 1,400 horsepower. These numbers were unheard of in the late 1980s or early 1990s but this is the reality now. When it comes to Contender sales, Sportsman’s Choice has been in the top 5 for Contender sales in the nation since taking the brand on. In several years they have been in the top 2 or 3. Talk about influence on the sport! The strong relationship that he has enjoyed with Yamaha Outboards has been a winner, not only for the dealership, but for the tournaments they sponsor and the fishermen that they serve.
Perhaps where Mickey’s knowledge of the industry is most impressive is when it comes to engines and the correct propeller selection for them. This knowledge base was accrued while he was racing boats, and doing everything he could to get just a bit more performance out of his engines. The shift of the industry to four stroke engines didn’t take him by surprise, and the changes even within the four stroke world means that the industry continues to evolve further, with Sportsman’s Choice taking them in stride. Mickey remarked that “while four stroke engines have a lot more moving parts, we’re seeing reliability that simply wasn’t possible with old two stroke engines.” That, plus improved fuel economy from newer power plants is what is pushing all manufacturers to be able to build bigger boats and power them with bigger (and more) engines. You are getting more boat and more power, yet you aren’t burning any more gas than what we saw twenty years ago.
The Little River Fishing Club will host the Rumble in the Jungle this October out of Little River. Hosted at Harborgate Marina, this tournament’s sponsorship has a long history with both Sportsman’s Choice, Contender, and Yamaha. It’s only fitting that the initial meetings of this club were hosted in the shop at Sportsman’s Choice. The club has since changed form in a few ways, but its connection with the tournament has persevered. As a sponsor, Mickey has been influential in some of the changes that we now will see at the Rumble, with tighter boundaries making it a “fish the beach” tournament and no checkout. These changes will level the playing field a bit, but certain things will remain the same. You can bet on a whole lot of Contenders fishing the Rumble in the Jungle this October!
Just go fishing.
Capt. Chris Burrows
“A win is always worth celebrating.” Tim Gray, Captain of Team Beeracuda.
Several months ago, we wondered aloud if the Kingfish Cup could truly be considered an elite series. Asking the field, it still was unclear at the end of the day if that was either perception or reality. Last month we asked around to see how teams would be spending the 10 week break between the Got Em On and the Fall Brawl. August saw to it that there were more answers to these questions.
Tim Gray captains Team Beeracuda, an immaculate new Onslow Bay, in the Kingfish Cup series. Through two tournaments, his team is in 17th place, so if the season ended today, he’s headed to Ocracoke. Not satisfied with just the consistency, Team Beeracuda entered the SHARE KMT out of Wrightsville Beach, and won the whole thing with a 60.84 aggregate!
With little success in the vicinity of the 23 mile rock on Day 1, Tim chose to fish out of Ocean Isle rather than Wrightsville Beach on Day 2, and made the run offshore to 100 feet of water. The team was instantly rewarded with steady fishing. After a 12 pounder as their first fish, they knew they had a better fish on the line the moment a 27 pounder bit the downrigger bait and streaked off. Tim’s wife, Courtney, is always at the helm while Team Beeracuda is fishing, and the bigger fish saw Tim to the rod. As the 27 was being gaffed, another bait still in the water got smoked and came tight. This time, team member Joey Worrells grabbed the rod. When this fish got close, everyone realized that it was even bigger than the first!
The story doesn’t end there. Joey’s fish, which pushed Beeracuda to the win with its 33.10 pound weight, came on the one year anniversary of his father’s death. The aggregate weight won the tournament by a mere 38/100 of a pound, but as we know, a win is a win! It must have just been fat that had Joey grab the rod at the right time! For their efforts, Team Beeracuda took home just shy of $33,000. Not bad for a weekend’s work! Also, for what it’s worth, Tim said that they had constant action until they decided to head for the scales at noon. They also didn’t see another boat anywhere in the vicinity of their hole. It sounds like they might have had someone looking out for them all day long.
Glenn Krofchick, captain of Team Lil John, had the odds stacked against him when he fished the Raleigh Saltwater Sportfishing Club King Mackerel Tournament, but he chose to press on and perservere. While Glenn always likes to pre-fish and catch his bait the day before a tournament, his work schedule made that impossible for this go around. Instead, he left home at 3 a.m. and caught bait in the dark, behind Harkers Island, making him one of the last boats in the event to bait up. With new electronics on the boat, he didn’t have a reliable track around Harkers Island and up through Core Sound to Drum Inlet, so he had to improvise. A Google Earth picture downloaded to a smart phone gave him enough information to idle through Drum Inlet and into the much rougher Atlantic.
With the uncertainty of getting offshore behind him, Glenn and Team Lil John were now just battling the wind and slow fishing. Lil John was one of the last boats offshore fishing in the entire tournament, but that didn’t stop their long line from screaming at about 11:15. A pogie behind a Blue Water Candy skirt got inhaled, but the team wasn’t quite sure what they had. They went to work on the fish, but they were only able to confirm identity on the 42.8 pounder when the fish rolled over, almost in gaffing range. As they knew that anything could happen to the east of the Cape Lookout Shoals, they kept fishing even after that slob was in the boat, but after an hour, they started working their way back towards the scales. In the calm around Beaufort Inlet, they chose to stop and fish a bit longer, but at 2:00 they called it a day and headed in.
There was nothing for team Lil John to worry about. With only 7 fish weighed in the entire tournament, their fish was nearly 10 pounds bigger than second place. Glenn summed it up well: “It’s always nice to win, but I wish that we had caught that one in the Kingfish Cup!” No doubt Glenn, but then again, it’s never a bad thing to have another win on your tournament resume, either! The Raleigh Saltwater is just one of the many events team Lil John had on their schedule, they have tournaments to fish in some form or fashion for the next eight weekends. Look for them to bring some momentum to Ocean Isle when the Fall Brawl comes around.
There you have it. Two Kingfish Cup teams getting wins in other tournaments during the halftime of the Kingfish Cup. This might not necessarily answer the “elite” question once and for all about the series, but it does show that teams in this series are getting elite results, no matter where they fish. Take this challenge. Look at the top 10 in the SHARE KMT and the top 7 in the Raleigh Saltwater KMT. Compare those teams against the list of teams entered into the Kingfish Cup. Notice any similarities?
Just go fishing.
Capt. Chris Burrows
Even the most casual fisherman would have to admit that this is an abnormal year for king mackerel fishing. To put it in the mildest way possible, the overall fishing for the Jolly Mon and Got Em On tournaments was slow. It is almost incomprehensible that a tournament with nearly 200 entries would have single digit weight kings on the leaderboard and take home checks, in the middle of June. Still, it happened, and now it’s in the past. Our last trip means nothing, and the next one means everything.
Typically, there is a strong late spring bite for kings in southeastern North Carolina, and there’s usually a week in late April or early May where they hit the beaches hard. While they scatter out in the summer, good, consistent king mackerel fishing can typically be expected well into July. However, it’s almost written in stone that August is a slow month for king fishing. Rising water temperatures generally have a chilling result on the fishery. You can still catch kings in August, but it generally requires a lot of spot hopping and some patience. Then again, 2017 is just different…
Derek and Mark Treffinger entered their Sea Craft, the Beats Workin’ into this year’s Kingfish Cup, and they have fished both of the qualifiers to date. Their tournament experience this year has them in the rather large group of teams that have yet to weigh a fish. Somewhat of a dubious honor, to be certain, but don’t let the results from Ocean Isle and Carolina Beach fool you, there is a lot of fishing talent on that team. In addition to tournaments, Derek runs charters out of the Ocean Isle Fishing Center, and he’s certainly no slouch when it comes to putting fish on the dock.
Derek commented that he’s seen not only an increase in the amount of juvenile fish and bait since the Got Em On tournament, but that the fish he is catching on his charters is a much nicer class than what he saw earlier this summer. Prior to mid-July, he was getting used to 6 to 10 pound kings, now he says that he’s seeing a lot more high-teens well into the 20s. Were this class of fish around early in the summer, the leaderboard at the Jolly Mon would have certainly looked a lot different...
Derek’s theory is that it is all influenced by the weather, though he said he was unable to pinpoint a single, decisive part of that theory that he’s sure about. On calm days, in the 70 foot depths that get hammered during the summer, he says that he’s seeing more cigar minnows up top than he can ever remember. Dead bait fishing is paying off in these spots, especially in the vicinity of the Jungle. Odder still, Derek claims that nearly all of his bites are coming up top, and the downrigger is producing very little action other than sharks. Typically, the deep bait is the hot item during the dog days of summer, but again, it’s 2017.
Further offshore, Derek is encountering a solid, consistent class of fish in the 80 to 110 foot depths. While he can’t always make it that far on his charters, he states that this is the best bet if his clients want to have steady action. Generally, in years past, his August charter fishing has consisted mostly of bottom fishing for snapper and grouper. This year, the king action has been building so he’s not as committed to dropping deep as “Plan A.”
Also in the Ocean Isle Fishing Center’s charter fleet is Chris Dew. Chris has been in the fleet for a decade, and he has mostly subscribed to the theory of waning king fishing in August. What he has seen though, this year, is actually a decrease in water temperature, which peaked in July. The hottest his Furuno bottom machine recorded was 86 degrees, now he’s consistently seeing surface temperatures max out around 83 or 84 degrees. Chris said the late summer king fishing he is seeing is “uncommonly” good, not just for quantity but quality as well. King mackerel of up to 25 pounds have come over the gunwale of the OIFC World Cat at a solid pace in the last few weeks, mixed in, of course, with the same class of juvenile fish that Derek described.
Chris agreed with Derek that the bait (cigar minnows) around offshore hard bottom areas definitely explained why the kings were hanging around. Additionally, Chris reported huge schools of Spanish mackerel in the 20 mile range, concentrations in that range that he’s not used to seeing until the fall time. Larger kings love a nice Spanish snack, so fishing around one of these schools might not be a bad recipe for hooking a September smoker while you’re practicing for the Fall Brawl.
Also of note to king mackerel fishermen is the depths that the pogies are holding at. Instead of netting bait right up on the beach, Chris is often having to push past the sea buoy to find the bait. It’s much tougher to net pogies in the deeper water, but it’s certainly there, as it has been for weeks. While much of Chris’ success has come with dead bait (often at slightly higher trolling speeds) the big, naked menhaden are still so often the ticket to the big fish of the day.
While 2017 has been anything but predictable with regards to king mackerel patterns, the water will be cooling still when fall gets here. Let’s hope that the most predictable trend of every year holds true, and it will be an all-out blitz on the beaches and in the Cape Fear River Channel early in October. In the meantime, you may have to run a bit further to get action, but it’s certainly capable of being better than what we saw in the early and middle parts of this summer!
Just go fishing.
Capt. Chris Burrows
Click on the tournament below to view photo galleries from that tournament. All photos copyright © 2018 The Kingfish Cup Series
Qualifying Event Locations
Tournament Fishing Website by InterCoastal Net Designs