The waters north of the North Carolina-South Carolina border experience several king mackerel runs each year, but the most-anticipated one is the first one, which has come in May as long as anyone can remember. Occasionally, it starts in late April or as late as Memorial Day, but it typically occupies the entire month. This may not be the strongest run of the year in terms of numbers, but what it might lack in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality, with lots of big fish.
These waters, from Cape Fear at the tip of Bald Head Island all the way to Little River Inlet at the state line, can be accessed by the Cape Fear River, Lockwood Folly and Shallotte inlets in North Carolina and Little River Inlet, only a few hundred yards across the state line in South Carolina. A few natural hardbottom areas, a scattering of shipwrecks and a half-dozen artificial reefs are within several miles of the beach. And five fishing piers allow shorebound anglers a shot at a big king.
When the spring run hits, it comes quickly and without much warning. The kings are moving up the beach and hungry. They don’t usually respond to lures but will eat a variety of baitfish. Their preference this time of year is bluefish, and they are plentiful. The second factor is water temperatures that have reached at least 65 degrees.
During the spring run, most fishermen use live baits and either slow-troll, anchor or drift. They work structure, and those trolling are closely watching their fish finders for pods of suspended bait; those drifting or anchored are often chumming to lure bait and fish to them. The weather is nice, the nearshore water is usually calm, and the fishing vessels vary from kayaks to the latest multi-engine, jumbo center consoles.
Artificial reefs are popular spots, and flounder fishermen there have been rudely surprised by king mackerel trying to abscond with their baits. These reefs include the WOFES off Bald Head Island, AR 425 (Yaupon Reef), AR 420 ( Tom McGlammery Reef) and AR-430 (Jim Knight Reef) off Oak Island, N.C., AR 440 (Brunswick County Fishing Club Reef) off Lockwood Folly Inlet, AR 460 (Jolly Mon Reef) off Shallotte Inlet and PA-01 (Jim Caudle Reef) off Little River Inlet.
A large area of broken hardbottom in roughly 25 feet of water off the central section of Oak Island and smaller hardbottoms off each inlet draws bait, fish and anglers. The run tends to be a solid beach bite, and many times fishermen that reach 40 feet of water have gone too far and overrun the action.