It's no secret that Yaupon Beach Reef (AR 425) holds a variety of fish. It is arguably the most popular of all the artificial reefs overseen and maintained by the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, and in the past few years has attracted a new user group. Kayak anglers have discovered the productive reef is only about a 30 minute paddle from several Oak Island beach accesses, and they have been venturing to the artificial reef on an almost daily basis this fall. On October 21, Mark Patterson of Greensboro launched through the Oak Island surf shortly after sunrise and returned around 1:30 P.M. with a limit of king mackerel.
Patterson's kings were all in the 20 to 30 pound range. It's probably a good thing they weren't larger; he didn't have a large fish box or cooler to store them. They were in a thermal bag strapped to the bow of his kayak and all the tails were sticking out. The longest king was 45.5 inches and weighed 27.9 pounds. The next longest weighed 24.3 pounds. The shortest was only an inch or so less and was estimated at 20 pounds. That's a lot of steaks and fillets for a fishing trip that only burned about a half gallon of gas in the truck to get to and from the beach access.
"I began the day by launching and going a hundred yards or so off the beach and catching bait," Patterson said. "A school of menhaden was working down the beach and I used a snag rig to catch about a dozen that were 8 to 10 inches long. Once I had them and my friend Paul (Cummings) had his, we put lines out and began trolling toward Yaupon Reef. We began trolling immediately as there had been some kings and huge red drum scattered from the beach out to the reef for more than a week and we knew there was a possibility to have a strike at any time."
Patterson caught (and released) several sharks on the way to the reef. About a quarter mile or so inshore of the reef, he had a strike that was definitely different. This fish hit hard and Patterson’s reel screamed as it took line. The king pulled him between several boats and they all looked at him in amazement and offered encouragement as he followed the king, which slowly tired. After about 15 minutes, Patterson gaffed it and tugged it over the side into his kayak.
After removing the hooks and stowing the king in his fish bag, Patterson rebaited and began trolling again. He was using a Sea Striker king rig that had a nose hook and two trailing treble hooks. He placed the forward treble hook in the bait's belly and trailed the rear one. Patterson uses a Redi-Rig float about 2 feet up the line to keep the bait near the surface and mark its location.
Patterson trolled around the edge of the boats fishing on the reef, and about 30 minutes later hooked his second king. This fight was similar to the first and in about 15 minutes he gaffed king number two for the day. He said this fish appeared to be a little larger, but it's hard to tell in a kayak.
Now, sharks kept him busy for a while. He said sharks don't run like kings, but you never break something off intentionally until you see and identify it. After the sharks, Patterson was down to his last couple of baits and wondering what to do.
"Man, I wanted to catch a third king and have a limit," Patterson said. "The day had been great and Paul and our other friend Andrew (Imes) had caught kings, but it was just a personal goal to catch a limit. No one had ever done it off N.C. (in a kayak) and this was the perfect king run to do it, so I was hoping I would get lucky."
Patterson worked to the west side of a large group of boats and marked a big piece of the reef, with something holding above it. A few seconds later there was a splash behind his kayak and his reel began singing. This was definitely running like a king and it was running longer and faster.
"It was so exciting when that third king hit," Patterson said. "It felt larger and was running harder. It didn't tire out quickly either. At 15 minutes, its runs were shorter, but just as strong as early on.”
"Finally, at about 25 minutes, it passed close under my kayak and I could see it and tell it was larger," Patterson said. "The magnifying affect of the water made it look a lot larger and I got excited all over again. Finally it tired and let me bring it close enough to gaff. I gaffed it near the head to control it better and once that gaff hit home my adrenaline took over and I pulled it right in."
Patterson said once the tired king was in his kayak, he was amazed at his accomplishment. A fisherman on a nearby boat shouted congratulations and he realized he was relieved, excited and exhausted at the same time. He was out of bait, so he headed over to his buddies to see how long they wanted to stay. He was done for the day in several ways.
Paul Cummings and Andrew Imes paddled to Yaupon Reef with Patterson and returned with kings that day. Theirs were about the same size as Patterson's smaller two. Another kayak fisherman also made the trip, but only had a swing and a miss, with a little excitement and several small sharks, but no king fillets to show for the day.
Yaupon Reef is located at 33.53.050 W and 078.06.567 W. This is almost directly out from SE 58th Street at Oak Island and approximately 1.5 miles off the beach. Patterson said it is ideal for kayak fishermen wanting to fish the ocean. Oak Island is a south facing beach so the waves are usually small and the predominant fall wind is a light northeast breeze that helps keep the water calm. He said the trip out takes approximately 30 minutes - if you head straight there. However, most king mackerel fishermen stop just off the beach to catch bait and then put a couple of baits out and reduce speed to troll to the reef.
Patterson is the founder and president of the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association, which hosts the Oak Island Classic Kayak Fishing Tournament at Oak Island each October in association with the Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department. Patterson was one of the first to land a king mackerel in a kayak off N.C. and now is the first Tar Heel kayak angler known to fill his daily king limit. He has kayak fished for everything from panfish in inland lakes and rivers to sailfish in an extreme kayak tournament off southern Florida and said this was his biggest thrill yet. This isn't an IGFA or state record, but it's something kayak fishermen hold in high regard and will remember for a long time.