When Kent Raynor lifted the big king into the Blue Water Candy on Nov 15, he and crew members Scott Pelletier, Timmy Parker and Capt. Jody Gay knew they had a fish that had a great chance to win the championship of the Cape Lookout Shootout Series. But it was several days later before someone pointed out that their 68.67-pound king was the largest ever caught in a tournament along the Atlantic coast, the previous record being a 66.55-pound fish caught by Andy Hinton aboard the Hot Grits II during the Teach’s Lair King Mackerel Tournament in 2002.
The crew started out on a spot off Drum Inlet after struggling to catch bait the morning of the tournament, which was postponed for a day because of rough seas.
“We knew we were running late — and especially so by our standards — so once we had bait, we ran hard to a spot that had been productive a couple of weeks earlier and got some baits in the water," said Pelletier, owner of the boat and the angler who had the rod for the fight with the big king. "We fished about two hours and hadn't had a strike, so we decided to move. Jody had been talking with a Hatteras charter captain during the week, and they had a bite going on before the weather, so we decided to make the run and see if the fish were still biting."
That would turn out to be a very smart decision.
"When we were approaching the Smell Wreck, we could see two groups of boats fishing," Gay said. "We decided to begin fishing a little outside them and work our way in. I was on the wheel and watching the scope and found a temperature break with suspended bait pods.
“When we would cross those bait pods, we would hook up, so we stayed with them. There were only a couple of boats around us, so the fishing was easier than it would have been in the crowd. There was a mixture of kings and large blackfin tuna feeding on the bait pods, and we quickly had a couple of kings in the 40s. The fishing was hot, and our only concern was how quickly we were going through bait. Those tunas were taking a toll."
Pelletier said the crew got double strikes between 12:30 and 1 p.m., with both fish making hot first runs.
"However, one of them really screamed the reel,” Pelletier said. “That reel made sounds I've never heard before. As luck would have it, I was the one with the hot fish, and it felt really heavy. Seriously, I've never heard a king scream a reel like that, and I was thinking it might be a wahoo or a really large tuna."
Pelletier said the fish took more than 400 yards of line on the first run and was so far out they landed the other fish before he got it back near the boat. When they got their first look, it was pointed at the boat, and they still couldn't tell if it was a king or a wahoo.
"That first run must have really taken its toll," Pelletier said. "The fish all but gave up and let me reel it in. It felt really heavy, and I was being very careful not to pull too hard and pull the hook. Suddenly, it was right there at the boat,and I called for Kent to gaff it.”
Gay didn’t realize the fish was close to the boat until Pelletier called for the gaff.
"I looked over the gunwale and saw it was a really big fish and yelled to get a second gaff about the time Kent stuck it. His adrenaline was going, and he just kept coming with it, so I reached over to grab the tail and help him sling it in. It hit the deck with a thump you only hear from really big fish.
"At that point we just stopped a second and looked at the fish to take in just how big it was," Gay said. "We agreed it would be in the 60s, and then the boats around us got to see our happy dance. We took a minute to celebrate, then put it in the fish bag and went back to fishing. I guess we thought if there was one that big, there might be one even larger."
The big king hit a live, extra-large menhaden slow-trolled on a Blue Water Candy king rig with a pearl featherweight skirt. Gay said they had been fishing a mixture of plain and skirted rigs, and the larger kings liked the skirted ones. They had several other kings in the 40-pound class, including one estimated at 48 pounds, and also won the Heavy Five division of the tournament.
The Cape Lookout Shootout Series (www.capeshootout.weebly.com) is a king mackerel tournament series that supports the Military Appreciation Day organization. There are three series tournaments and a championship event for the boats in the top half of the standings.