Triangle team is king of Kings - again

Reel Thrill wins national event in Mississippi for 2nd time in 3 years

cseward@newsobserver.comDecember 6, 2012 

  • More information Professional advice Reel Thrill prefers catching Kings in the Gulf Coast – the fish are bigger and have oil rigs to hide near – but the team offers this advice to anglers chasing them off the North Carolina coast. Catch your own menhaden for bait, then use a light treble hook when going for the King mackerel. Use only 2 pounds of drag on the reel and 15- to 20-pound test line. Since Kings have a weak mouth, light tackle is preferred. A local tackle shop can advise you. October, November and even into December are the best times to go. They suggest going around rock formations like Christmas Rock or Honeymoon Rock off shore from Bouge Inlet and Swansboro.

You might be tempted to call Triangle-based fishing team Reel Thrill/Bone Suckin’ Sauce the King of Kings. King Mackerel, that is.

Last month their team won the Southern Kingfish Association National Championship Small Boats division for the second time in three years, an unprecedented feat.

Vaughn Ford, 41, team captain from Youngsville, his son Graeson Ford, 13, Walt Nelson, 41, from Raleigh, and Don Poling, 41, from Jacksonville teamed up to win the event, Nov. 5-10 in Biloxi, Miss.

More than 130 boats from nine states entered the Open Class and Small Boats divisions. Reel Thrill caught a 42.51-pound fish on Friday and a 54.55-pound one Saturday for a winning total of 97.06 pounds, capturing the title by almost 9 pounds.

They also won a new 20-foot Onslow Bay Boat with a Mercury Outboard motor and a Loadmaster Trailer.

“We’re going to sell it,” Nelson said. “It’s easier to split the money than the boat.”

They’ve been splitting a lot lately. What’s the secret to their success?

“We fish really well together,” Ford said. “We always have a line in the water.”

That goes for Graeson, too. He wasn’t along just along for the ride.

“Oh, no. He fishes as hard as any of us,” says Nelson, quick to his defense.

Graeson has been fishing competitively for six years – nearly half his life. He was 12 during the tournament and now, a wise old angler of 13. Over the past few years, he has won several junior tournaments, racking up $1,500 in scholarship prize money.

Still, he harbors no notions being a professional fisherman when he grows up.

“Naw, I want to be an amazing baseball player,” he said, shaking his head.

He has paid some dues in competitive fishing, however. On the Biloxi trip, he snagged a finger with a treble hook and suffered through the rough water 70 miles offshore. And he knows the rules/superstitions of the team. Say the right prayer, cast out only on the right side of the boat.

And above all, “No bananas on the boat!” he yelled. The team believes bananas are a jinx. Any kind – fresh bananas, dried bananas in trail mix, even Banana Boat sunscreen is verboten. Superstitious? Perhaps. But you can’t argue with their results.

The team chose to fish near the Exxon rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Using satellite temperature guidance, they looked for places with sharp changes between warmer and cooler water – where smaller fish tend to gather and the predatory King mackerel feed. Temperatures between 67 and 74 degrees Fahrenheit are ideal, Vaughn said.

The rules of the tournament require all fish to be taken on hook and line, with a maximum of six lines per boat in the water at any time. To be a classified as a small boat, it cannot measure more than 23 feet at the water line. They use a 27-foot Onslow Bay with twin 300 hp Mercury outboard engines. (“She’ll push 65 (mph),” Vaughn said.) They spent about $2,500 on fuel during tournament week.

Earlier in the week, they caught their own bait. “What we call bait, most people would call a nice fish,” Poling said.

For bait, they catch blue runners, mullett and ribbon fish, ranging from 1 to 4 pounds. When going for the Kings, they use Diawa conventional open bait casting reels with light drag, small hooks and wire, 20- to 25-pound test line and they slowly troll with their live bait.

“You can tell immediately when one hits,” Vaughn said. “The line screams.”

The “smokers,” the really fast fish, will run out 200, 300 or even 400 yards in a hurry. The fishermen pull in all the other lines and then drive the boat to bring in the Kingfish; it takes about 15 to 20 minutes to land a good size one.

The tournament produced a lot of fish. The team estimates that contestants catch maybe 10,000 pounds each day. To not be wasteful, some is given to charities to feed the homeless. What isn’t eaten is sold on the market. and the money goes to charity.

Although the fish have a stronger taste than some popular restaurant varieties, the team says they are excellent to eat.

“Soak it in brine for about eight hours and then smoke it for an hour, hour and a half. Then eat it with cream cheese and crackers. Oh man, oh man!” Poling said.

“Good grilled, too,” Vaughn added. “Or with Bone Suckin’ Sauce,” he says, paying homage to a major team sponsor.

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