In summertime, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Wrightsville Beach Boating Access is the most crowded in the state. After Labor Day, though, most anglers mothball their offshore boats.
Friday, December 11 was quite different. An SUV towing a Nautico center-console catamaran backed down the ramp without the anglers having to wait in line.
“It feels like summer, except for all the missing people,’’ said Bruce Trujillo, a 64-year-old semi-retired machinist and part-time charter captain from Castle Hayne. “When we get warm December days, I want to go fishing. The forecast is 75 degrees, light southerly winds and 2-foot seas – the perfect day to catch kings. Most people don’t know that winter is the best time to catch them. The fish are bigger and they are more concentrated. All you need is a nice day.”
Arranging their gear aboard Trujillo’s 20-foot Nautico were his friends, Russ Luhm, a 75-year-old retired buyer from Terex Crane Company from Rocky Point and Agdul Melendez, a 38-year-old roofer from Castle Hayne. After launching, they made way through the no-wake zone, out Masonboro Inlet and into the Atlantic.
After a half-hour ride, Trujillo stopped at an artificial reef about 10 miles offshore. He rigged two heavy rods with large planers to pull Drone spoons. The diving planes took the spoons down 30 feet.
“Today, we are meat fishing,” he said. “I have ballyhoos and squid aboard in case they won’t hit the spoons.”
After trolling 30 minutes, nothing struck. Noting the water temperature was too cold, Trujillo told his friends to reel in the lines.
“We caught six amberjack and a grouper here last week,” Luhm said. “But the water temperature was 65 degrees. Kings like water above 65 degrees and 70 degrees is ideal.”
Trujillo navigated to another artificial reef 20 miles offshore. During the ride, he saw temperatures rise. He slowed about one half-mile from the reef and set out his planer rods again.
“It is 69.4 degrees, here,” he said. “The kings ought to be in the area.”
A lone angler in a center console boat was playing a fish. Trujillo trolled alongside, watching.
“It’s a king mackerel!” the angler shouted. “They are schooling in this area.”
Trujillo checked his lines and saw that one planer had tripped, but the spoon had not hooked a fish.
“Let’s troll to the reef,” he said. “They should be there.”
Luhm took over the helm, telling the crew what he saw on the depthfinder.
“There’s lots of bait down there,” he said. “There’s some high-relief structure. I see big marks on the bottom which are probably amberjacks, but nothing that looks like a king.”
After 30 minutes of trolling the reef, Luhm saw the other angler heading back to shore.
“He probably has his three-king limit and is heading home,” he said. “We need to go back to where he was fishing.”
Trujillo and Melendez took in the planer rods and set out three spinning rods baited with ballyhoo and squid. They trolled back to the area where the angler had caught the kings. Within minutes, all three reels sounded off. The first king landed weighed about 20 pounds and the second, about the same. Melendez was still working his fish to the boat, with the king taking line against the reel drag and Melendez reeling it back in, pumping the rod in between runs.
“Wow, what a king!” Trujillo shouted. “It may qualify for a citation.”
“I have only been fishing two times before this,” Melendez said. “I never caught anything. But, this time, I caught got the biggest one.”
The anglers had several more strikes, with only Luhm landing one. Sea bass and white grunts also took a toll on the bait supply until it was gone.
“Spoons are usually the best way to catch kings in winter,” Trujillo said. “If I had known they were going to want the real thing, I would have brought more bait.”
Back at the dock, they weighed Melendez’ king mackerel to see if it would earn a citation from the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, which recognizes a 30-pound king mackerel as an outstanding catch. The fish only weighed 26 pounds.
“I don’t mind,” Melendez said. “It was exciting reeling it in and it is the biggest fish I ever caught.”