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The Story Behind King Mackerel Queen by Marcia Chaves

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

“King Mackerel Queen” Oil

When summer months bring warm water to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and king mackerel move from the current of the Gulf Stream inland to the shore, live bait fishermen congregate at the end of fishing piers to “catch a king”. Light northeast winds blow clear warm water inshore to the beach, creating perfect conditions.

Long hours in the hot sun for days on end waiting for the infrequent trophy, anglers pass hours in mingling, swapping fish tales and bonding in their shared passion for fishing. Year after year generations renew friendships strengthened by the communal effort and legendary angling feats. This close knit band of fishermen seldom admits a newcomer without first observing the degree of their angling skill, and only after tacit approval of their knowhow are they welcomed by the “pros”.

Anglers arrive at dawn to find a spot along the coveted end of the pier.

The technique involves lots of equipment, including three fishing rods and rigs, maybe more. After staking out a spot along the rail, and with great fanfare, the angler casts a six to eight ounce “nail” sinker to anchor another “fighting” line. Then, this second line will be readied for a live bait fish. The mackerel rig will have a series of hooks clipped with a quick release to separate the fighting rod from the anchor rod. Once everything is set up and ready to go, the search for a live bait, (either bluefish, spot, or sometimes in desperation, a pin fish), is caught and rushed to the hook. Every effort is made to keep the bait lively and unharmed, except for the hook in back and belly. Once everything is ready to go, the live fish slides down the anchor line into the water, the drag on the reel is set loose, (but not too loose, just right) and the clicker turned to “on”. This is the most thrilling sound for the live bait fisherman, the sound of the reel when a big fish grabs the bait and takes off into the distance.

After the bait is set, the angler waits, watches and hopes he, (or she) will be the lucky one to at least “have a run”. If indeed this results in a hookup, then the fight is on. For a king, the tactic is to let the fish run with only some pressure, thereby exhausting itself in the first minutes of the fight. Then, the drag is tightened. The angler must move with the fish, from one side to another, while fellow anglers guide tourists to stand back and stay out of the way. In order to lift a lively 60 pound fish from the water to the pier requires skill and teamwork, usually with a heavy three pronged gaff wielded with experience and strength. What a great responsibility! Once the fish is lifted and lands on the deck, the glory is great for the angler and supporting team, with applause and cheers from the curious crowd of onlookers.

Of course, these days of celebration are infrequent. So the hours pass waiting and watching the water for some sign of fish . People come and go, but the hard core pier fishermen endure, hours and hours from sunup to sunset, hoping for a fish. Fish tales are told and retold, year after year, each time embellished a bit with dramatic feats of angling skill. Some spend years without a fish, only to return again the next summer, undaunted, energized and determined,


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