Prior to the inaugural Kingfish Cup championship last weekend, king mackerel fishing was superb in the waters off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, adjacent to the event’s headquarters, Anchorage Inn & Marina of Ocracoke Island.
In autumn, huge smoker kings weighing 40, 50, even 60 pounds are regularly caught off the Outer Banks, making Ocracoke Island the ideal spot for the championship event of the series.
“The weekend before the tournament, huge fish were up there, but the front came through, messed up the water and lowered the water temperature,” said Mark Henderson of the Liquid Fire fishing team out of Swansboro, N.C. “People were searching for the fish while fishing.”
Due to rough seas, series founder Capt. Brant McMullan of Ocean Isle Fishing Center changed the championship from two days to one fishing day with the top aggregate of two kings determining the winner.
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Henderson and his two sons, Joshua and Crockett, made the most of less-than-ideal fishing conditions on Sunday to catch kings weighing 24.35 and 35.9 pounds for a winning aggregate of 60.25 pounds, plus the 35.9-pounder won big fish honors.
The Hendersons went across the board in the tournament-within-a-tournament levels and wound up earning an astonishing total of $96,410 for their victory.
“It’s not the aggregate you were looking for but it was a tough fishing weekend,” said Mark Henderson. “I never thought we’d win with 60 pounds, but it’s not about the biggest fish in the ocean, it’s the biggest fish (caught) that day. Those other teams are just incredible fishing teams. Anybody could have won that thing. We’re just fortunate and thankful.”
A limit of 100 boats were able to compete in the Kingfish Cup and the top 25 Cup finishers in four qualifying tournaments – the Rumble in the Jungle out of Little River, the Jolly Mon and Fall Brawl out of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., and the Got ‘Em On Classic out of Wilmington, N.C. – qualified for the championship. A 26th boat that didn’t finish in the top 25 but won one of the tournaments also qualified for the championship.
Kryptek Fishing Team finished second with an aggregate of 58.9 pounds. Rounding out the top five were Reel Attitude (55.75 pounds), Hookin Ain’t Easy (54.65) and Clearly Hooked (54.35).
Mark Henderson and his family-oriented crew have been competing in king mackerel tournaments for 15 years, with Joshua, 27, and Crockett, 21, growing up into outstanding fishermen along the way. Mark Henderson also thanked his wife, Audrey, and brother-in-law, Chris Waters, for their contributions to the team.
Mark Henderson was thrilled with the earnings, but even prouder of winning the championship against such superb competition.
“It was really an honor to compete against all these great teams and win the inaugural event,” said Henderson. “They have really put together a very special series here.”
The Hendersons have had plenty of success in their king-fishing escapades – Mark Henderson was named 2008 Southern Kingfish Association Angler of the Year and Crockett Henderson was named SKA Junior Champion in 2008, 2011 and 2012.
But the victory in the Kingfish Cup championship will be hard to top.
“It was a special time in our 15-year career,” said Mark Henderson. “This ranks at the very top of our accomplishments just because of the people that fished in it and the people that put it together. Everything was top notch and first class.”
And it all happened in a borrowed boat. The Liquid Fire, a Sea Vee 390z powered by quad Mercury 350s, wasn’t able to go due to a motor mount issue.
Mark Henderson was grateful to Scott Parsons and Doug Ford of Team Carolina Kings for letting the Liquid Fire team use a 36 Cape Horn in the tournament.
“That’s a big, big, big commitment to let us borrow a $300,000 boat,” said Mark Henderson. “I’m very appreciative of them.”
The crew started out the day running northeast from Ocracoke to a spot off Cape Hatteras where large kings – including a 60-pounder – had been caught about a week earlier.
But amid 4-5 foot seas, conditions weren’t favorable.
“The (water) clarity wasn’t right, it was cold,” said Mark Henderson. “It didn’t look promising. There was no bait.”
Soon, the crew moved on another 5-6 miles offshore but found similar conditions.
Then the crew hit the jackpot on the third spot, another 6-7 miles out and about 35 miles northeast of Ocracoke.
In 140 feet of water on a wreck with live bottom around it, the Hendersons caught both kings within a span of 30-35 minutes, with both fish hitting bluefish. As usual, Crockett was the angler, Joshua was the gaff man and Mark ran the boat.
“I’m so proud of my kids,” said Mark Henderson. “I’m super thankful my sons still want the old man around. Being able to accomplish something like this with them is very special. The money is nice but being able to do it with my family is a special thing for a guy that’s 52.”
For more information, visit www.KingfishCup.com.
Gregg Holshouser: firstname.lastname@example.org