The Armchair Outfitter

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The Suicide King

July 20th, 2008 · 2 Comments


I recently read an article that was one of those “50 Best Places to (fill in the blank)” pieces. It named Gulf Shores, Alabama, as the best place to catch a king mackerel. That being said, until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never caught one. This one is not huge. At 24 inches to the fork of the tail, it’s “barely legal.” If you found this article by searching those terms, this is not what you had in mind. Locals call this a “snake” king as opposed to the mature “smokers.” Nonetheless, it was my first one, and it tasted really good “smoked” on my friend Marty’s grill.

There were signs of heavy weather when we set out that morning, so we decided to go to a favorite spot known as the pencil rig. A natural gas rig, it is only 7 miles from shore in about 65 feet of water. We chose it because my friend’s boat has no radio, and through a quirk of cell tower placement, the rig is just within phone range. As the shear pin on Marty’s kicker motor is broken, leaving us with only a single 90, we decided to take every possible precaution.

In spite of some lightning on the distant horizon and some pretty steep seas for a 19-foot bay boat, we had no trouble on the way out that morning. We fished live pinfish on bottom rigs without a hit for a while, but we had to move off the structure when a tender ship backed up to the rig. As we ate sandwiches, the tender’s captain came over the loud- hailer. “The national weather service has issued a severe thunderstorm advisory, so you guys need to keep a good heads-up, if you can hear me.” I took off my hat and waved it to acknowledge the warning and thank the captain.

We debated what to do for a minute, and since we weren’t exactly setting our reels on fire pulling fish up from the bottom, we decided to set out lines and troll our way back to shore. We didn’t make it very far when the approaching front caught up with us. We reeled in, stowed the rods, and high-tailed it for home. In a small boat on a big ocean, things had suddenly turned serious. We weren’t fishing anymore; we were running.

Marty apologized a dozen times for the beating we were taking as he tried to stay ahead of the worst of the wind and seas, but my friend Darrell and I knew there was nothing Marty could do. He kept the boat headed into the worst of the swells, and we hung on for dear life. At one point, the impact of the boat sliding sideways into the trough of a wave slid me across the transom and I bruised my left butt cheek on a deck cleat. As bad as it hurt, that cleat is probably the only thing that kept me from going over the side.

We got within a few hundred yards of the beach just as the bottom dropped out of the lowering clouds. Since the crackling lightning had subsided, Marty asked if we wanted to head in or fish. I replied that I didn’t get much wetter than I already was, and we set lines to troll along the beach in the “ditch” just outside the sand bars. Darrell set out one rod with a king rig that is one of Marty’s favorites, and I put out a Bomber Long-A plug on the other. After a pass or two along the beach, Darrell’s rod tip started pumping, and the bait clicker was ticking like a Geiger counter. I looked for Darrell to set the hook, but he turned to me and said something like, “Get him!” He didn’t tell me twice. I disengaged the clicker and struck hard.

In response to my initial strike, there was no resistance on the line. Nothing. I thought that something must have somehow cut the wire leader. In disgust, I reeled up as fast as I could. I felt a couple of ticks or bumps, as though I might still have the rig and I was bumping the bottom. It was only when I got the fish almost to the boat that I realized what had happened. He had made the initial run for which kings are known, but he headed directly for the boat. He was three feet from the side when both he and I realized what was happening. Marty has about 80 pound test on his reels, and the drags are tightened down with pliers to hoist bottom fish away from the wrecks and coral they use to cut line. This juvenile king was green as goose scat, and he couldn’t budge the drag to get any slack.

He cut figure-eights in the water as I thrust the rod tip at him in an effort to prevent him from throwing the hook. I didn’t even see Darrell moving fast with the net. Before I could process what was happening, my first king mackerel was thrashing in the bottom of the boat. He was still feeling pretty sporty, and removing the hook, measuring him, and getting him into the cooler took some doing. All I could say was, “That’s alright!” over and over as Darrell and Marty laughed at my excitement.

That was our only fish that day, and if it were not for my good friends Darrell and Marty, he’d be just another one that got away.


Net-man Darrell wanted a picture holding “his” fish!

Tags: Saltwater Fishing

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Julie // Aug 21, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    Nice pictures, cute fish. Hope your left butt cheek healed. If you ever go out in a storm like that with Ed, don’t tell me.

  • 2 armchairoutfitter // Aug 22, 2008 at 8:46 am

    The cheek has healed nicely, thanks. Maybe some day when I’m in the “home” I’ll limp around telling people about my old “fishing injury.” And we didn’t go out in a storm; we came back in one. I’m sure Ed, or as I like to call him “Sea Hunter,” would never take inappropriate risks. (For those who don’t know Ed, see, “They Shoot Fish, Don’t They?”)

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