Fast action on king mackerel off Hatteras.

Jack Daughtry
Kayak anglers mothership for big king mackerel off Hatteras, North Carolina. Photo: Justin Mayer
Kayak anglers mothership for big king mackerel off Hatteras, North Carolina.

Hatteras Island Kayak Fishing For Smoker Kings

The idea has been in my head since I heard about mother-shipping offshore. Several years have gone by with missed chances, bad weather, unfortunate scheduling, no funds, bad weather, bad weather, and BAD WEATHER. Then FINALLY, a trip that seemed perfect, a great forecast, money in my pocket, and five other kayakers ready to go. It was really going to happen!

I worked the entire day before making the five hour drive down to Hatteras Island.

When I got to the hotel at 12:30am, I thought I might be lucky enough to get three or four hours of sleep, but I should have known better. This was the trip I’d been looking forward to for years! I got in the bed around 1am and stared at the ceiling and my phone for the next two and a half hours. Christmas Eve was three days prior, but it sure didn’t seem like it to this giddy dude. I stirred, flopped, and daydreamed about king mackerel for hours. I ended up with about an hour of broken sleep, but it didn’t matter. When five o’clock rolled around, I was as chipper and as energetic as I could be. I had enough energy to easily paddle myself the 20 miles offshore!

We loaded our six kayaks into the roomy stern of The Runaway and headed out of the inlet in search of bait. It was a long and unfruitful process that ended with only a single bunker for bait, but we had plenty of frozen ballyhoo and we were told that they would work well. After a short run offshore to the spot, we were chomping at the bit to get out. Jack Daughtry was the first one in the water and it didn’t take him long to show us that the fish were there and biting. Within five minutes of trolling his ballyhoo, he hooked up to a false albacore while pedaling to the boat to get his other rod. Soon after that, I landed my first ever false albacore. They might not be any good to eat, but they sure do fight hard for their size! I was so excited and anxious to get on some more fish that I didn’t even take the time to admire my newly caught specie. I just grabbed it by the tail, un-hooked it, and dropped it head first like I’d seen so many times. Within 20 minutes of fishing, Mike Basnite hooked into something good – how could I tell? Because even though I was almost 100 yards away, I could hear him yelling, screaming, cussing, and whooping, as clear as if he caught it right next to me.

mayer 34

Big water and big king mackerel at the edge of the Gulf Stream.

 I immediately paddled after him to give him a hand or get a picture for him. As I got closer, he finally shouted, “It’s a freaking KING!” I was coming up on his kayak and had my hand on my camera prepared to take a picture, then as soon as I stopped and bumped his kayak with mine, my SG Release Reel started SCREAMING. I put my camera back and said, “Sorry, Mike! I gotta take care of this!” with a huge grin on my face. That fish ripped over 100 yards of line off my SG in seconds. The line started getting low in the spool and I  wondered if it was going to stop or if i was about to lose this fish. I slightly thumbed the spool but it didn’t seem to help at all, then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. It went from screaming drag to a stop in just a matter of seconds…blood-pumping, adrenaline-filled seconds.

The rest of the fight was not dull, but I could tell the fish was done. I cranked myself to the fish and fought it vertically for a couple minutes, careful to not pull the hook. It made one more attempt to run, but only made it 10-15 yards this time before going into a death spiral up to my kayak. I grabbed it by the tail and lifted it into my kayak (with its head full of jagged teeth pointing away from me) and let out a WHOOOOOOOOO!!!!! My first king mackerel, all fought from my kayak at that! That was it- I didn’t even need to catch another fish all day… but I did.

At first I was catching mainly kings, then later on in the day I was catching nothing but false albacore. They both fight extremely well for their size, but the crazy drag-ripping runs from the kings are addicting! I missed six to eight fish throughout the day, with some of my baits coming back chomped in half. One of my albies came up along with a small hammerhead on its tail. I pulled it away from the shark, but not before the albie got a nice slashing chomp on the tail. Throughout the day I saw a couple loggerhead turtles that let me get within ten feet of them, but wouldn’t hang out long enough for a good picture.

It was amazing being around five other guys that have never caught a king from a kayak and seeing each one of them land one. Their smiles were priceless. We fished the same area from 10am to 3pm and ended up catching twice as many fish as any other boat that day.  Each kayaker caught at least three kings up to 25-30 pounds and the false albacore were slightly more abundant than the kings. The drive home was not easy. I was running on about one hour of sleep for the past two days, but luckily I still had the adrenaline from the trip keeping me awake!

For more information on mothershipping out of Hatteras, North Carolina, contact Captain Jay Daniels at or (252) 489-3646.

Check out Release Reels at

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“Thank God my dad wasn’t a podiatrist,” jokes Ric about following in the footsteps of a famous outdoor writer. After graduating from Radford University and serving two years in Russia with the Peace Corps, Ric returned to Virginia Beach and started writing for The Fisherman magazine, where his dad was editor. When the kayak fishing scene exploded, Ric was among the first to get onboard. His 2007 book, The Complete Kayak Fisherman is one of the first tomes to introduce anglers to paddle fishing and hundreds of articles and seminars have brought countless anglers into the fold. When he’s not chasing every fish that swims, Ric teaches English at a school for at-risk teens.


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