A record number of participants, 497 boats, battled for top prize in this year’s 41st annual U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament held at the Southport Marina this past Friday and Saturday.

Capt. Robert Carr and crew aboard the Nauti-Edition III of Wilmington held off the field with a 36.60-pounder reeled in on Friday to win first place and $42,723 in total prize money. That includes the guaranteed $25,000 for the largest king category payout and another $17,723 for a first place payout for the tournament within a tournament.

The U.S. Open is hosted by the Southport-Oak Island Area Chamber of Commerce and more than $300,000 was awarded in prizes.

Carr and Nauti-Edition III team members Dave Clem, Joshua Carr and Jeffrey Masnick led the standings at the end of the day Friday but they knew there was another whole day of fishing ahead for Saturday.

It was a good feeling, but they were nervous knowing U.S. Open fishermen usually find bigger fish than the 36-pounder they had placed atop the leader board. However, no one did and Carr and crew celebrated Saturday afternoon as they were named the 2019 U.S. Open champions. It was the third smallest winning fish in the history of the tournament but still it was a winner.

Although Nauti-Edition III won first place, the largest payout for the tournament was $72,324. That amount went to Fish Whistle of Oak Island as fisherman Wallace Trayah’s 34.05-pound king took fifth place and a $1,500 prize. However, the crew racked up on various special category payouts.

Brandon Dean’s second place fish of 36.20 pounds caught Friday aboard Daddy Rabbit of Southport won $10,000 in prize money, and the crew claimed a total purse of $59,628 after all of the tournament special category payouts. Jeff Smith of Frayed Knot II of Wilmington was in third place at the end of Friday’s round of fishing with a 34.70 pound king that was also able to maintain its standing through Saturday for a $12,089 total payout.

The largest king weighed on Saturday was the 34.70 pound fourth-place fish of Mark Richardson and the Fun Times crew of Seagrove.

Another hefty purse was claimed by Capt. Brant’s Fishing Adventures of Ocean Isle Beach, winning sixth place with a 33.70-pounder and taking home $49,341 in total prize money.

The tournament almost reached the 500 boat mark and still set a record with the 497 entries, giving the Southport-Oak Island area a huge boost to its economy as the largest king mackerel tournament in the country enjoyed a hurricane-free weekend and nice, but not quite ideal, weather conditions.

The weather forecast declined a bit from earlier in the week and the sea conditions were too rough to allow fishermen to reach many of their intended fishing spots offshore. The fishermen made the best of it and fished with their hastily prepared Plan B.

There were lots of kings caught, but no one found the really big ones that usually grace the top of the leader board at the U.S. Open. The record fish is a 53.25-pound king caught in 2014 by the Reel Blessed of Sneads Ferry.

The ocean was choppy Friday morning as the boats raced past checkout points, but it calmed into reasonable fishing conditions during the middle of the day. Conditions grew rough again for the trip back to the scales at Southport Marina.

Saturday’s northeast winds kept most fishermen close to the beach to fish waters that had been heavily fished the day before. Friday proved to be the best fishing day as the top three fish and nine of the top ten fish placed in the tournament were caught during the first day of the event.

Because of the large turnout of boat entries, the U.S. Open Tournament Board of Directors awarded 36 additional prizes of $340, so the crews that finished 57th through 93rd place in the largest king category will also receive that amount in prize money.

The U.S. Open has many levels of tournaments within a tournament, which are optional entry levels and not required for fishermen. Some boats enter only the basic tournament while others enter on multiple levels, which is where the big money is won. 

Capt. Trayah and the crew of the Fish Whistle spent Friday night in fourth place with a 34.05 pound king, then slipped to fifth place on Saturday. However, they were the big money winners for the tournament and pocketed $72,324. They were in several of the tournaments within the tournament and collected big time, including winning the Super High Roller TWT.

Adding 36 more places in U.S. Open primary prize category took the big fish winners 93 places deep on the leader board, plus there were aggregate weight prizes, special weight prizes, prizes for the single engine boat with the largest king, a pair of early bird drawings, lady, senior and junior angler tournaments within the tournament and more ways to collect part of the tournament winnings.

In spite of less than optimum fishing conditions, lots of fishermen left Saturday night’s awards with broad smiles – and that’s a good thing – a really good thing.

– Capt. Jerry Dilsaver and Terry Pope

Top ten winners in the 2019 U.S. Open were:

Nauti-Edition III, Robert Carr, Wilmington, $42,723

Daddy Rabbit, Brandon Dean, Southport, $59,628

Frayed Knot II, Jeff Smith, Wilmington, $12,089

Fun Times, Mark Richardson, Seagrove, $2,750

Fish Whistle, Wallace Trayah, Oak Island, $72,324

OIFC, Capt. Brant’s Fishing Adventures, Ocean Isle Beach, $49,341

Lil John/Reel Em Up, Glenn Krofchick, New Bern, $1,300

Liberty Call, Gordon Jobe, Myrtle Beach, $1,200

Nik of Time, Steven Thomas, Lumberton, $22,520

El Intruso II, Julian Espino, Fayetteville, $3,627

Other Top 20 local winners in the 2019 U.S. Open:

14th, Cooped Up, Michael Webster, Bolivia, $7,173

15th Vitamin Sea, William Bowron, Southport, $4,915

16th Cap’n Boo Too, Bonner Herring, Southport, $2,576

18th Squid Lips, Triple D Inc., Supply, $600

20th All or Nothing, Robert Wettington, Longwood, $500

Complete U.S. Open King Mackerel Tournament results can be found online at www.usopenkmt.com.