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Tournament Reports – 2018 Mercury SKA National Championship

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The 2018 Mercury Southern Kingfish Association National Championship was held from November 8-11 and offered 250 teams in three different divisions two days to find the two biggest king mackerel in the waters outside of Morehead City. The last time the SKA held its National Championship in Morehead was in 2015.
Though all of the tournament veterans in the single engine class fished hard, it would be 21-year-old Lane Benton, of Dirty South out of New Bern, who took the title and became the youngest national champion in a tournament that, at 27 years running, is older than he is.
Benton and teammates Brad Drake and Logan Palmer fished out of Drum Inlet on the first day of the tournament in what Benton said were “the roughest conditions I’ve ever been in.” Dirty South only pulled in a single fish that day, a 24.41 lb. king that fell for a bluefish. Conditions weren’t looking too good early on Saturday, either.

John Cooke III and Tripp Hooks showing off the pair of kings that clinched the small boat division in the 2018 Mercury Southern Kingfish Association National Championship. They landed the kings off Drum Inlet on live pogies.

“It was tough. We were a guy short and didn’t have any fish until 11:00 am,” added Benton.
Dirty South chose to spend their second day at the Triple Nickel area out of Beaufort Inlet, which was “a guaranteed spot to find fish.” Despite their slow start, though, they eventually would. In total, the team brought six kings, two blackfins, a sailfish, and a 10’ hammerhead over the rails. Their biggest king of the day, a 17.17 lb. fish, also fell for a bluefish and brought the team’s two-fish aggregate to 41.58 lbs.
In the Small Boat division, David Hooks Jr., Tripp Hooks, and John Cooke III, of The Black Pearl out of Ocean Isle, decided to stick with Drum Inlet on both days of the tournament, and they caught both of their fish about 15 miles offshore. Their fish did not, however, put up an easy fight.
“One of the fish was hooked in the belly, so it took us awhile to get him in,” Tripp recalled. Both kings, a 21.56 lb. fish on day one and a 24.79 lb. fish on day two, were caught on live pogies. They were the only two fish that The Black Pearl caught over the course of the tournament.
“We didn’t need any more to get in the way,” Tripp laughed.
The Open Class was taken by Stormy Gale, which is made up of Alex Hull, David Hull, Ryan Watson, and Kevin Vaughan. They pulled in a 32.25 lb. fish on the first day of the tournament and caught the biggest fish of the championship, a monster 60.22 lb. king, on the second day.
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