A wonderful early start to the water season

White Oak River Spring 2011

First Fishing Trip on the White Oak Spring 2011

If you came to the Crystal Coast this week,  you picked a spectacular early spring week.  While there have been a few clouds and some wind, this has been a great week to be on the beach or sample some of the area’s waters. The blue skies have been spectacular in the mornings.

This past Wednesday, I was on the water around noon showing the White Oak River to some very nice folks who are relocating to the area.   While out cruising around what I consider my backyard playground on the water, I noticed that the water temperature was just under seventy degrees Fahrenheit.

Heading back to the dock, the air had that feel of late spring.  Wednesday felt nothing like the weather we had in February or early March.    Instead it was just  like so many other times when you come off the river in early spring.  The river  typically has some wind.  When you pull into Raymond’s Gut that leads into Bluewater Cove, all of a sudden the breeze disappears.   The waters quieten, and warmth surrounds you.  You often see a white heron hanging around in the sun’s heat  We even saw one of those herons on the way back to the dock on Wednesday around noon.

There is no doubt that this past Wednesday was a near perfect late spring day.  After the boat ride, I took my wife to a late lunch at Nicky’s and noticed that the predicted winds still had not shown up.  We had a great lunch, and then I made the decision that this was going to be the afternoon for my first spring fishing trip.

I called my fishing buddy, Dean, and asked him if he would like to try a little early spring fishing.  I knew he would say yes.  We agreed to meet at my boat dock in thirty minutes after I picked up some shrimp for bait, and some ice for coolers.  We moved the car from Nicky’s to Clyde Phillips, and I headed inside with my standard little blue cooler which travels in our car and on the boat.

While Jimmy weighed out some shrimp for me, I got in a conversation with the “town council” which was holding court in the rocking chairs by the fish counter.  We ended up taking about spring weather, and how different it can be.  They finally got me to talk about Canadian snow after I mentioned that some friends from New Brunswick had been down the week before and had left their home in Tay Creek, New Brunswick with 5.5 ft of snow on the ground. I told them about the time they cancelled school in our spot of Canada when the snow was so high that they were afraid kids would touch power lines while playing on snow drifts.

After making a graceful exit by leaving the town council with the tidbit that my youngest daughter was born in New Brunswick when it was forty below zero, we headed back home stopping only to fill the car with some gas and to pick up a bag of ice.

I barely had time to coat myself with zinc oxide and sun screen and load the cooler when Dean showed up.  We got the fishing gear on board along with the assorted boating gear that makes for a safe trip and headed out to the White Oak.

It took us about six or seven minutes from our dock to one of our favorite fishing holes which was recently featured on page 46 of the February 2011 North Carolina Sportsman.  In fact if you look closely at the picture on that page, you can see the deck of my house.  You can also see Red Sixteen which is the buoy where we turn into Bluewater Cove.

While I never mind sharing my fishing holes since most anglers not from the area won’t bother to come up the White Oak anyway, I was pleased that the article actually missed our favorite spot by just enough to leave it a mystery.

However, if you look closely at this track and happen to be someone who fishes a fair amount, you can probably figure where we fished on Wednesday afternoon.  It was great to be out on the water.  We had a hitchhiker who decided to sunbathe on top of our white navigation light pole.

We had a number of good bites, which is better than we did on our first trip last year.  Eventually I did hook and land one of the bait thieves.  It turned out to be a Virginia Hake.  It wasn’t very big so I threw it back and switched to casting some lures.  We fished a few more minutes before the winds picked up.  Then we headed back to the dock behind my house.

While we were only out on the water an hour.  It was a great victory for the forces of warmth.  There will be some cool air incursions, but I think we are headed in the right direction.  It is about time that we blotted out the memory of this past winter.

By the way, the number one rule when fishing is to always buy food=grade shrimp for fishing.  That was when you come home empty handed, you just eat the bait.

In fact we turned our shrimp into shrimp cocktail and are still enjoying them.


A long walk on the beach

A long walk at the Point

Looking south towards the Point

Warmth seems to be finding us on a regular basis. Green grass is showing in the yards, and there is plenty of outside work to do, but sometimes the call of the beach is just too strong.

Wednesday, March 16, was one of those days. I had two great hikes over at the Point on March 4 & 5, but I felt like that I had some more exploring to do, so after lunch on Wednesday I set off for Emerald Isle. I got caught on the bridge by the paving project, but I am one of the few people who enjoys being caught on the bridge. I snapped this photo of a boat headed east on the Intracoastal Waterway and another of the same boat just coming out of Cedar Point.

The trip from Bluewater Cove to the CAMA beach access parking on Coast Guard Road normally takes twelve to fifteen minutes with the slightly over nine mile drive. However, the stop on the bridge made it closer to twenty-five minutes.

It was a pleasant day, I wore shorts, tee-shirt, and a light wind shell.  The temperature was in the upper sixties, and there was a light but persistent breeze.  You can follow my trip on this Google map that I created with MyTracks on my Droid smartphone.  Each blue marker on the map also has a link to picture attached to it.

Leaving the parking lot, I walked south on Coast Guard Road and turned east on Inlet Drive and walked to the CAMA access point there.  Once I reached the beach where the ramp meets the sand, I started heading east and eventually turned left and walked up the beach a little over four tenths of a mile until I thought I had gotten to the place on the beach which is about halfway between Windjammer Dr. and the Lands End beach access/pool.

After that I turned and walked west back down the beach towards the Point. Lots of folks have trouble understanding the ocean is to the south and the beaches run east-west on our section of the Southern Outer Banks.  I stopped only to watch a couple of guys trying to ride some waves.  The surfers had to work hard to get any rides on the waves.   The waves were just not large enough.  I went about 1.1 miles from my easternmost point on the beach to the place where the beach turns and heads back along Bogue Inlet.

From there I made my way along the beach in a generally northwesterly direction for about one quarter of a mile until I had to make a detour around two guys who were trying to do some para-sailing.  They got the sails in the air, but I never saw them get up on their boards in the water.

From that point it way about 1,000 feet to where I decided to cut back and head towards the vehicle access ramp at the end of Inlet Drive. There is only a couple hundred more feet of beach, but some folks were having a private time there, and I decided to let them enjoy their moment.

I planned my trail back so it would cross by the head of the shallow water that is at the end of what is left of the Coast Guard Channel where it used to cut through to the Inlet.   That was some of the softest sand that I encountered so if you want to avoid this, you might hike back along the beach until you have a straight line of sight almost directly east to the ramp.

Going back along the beach, it is only about 1,400 ft to the ramp from closest water to the west.  Depending on how Google Maps is behaving, you might see a blue line on this map, or you can check out the green line in this photo which is based on my March 4 hike at the Point.  No matter which way you see it, the route is easy to figure out.  The straight line back to the ramp from the water is a nice walk. None of the walking at the Point is very difficult, but it is really nice if you stay away from the softer sand in the areas that are still turning to dry beach.

However I didn’t take the easy way, so going back up the beach is not the way that I did my hike.  My track to the the head of what is the end of Coast Guard Channel was about 1,000 ft in the soft sand. Looking back along the edge towards the houses, you cannot really appreciate how shallow the water really is in that end of the channel. Last year we barely got past the Coast Guard Station in my skiff.  I am amazed that it was possible at one time to take a boat through that channel to the Inlet.

Once I hiked  east beyond the head of the water from Coast Guard Channel, the sand improved, and it was a pretty easy walk of 1,800 ft to the ramp.  Then I had a short walk down Inlet Drive to Coast Guard road and my vehicle.

It was truly a beautiful day on the Point. My beach walk covered 3.5 miles, but it was great fun, and I can’t wait until I have time to do it again.

I probably saw less than a dozen people and about four or five dogs, lots of sea gulls, and several flights of pelicans.

Since I took nearly a thousand pictures on the walk which lasted over two hours,  I am still sorting them, but I will eventually post an album.

You can check some of the initial ones in this album.

A rare chance to explore the unknown

A world of sand to explore

A world of sand to explore

We live in a world that perhaps except for the seas and some of the jungles has pretty well been explored.  With today’s GPS systems and smart phones with built-in GPS, it would seem that not only is there little left to explore, but also there is not much of chance of not really understanding where you are.

Actually that is not the case if you are fortunate enough to live along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks which is also know as the Crystal Coast.

I love maps and have been fascinated with them since I could barely read.  I suspect much of my reading and math ability came from being given the job of navigator at the very early age of six.  My mom was raising me as a single mom, and I got the job of getting us to and from the beach or mountains whenever we traveled.   While maps have not quite disappeared from gas stations, they have left the consciousness of most young people.

If you are under forty “mapping it” means something entirely different to them than it might to us older folks.  I have been fortunate enough in life to have traveled many places including Alaska and Newfoundland.  Mapping a trip to me often mean taking a pen and eventually a yellow highlighter and drawing a line on a paper map.  Mapping a trip today often means going to a website and plugging in two destinations and having Google, Mapquest, or Bing print out instructions on how to get there with almost no thought on your part.

There are also people, my self included, who plug a destination into their GPS or smart phone and listen to a computerized voice tell them how to reach their destination. Sometimes it turns out those directions are not exactly optimized for the best travel time.

Once when my wife and I flew by float plane into the barrens of Newfoundland in the early eighties, knowing now to plot a course on a topographic map and follow it back to our rendezvous with the little Cessna kept us from either a long arduous hike or a very cold, lonely winter in the wilderness.

The media likes to worry those of us who live near the coast have built our homes on shifting sands which disappear in the next wind storm.  While some of that goes on, there are plenty of people on the North Carolina coast who live in spots where the sand isn’t shifting and the barrier islands are relatively stable.

However, there are always places along barrier islands where sand is being moved from one place to another.  The Point on Emerald Isle is one of those places.  It is where ocean currents meet river current in a swirling battle of land and water.

I first visited the Point in the sixties.  Then the only way to reach it was take a long drive down the beach in a four wheel drive vehicle.  My uncle Austin and I did that for a day of fishing that will forever be memorable not for what we caught, but for where we caught it.  We spent most of the day on the Point and saw no other person.  Our biggest catch was a horseshoe crab.

Today the Point is much easier to reach, but it has become one of those few places where it is possible to escape the bounds of the modern world.   While you can visit it on Google maps, what you see there or on your GPS or cell phone doesn’t really match what is is actually there.

Aside from me showing you my recently created map of the Point or asking one of the local who often walk or fish the  Point, you are actually on your own at the Point.  It is a huge expanse of sand that just a few years ago wasn’t there.  It was only in 2008 when the access to the Point was repaired after having washed away. The water had actually taken away the dune at the end of the access ramp.  Today there is over 1400 feet of sand to the nearest water by Bogue Inlet.

If you have a look at this picture taken in November 2007, you can get an idea of the magnitude of the change from then until March 5 when I took the picture at the top of the post.  Last summer I was amazed to see people wading just yards from the boat channel at the Point.

So in a world that is increasing mapped, fenced, out of bounds, or inaccessible to most of us, the Point at Emerald Isle offers a rare opportunity to do some real exploring.   I can tell you what it is like, but Mother Nature will make some changes each day.  At a time when kids spend far too much of their time in front of computers, a walk on the Point can teach them that there is much to learn outside of a computer screen.

While marketers are trying to convince us that we need 3D televisions, I suggest visiting the original 3D experience, the out of doors.  You might be surprised at how much everyone enjoys it.  And if they start whining about missing their iPad or Playstation, it is probably time that you locked that stuff up for a year or two.

I will give you access to my Google map that was made on March 5, 2011.  The red line is the track that I took, but it is just the outer boundary of the sand.  What looks like water on the Google map is mostly sand, and some sand on the Google map is now water.  The only way to really know what is there is to get some sand between your toes.

Even in 2011 still plenty of exploring at the Point in that huge expanse of sand mingled with the water of Bogue Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean.  We are lucky to live in such place, and those who visit and take the time to explore will be richly rewarded.