Anticipating Time On The Water

Marsh Waters Behind Bear Island

Marsh Waters Behind Bear Island

One of the great things about living in an area surrounded by water is that you can often manage to find some time in your busy schedule to actually take advantage of all that water. It is even better when you can do it on a beautiful day.

I have my fingers crossed that I might get to do just that on Wednesday, August 28, 2013.  It looks like there is the possibility of a couple of very nice hours that morning before the chance of rain ramps up to 40%.  Even if we just get two hours on the water,  I think the time away from land will help both my fishing partner and me relax a little.

I have actually had a pretty good fishing season so far with a nice flounder and a beautiful red drum to my credit in August so I am not all that desperate to catch a fish.  However, I would love to just get out on the water.  Just watching the marsh grass or the easy swells of the ocean will be a wonderful treat.

There is one nice thing about fishing that I really appreciate and it has not changed since I was six years old.  You can go fishing and feel no pressure to entertain someone with your conversation.  Small talk is permitted but not required.  My childhood friend, Mike, and I used to fish  a whole day and only exchange a handful of words.

Part of the therapy that being out on the water provides is the appreciation that you are not in control of everything.  You can do everything in your power and the fish might not bite.  The weather forecast can be great and it can still turn stormy by noon.  Fishing big water also makes it absolutely clear that we are just tiny dots on the sea.  That little bit of perspective often makes problems that look insurmountable a little easier to wrestle.

Even in the marshes which are pictured at the top of the post, you can feel pretty insignificant.  When it is clear that you can disappear without people noticing or perhaps even finding you, it is easier to understand that our lives are just a tiny part of  a very big puzzle and things can get mixed up in a flash. We cannot shoulder all the blame for things that go wrong or all the credit for the good things that happen.  The water and being close to nature helps us understand that.

The trip out on the water just makes it easier to accept that we are not really in control.

Still fishing teaches you to work hard and we have several spots where we enjoy fishing. Often the weather and/or the wind dictates where we will fish.  Depending on the wind direction, we might fish behind Huggins Island or Bear Island.  Personally I enjoy fishing just outside of Bogue Inlet.  When the swells out in the ocean are minimal and the water is that beautiful green that we often see in the summer, it is hard to beat the view.  There is a good picture of a wave  sporting my favorite color in this post about the Crystal Coast and its name.

As the tourists season is winding down, the traffic out by the inlet will diminish.  We will not have to worry all the extra swells generated by a parade of boats and seadoos going in and out of the inlet. Sometimes during the week, you can actually be one of few boats out by the inlet.

If we are lucky and all these sulfur butterflies mean anything, the fish will start biting and we might catch a few.  Of course we can have a very good day out on the water without catching any fish.  The time away from the distractions of civilization is always welcome.  Most trips my cell phone does not ring and I am sure that I have never checked my email while I was fishing.  I am happy to report the glare on my phone makes it impossible and I am not searching for a solution.

If the fish do not keep me busy, I will likely pick up my camera and try to snare some great images to share with folks who do not have the opportunity to let the water put their minds at ease.  The photos help me also.  Sometimes in January I find myself looking for one of those nice pictures taken from the ocean looking back towards Bear Island.  Fixing one of those images in my mind makes getting through a chilly winter day a lot easier.

Wish us luck.


The Red Drum

Looking For A Red Drum On The White Oak River

Looking For A Red Drum On The White Oak River

Most of us set goals for ourselves.  It seems like catching fish has always been one of my mine.  Maybe it is because I have been fishing since I could barely hold a pole.  I have caught Rainbow trout on a fly rod in Montana, waded an Alaskan stream full of salmon as I caught Dolly Vardens which are actually part of the char family. I have successfully gone after Brook trout, another member of the char family, from North Carolina to New Brunswick.  While we were traveling through Alaska one summer, many of our evening meals revolved around Grayling that I caught in flooded gravel pits.

Like most North Carolina boys, I cut my teeth on catfish, bass, bream, and crappies.  They came mostly from local farm ponds.  There were saltwater fish over my early years during trips to the beaches, but I do not remember them as well.  My obsession with saltwater fishing started as my wife and I developed a regular habit of taking our children to the Nags Head area.  Eventually the crowds pushed us to Cape Hatteras where it seemed like the fisherman would make a last stand in the sand.  My family often accused me of catching the same Pompano or Bluefish over and over again from the surf near the Lighthouse Motel.

We started looking for a place on the coast in 2003 after a thirtieth anniversary celebration in Beaufort, North Carolina.  In the fall of 2005, I was privileged to enjoy a magical morning of fishing with Captain Tom Roller of WaterDog Guide Service.  That morning I caught enough flounder and trout to please anyone.  However, the real prize of the day was catching dozens of puppy drum  We did not keep any of the drum, but they left a lasting impression on me.  The first chance I got, I bought a beautiful watercolor of a Red Drum.  It has been on my office wall in our last two houses.  I am reminded of it every time I go to this page of North Carolina’s saltwater fish finder.

In the summer of 2006 we bought a home on the Southern Outer Banks of the North Carolina coast.  More specifically our home is in the Crystal Coast portion of the Southern Outer Banks.  We live just off the White Oak River not far from Swansboro and Emerald Isle.

The Red Drum is North Carolina’s state saltwater fish and we happen to live in one of the drum’s favorite spots.  While I have done plenty of fishing here on the coast and caught my fair share of Speckled Seatrout, Spanish Mackerel, and Flounder, the only Red Drum that I seemed to catch were Puppy Drum or those which need to be returned to the water.

While catching a slot-limit Drum was not an obsession, it certainly was something that I wanted to achieve.  I came close a number of times.  Once three of us were fishing off Hammocks Beach in my skiff.   The two other guys in the boat both hooked nice drum within seconds of each other.  I reeled in and netted each of the drum for them.  That was all the fish we saw for the next four hours.

In fall of 2012,  I caught a number of Puppy Drum that probably could have been stretched to meet the limit.  I resisted the temptation and even decided my drum would not count unless I got one over 20 inches.  That personal requirement made things even more interesting. When you sometimes catch three or four 17″ Puppy Drum in a fishing trip, it would be easy to just let the tape slip a little.

Not satisfied I made the challenge even harder to a casual observer.  I focused on catching my Drum with artificial bait.  However, I found that using shrimp or other cut bait seem to take away the focus from catching my Drum.  I enjoy catching a few Croakers or Pig Fish but I really wanted that Red Drum and in most cases having some cut shrimp on my hook seemed to get in the way of my goal.

Along the way there have been some memorable days fishing down here including one when we caught Bluefish until our arms were sore.  Each summer I seem to find some really nice flounder like the one I caught earlier this August.  However, the Red Drum became a quest.  I knew my fish was out on the oyster rocks in the White Oak or even in the water by my dock since I had caught a 17″ one just yards away.  I just had to find him.

While I could have fished the oyster rocks in our 20 ft. skiff, somehow it seemed more appropriate to go after my Red Drum in my kayak. It made the challenge more personal.  Certainly the kayak made it easier to get to some of my favorite oyster rocks out in the river,  but with a lot of fishy water between my dock and the rocks, I sometimes had a hard time getting there.

As the 2013 summer visitors came down for their last tastes of the beach, we got a spell of rainy weather.  With some visitors here for only a short time, even the clouds and rain did not stop us from fishing.  After three hours of fishing in the rain on Saturday, August 17, our remaining visitors took off to the beach the next day.  I needed to make an adjustment to my depth finder on the skiff so on that Sunday, August 18, I decided to slip my kayak in the water because while the boat is on the lift, it is easier to work on it from the kayak.  As long as I was going to be in the water, I decided to take a fishing rod with me.

It did not take me long to figure out that what I needed was a 1/4 inch wrench instead of a 3/8 inch one so I headed off fishing instead of being frustrated at trying to get my wife to find one of my 1/4 inch wrenches.  I got out in the river and fished a few favorite spots and called my wife to see if our company had returned.  They were still at the beach so I headed down the river to my favorite oyster rocks.

I started drifting up the river with the tide and fishing each set of oyster rocks.  I had only been fishing a short time when I got a hit that I knew was something special.  I fish with pretty light spinning gear loaded with 8 pound test line but with a heavier fluorocarbon leader. I knew I had a battle ahead of me.  It was not long before I sure that I had my Red Drum at the end of my line.  I also suspected that it would be easy to lose him especially since I left my net at the dock.  My Red Drum and I had a good battle but I eventually eased him to the side of the kayak and flipped him in with my free hand.  Then I had to deal with not having brought the piece of line that I use to take home dinner.  I took the line that I use to make sure the kayak paddle does not float away and used that as a stringer.  Once it was secure I put the drum back in the water, but I was mindful of the sharks we had caught nearby the previous day and the six foot alligator that I had seen a on August 9, so I tied my Red Drum close to the kayak and started the fifteen minute paddle back to our dock.

The trip back was uneventful except for the frequent checks to make sure the Red Drum was still with me.  My wife was waiting for me at the dock and I was able to tell her that the salmon we had planned to have for dinner could wait another day.   Our guests arrived shortly after I got back to the dock.  I got my picture taken with my long sought after Red Drum.  My wife thought he was too pretty to keep, but I wanted to eat this one fish after having thrown back sixty or seventy Puppy Drum.  My Red Drum turned out to be delicious after my excellent job of pan frying.

I told some friends that I do not care if I catch another fish this fall since bringing my Red Drum to the dock made the season for me.   Of course I went out the next day and caught a Bluefish while fishing with one of our guests.  However, it might not count since it was an unintentional Bluefish.  I was not paying any attention to the bottom rig that was in one of our rod holders.

It will not be long before I am back in the kayak chasing another Red Drum on the river.  This next one likely will go back in the river since I feel no need to eat another one right now.   Of course I already have another goal, catching an even bigger Red Drum from the surf over at the Point on Emerald Isle.  I already know where I will catch him.  I fished the waters there a few times this summer.  I just have to make certain that I am there when the big drum are there.  There is no doubt that I will be there lots over the next few months.

Summer’s Grip On August

August Morning On Raymond's Gut

August Morning On Raymond’s Gut

August is fairly predictable month when it comes to the weather, but one should never forget that weather can be tricky here along the coast.  If you happened to be walking on our community boardwalk the morning of August 10, 2013, you would have seen the same blue sky that I captured in the picture included with this post.

With the thousands of landscape pictures I take, it is easy declare the blue in the morning sky as not the blue typically seen on an August morning.  The blue in the morning sky looked more like what we see in an October sky than in an August one.  Yet well before noon there was no doubt that summer still has us firmly in its grip.  Sometime during the morning I noticed our thermometer at ninety degrees Fahrenheit.  That is impressive since that thermometer has morning shade.   If you are in North Carolina along the coast in August, heat is to be expected and you just adjust your activities accordingly.

Fortunately on August 10, we had a strong breeze all day long.  Even more important to me, I got started early on my yard and finished the mowing just as the heat was beginning to peak. That is much better than what sometimes happens.  You know it the heart of summer when you hit the shower and turn the water on so that only cold water is sprinkling down on you.  With our pipes only buried a few inches,  our cold water is pretty warm right out of the tap this time of year.  When I come in heated up from working in the yard, I never bother with hot water.  I need all the cooling that I can get.

Mowing the yard in the heat is just one part of summer here on the coast.  Most of us would rather spend time on the water or along the beach than mow.  Still we have to keep our places neat since we host a fair amount of company in August as people try to get in one last taste of the beach to hold them through the cold, dark winter.

It is not a bad time to visit the area. There is plenty to do beside cook yourself on the sand. For those who enjoy sitting on front porches like ours, the heat of an August morning is a good time to sit back a read a book before the sun finds you.  When the heat and humidity wrap you like a blanket, all you have to do is retreat inside.  If you arrive inside at lunch, you will find lots of seasonal treats.

July and August is watermelon time here along Bogue Sound.   The area is famous for its tasty melons.  July through mid-August is actually the peak of our produce season.  Our home-grown tomatoes slow down around the third week of July but just before the middle of August we usually get a second crop. This year like many years, we have fun this time of year prospecting for the best local produce.  Usually we are enjoying peaches, but many of them are not as tasty as usual because the peach growing areas have been very wet.  Sweet potatoes are the only produce grown in our area that are yet to be harvested.

With all the fresh produce, it is a good time to grill some food outside and enjoy local vegetables like the corn on the cob on this plate that we got from Sara Winberry’s stand.  I enjoy grilling food and sitting in the breeze that pulls through the door that leads from our garage to our patio. Here along the Southern Outer Banks we grill outside twelve months out of the year but it is a special treat to put something on the grill and enjoy the warmth of an August evening.

Once dinner is over, a sunset cruise on the river is often in order.  While our sunsets are often not as spectacular as they are in the fall, sometimes like the blue sky morning I saw on the boardwalk, you get surprised and get to enjoy a stunning August sunset on the water.

When the next morning rolls around, it is not unusual in the heart of summer to find that our low temperature has failed to get below eighty degrees Fahrenheit.  If you have managed to get your work done like I did, you might want to slide a kayak in the water or head over to the beach for some early morning fishing or walking.

While August might make the swimming pools a little warm, it is rare that you cannot find a cooling wave over on the shore.  While we might change our schedules a little or move a little more deliberately, August and its heat are not going to keep us from enjoying North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.  Come join us, there is plenty of heat, warm water, and blue sky to go around.  If you need more enticement, try our new Kindle travel guide.  If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it for free.  If a late August trip to the beach is impossible, order a paper copy.  The pictures will at least let you dream of the warm ocean waters when the snow is flying.

Fishing North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks

Looking North Up The White Oak River

Looking North Up The White Oak River

One of the reasons that my wife and I moved to the North Carolina coast was that I wanted to be able to fish.  Fishing has been a life long passion and my most memorable fishing has been here along the Crystal Coast portion of the Southern Outer Banks.

Beyond that magic October day in 2005 in the Beaufort Inlet when with the help of a local guide I caught trout, puppy drum and flounder until I could hardly fish , I have had some very satisfying days on my own fishing near Swansboro, North Carolina.  I remember a day when we caught bluefish until our arms ached.  Last fall there were a number of times that I caught three or four puppy drum every day that I managed to get out with my kayak.  In the fall of 2011, I caught a number of trout including one that weighed over two pounds.  While we would always like to see the fishing better, I catch enough to be motivated to keep looking for the next nice fish especially in my own backyard.

There were other reasons why we moved to the area besides fishing.  Chief among those reasons was the access to modern services in the area. We did not want to live where finding a restaurant or a hardware store involved miles of driving.  We did that when we lived in Canada’s Maritimes.  You can read about that in our book, A Taste For The Wild.  Beyond the basics, I need relatively good Internet connectivity to do my work and at least we can get cable modem in our subdivision.  We also wanted to be in an area which had a wide variety of people and the area around Swansboro fits that need perfectly.  As I mention in my book, The Road To My Country, this is a very friendly area which welcomes newcomers.

We could have found better fishing by moving farther east along the Core Banks.   Unfortunately with the better fishing comes some other things which are not so good.  The area is lower than western Carteret County so it floods more easily and getting to a grocery store requires a fair amount of driving.

Fishing on the North Carolina coast is something of a challenge.  There are plenty of commercial fishermen who use gill nets.  There are also some recreational fishermen who keep everything that they can.  Our fish stocks have a hard time handling the pressure from both groups.

People want to eat fish.  Fishermen catch them to support their families and there does not seem to be a good way to transition from current commercial fishing practices to something more sustainable.  A few guides are little more than meat fishermen in disguise.  Recreational fishermen when they pay a few hundred dollars for a couple of hours of fishing feel entitled to what they catch so they do not throw back as much as they should.  I feel fortunate to count some more enlightened guides among my friends.  Other than keeping half a dozen blue fish or Spanish mackerel and about twice that number of spots, I rarely keep more than one fish.

Managing the fish stocks properly will take a more intelligent government than we have or are likely to get.  I would like to see some of the rivers and creeks closed to gill netting and have smaller daily catch limits for recreational fishermen.   We need some nursery areas but I am no fishery expert.  I can tell you that we have plenty of bait up our way and not nearly enough big predator fish to eat it.  Still I catch enough fish to be excited about fishing.  I hope to keep going for a long time.  The challenge of catching  a nice meal keeps me motivated and sometimes I will try all my tricks to come up with a meal.

On August 5, 2013, I took my skiff on an early morning fishing trip into the marshes on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway close to Swasnboro’s Harbor.  I was back home eating breakfast by 9 AM.  I caught no fish but had a couple of nibbles.   Not long after that I slid my kayak into the water and went after some fish in the White Oak River. I only managed one small bluefish.  Late that afternoon I headed over to the Point and tried my hand at fishing in the surf.  Again I only managed one small bluefish.

With almost a full day of fishing under my belt, the morning of August 6, I got up and after having breakfast decided that my best chance of catching a fish that we could eat was to head back out in the river in my kayak.  I was on the water by 11 AM and by 11:38 AM I had brought an eighteen inch flounder to my net.  I fished about fifteen more minutes before paddling the six tenths of a mile back to my dock.  I cleaned the flounder, showered, cooked the flounder, and helped clean up the mess.  We were done before 2:30 pm.

A nice fish like that keeps you going for a long time, but I have often said that fish are optional when fishing.   I hope we can make the fishing along North Carolina’s coast better, but as long as I can catch a few, I will remain happy with our decision to move here.  It is a great place to live and fish.  Even if you do not catch something every time, you are surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the world while fishing.

You can view albums of pictures taken on my marsh fishing trip near Swansboro, my August 5, White Oak River trip, and my evening surf fishing at the Point.  I also posted some pictures of my successful flounder trip on August 6.