Coastal Choices


Marsh Grass In Raymond’s Gut

Sometimes the hardest part of living on the Crystal Coast is deciding how to enjoy it most.  We live in an area of extraordinary scenic beauty.  During the fall when our weather reaches its peak of delightfulness, it is often easy to get overwhelmed with choices.

With the beach just ten to fifteen minutes away and the White Oak River in my backyard, I usually first wrestle with which kind of water I have missed the most during the last few days.  Then I start trying to decide what I want to do on or in the water.

With a somewhat flexible work schedule, I usually can find a few times each week to fish, boat, walk the beaches and kayak. Sometimes I fish while walking the beaches, but if it windy, I might just walk.  Boating is the same way, sometimes I just feel like a ride down the river and other times, I might bring my rod and see if I can find some fish.

Earlier in the last week of September, 2013, I managed to run our skiff down the river late one day almost to Swansboro before deciding to turn around.  It turned out to be cooler and windier on the river than I expected so I headed home with the thought of waiting for a better day for a longer boat ride.  When the heat is here, one of my favorite things to do is go before breakfast to fish from the skiff in the marshes near Swansboro.  It is a little cool during the very early morning in the fall for that.

As the daylight shortens, it is also impossible to get in more than one activity like I do in the summer when I might go for a skiff ride in the morning and take the kayak out in the evening.   I can still manage to burn the candle on both ends on Saturday but it is my least favorite day for boating because there are more boats around then. Kayaking on a Saturday morning and enjoying a long beach walk in the afternoon is very possible.

Of course there are days when other duties call.  On Saturday, September 28, gardening sneaked into the schedule.  While I managed to get our fall broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce planted earlier during the week, the row of English peas that I wanted to plant required a little more time and a trip to the store to get some seeds.   That left me with only Saturday afternoon for play so I planned a hiking-fishing trip to the Point.

It only takes me twelve to fifteen minutes to reach the Station Street parking lot near the Point.  Time seems to stop when I am out standing in the surf or walking along the beach so I do have to be careful to check my phone once in a while to make certain that I am not interrupting our plans for the evening at home.  This last Saturday in September I managed to make it home around 6:30 PM which kept me out of trouble. It was hard to leave the surf.  The waves were full of finger mullet and the air was full of pelicans.  It was a stunning sight to see all the big birds have their fill of fish.

Sunday is a little more difficult to sneak in some recreation other than my standard walks in the morning and the evening. This last weekend it was nearly 2 PM by the time got home from church after the service and lunch with some friends.  My spinning reel needed new line and a little football seemed in order, but I still managed to get out in the kayak sometime around 4 PM.

If time stops on the beach, it goes into another dimension when I am out on the water in kayak.  On a day  when you can just float and fish and not worry much about the currents or wind time has little meaning.  Sunday, September 29, was just such a day.  The wind was light, the water was blue and there was a rising tide.  The conditions were perfect for stalking fish along the many oyster bars in the White Oak River.

By the time that I thought to check my watch, an hour and forty five minutes had slipped away.  I made the wise to decision to call my wife and tell her that I was working my way home.  It only took me thirty minutes to do the fifteen minute journey.  I had to cast in a few favorite holes, but it was so beautiful that taking pictures occupied a bit of my time also. There was an especially photogenic great blue heron in one of the pine trees.  My fishing efforts only got me visits from a small bluefish and a short flounder, but it was close to magic out on the river. Fish are always optional.

While I could have gone out in the skiff and taken another beach walk, the kayak was my choice for Sunday afternoon.  It has the advantage of silence.  All I do is slide it into Raymond’s Gut behind our house and start dipping my paddle into the water.  Sometimes I just let the current take me where it will.

Often like my recent trip I managed to get some great pictures. Sometimes it is a great egret, an osprey, or a  special great blue heron like this trip. Once in a while I will catch dinner and that makes it even more special.  Check out these pictures for a sample of my activities. The first album is mostly kayaking pictures, but here are some pictures from a recent hike on the Point and a White Oak River boat ride from late summer.

Waiting For Cooler Waters

Sunset at The Point

Sunset at The Point

It is that time of year.  We are straddling the summer beach season and the beginning of the fishing season.  Warm waters keep everyone but the inshore fishermen happy during the summer.  Those of us hooked on fishing patiently await the arrival of fall’s cooler temperatures.

During August we sometimes get tastes of what might be.  We catch drum and some flounder, but mostly we bid our time until the water cools and the fish come closer to shore and swim up the rivers.   There is nothing wrong with warmth, we just get a little too much of it at times during August and part of September.

Being in North Carolina in mid-September is not like being in Maine or New Brunswick, Canada, where you know frost is just around the corner and you could see snow within four to six weeks.   Here on the Southern Outer Banks sometimes we have very nice weather well into December.  We actually count on plenty more days with temperatures in the lower eighties.  The average high temperature for the area does not drop below eighty degrees until September 24.

As our temperatures are dropping, the air around us is also changing.  The humidity that can sometime wrap us like a warm, wet blanket in summer is slipping away and being replaced with much more comfortable levels of moisture.  Fall is absolutely a great time to visit our beaches.  Most of us residents would argue that it is the best time to visit.  The water can stay warm well into November and our crowds for the most part are long gone.

As the ocean water cools, we will get more and more of a variety of fish along our beaches.  With the fish will come surf fishermen and their trucks.  I am not a big fan of trucks on the beach, but I tolerate it.  Like everything else in life, there are some very courteous drivers on the beach and there are a few that I could do without.

September 14, 2013 is the last vehicle free day on the beach for several months, so I hope to make it over to The Point for a hike and perhaps an opportunity to wet my line.  I doubt the water has cooled any recently since temperatures approached ninety degrees last week.  There is one advantage to warm water, there is no shock getting wet or standing in it while fishing.  There are lots of times that just standing in warm salt water and watching the waves is pretty close to heaven.  If you happen to catch a fish, that just makes the moment that much better.

When Saturday rolls around, things will change drastically. We are going to take a break from the almost hot temperatures.  Our high temperature next week, the third week of September, will probably not quite make it  to 80F.   That brings about a situation which is ideal for those of us who enjoy kayaks.  While the air might be cool early in the mornings the next several days,  the kayak puts us close enough to the surface of the water, that it is easy to be comfortable out on the water even early in the morning or in the evening.  You can actually feel the heat radiating from the water.

This time of year has some other things that make me love it. The sunsets are usually spectacular and we can generally count on fairly light winds.   As a photographer and fisherman, it is easy to be happy in the fall.  The blues in the sky are bluer.  The air is clearer and more fish are available in the area.

It is one of those situations where it is hard to complain.  With great fall weather, an abundance of water nearby, and a fish invasion on the horizon, there is very little not to like.



Back Before The Fog & Work

Fog On The White Oak River

Fog On The White Oak River

While working gives you some focus in life, it does not have to be the center of your life.  Most of us also have family, church, hobbies, and friends in our lives.  I feel lucky to live in an area where I can slice my time effectively and hit most of those bases.  Our family is far away, but the beach and water draws them here regularly.

I recently wrote about how work has changed for me over the years.  I have worked in high stress jobs for much of my life.  I have learned that one of the most dangerous trends in modern life is that work does not stay at the office.   Perhaps I was at the forefront of this trend because for years I have worked from a home office.  However, I have learned how to handle working at home and still have a life away from work.

Today I feel blessed to be working from home along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks. There are times when I feel like I am living my personal dream. For those of you not familiar with the area, we are the far end of that section of beach which runs south and west from Ocracoke Island.  We really are one of the last places where you will find truly small beach towns with no real urban area nearby.  Just to make things even better for those of us living here, Cape Lookout National Seashore, the Croatan National Forest, the Atlantic Ocean and Camp Lejeune protect our flanks as you can see from this map.  In spite of that we enjoy a full range of modern services.

With this as a background, it is probably no surprise that it is easy to sandwich in some recreation and still get plenty of work done.  There are five things which I really enjoy doing. Boating, kayaking, fishing, hiking and photography are my passions.   There are three general areas where you will find me doing one or more of those activities.  When  I am not working and the weather is nice, I strive to be outside.  One favorite spot is the White Oak River.  Our home is on a gut, a narrow piece of water, that leads to the river.  The second place that gets my attention is the beach and the third is the water in and around Bogue Inlet and the nearby marshes.  I love to fish in all these places but when the fish have a hard time finding my baits, I just take pictures of the scenery and the wildlife that I find.

I visit the spots by skiff, kayak, or on foot.  Hiking every mile of the beach in the town of Emerald Isle is one of my spring goals each year.  In 2013 I managed to finish my circuit of the beaches in May. Sometimes I will sneak off early in the morning or late in the evening for a hike on the beach.  I also like to head to the beach in the afternoon on the weekends.  I much prefer that to an afternoon in an easy chair watching football.  I am rarely disappointed by a trip to the beach and my favorite spot is the Point at Emerald Isle where it is easy to hike a few miles and not cover the whole beach.

With a skiff and a kayak that are just steps from the water and our garage, it is actually easier to get on the water than it is to go on a hike along the beach.  A trip to the beach requires a car and a drive over the Emerald Isle bridge to Bogue Banks. There are beaches that you can reach by boat, but that is a family group activity.   In the summer one of my favorite things is to get up, have a cup of coffee and go for an early morning boat ride or a fishing trip to the marshes near Huggins Island and Swansboro, North Carolina.  This is a Google map of a trip by skiff that I made the morning of September 5, 2013.  I left around 7:30 AM and was back home before 9:00 AM.  I was able to put in a full day of work after my fishing trip.

This is a similar map of kayaking trip late one afternoon after work.  I can paddle to the middle of the river where my favorite oyster rocks are located in less than 15 minutes.  I usually fish forty-five to sixty minutes and then head home. While I do not haul trophy fish home every trip, I do catch enough fish to keep me happy.  Fishing on the Southern Outer Banks can be rewarding and I pursued the goal of catching a nice red drum longer than any business plan that I can remember. Having a flounder that I catch for dinner is better than any business meal, no matter how fancy the restaurant might be.

On the morning of September 5, 2013, I was racing both the clock and the weather.  I needed to be at work by 10 AM and there was also fog rolling down the river.  I managed to sneak out during a window when there was no fog on the lower reaches of the river and get back just before the fog blanketed our section of the river.   There was plenty of time to shower, grab some breakfast and get to work upstairs on time.

My trip back up the White Oak river in a skiff at something over thirty miles per hour certainly beats the morning commute of stop and go traffic around Northern Virginia where I used to work.  Getting off work and climbing into a kayak is a lot better than fighting traffic back home and going downstairs to an exercise machine.

If you have never visited the Crystal Coast, the fall is the perfect time to come, fog on the river is very rare, but warm water along the beach through October is something that you can take to the bank.  On September 5, 2013 the surf along the beaches was still over 80F.  We fisherman are actually hoping the water will start cooling soon, but we know it will not happen quickly.

Of course if you want to visit our beaches and enjoy them like someone who lives here, you will find our 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide very useful.