A Great Big Coastal River

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Jones Island in the White Oak River

White Oak River

For most of my life I have been in love with the water.  For the last seven years or so it might be more accurate to say that I have been smitten by the water.

In 2003, my wife and I traveled to Beaufort, North Carolina, for our thirtieth anniversary.  Beaufort is a special place and while it took three years before we found a nearby place that we could afford on the Crystal Coast, we moved here in the fall of 2006.

One of the first things that I did that fall was to purchase a kayak.  While the river in our backyard, the White Oak, does not look huge on this map, it is close to two miles wide near where we live about three miles up the river from Swansboro.  Even today the river is pretty impressive as you see from my picture taken sitting in my kayak looking down river towards Swansboro, Cedar Point and Jones Island.

That first fall the river was actually a little intimidating in a kayak just twelve feet long, but I feel very comfortable on the river now.  I know many of the oyster rocks very well and I love to work their fish-holding pockets on a beautiful fall day like Saturday, October 26.

In late spring of 2007, we purchased a 20 ft Sundance skiff which now resides on a lift behind our home on Raymond’s Gut which leads to the White Oak River.  Between the kayak and the skiff, I get plenty of time on the water.  The river looks very different from the higher view that you get from a skiff.

Taking the skiff down the river to Swansboro is one of my favorite things to do. There is something really special about getting a boat trimmed just right to glide across the water just barely breaking the surface.  With North Carolina’s temperate climate, I manage to run the boat just about every week of the year at least once.  I do get to a point in January or February when I end up wearing jeans, a jacket, and gloves, but as I am writing this, it is almost November and I am still in shorts on the boat.  Sometime I can say that even in December when almost summer-like weather visits.

While I really enjoy our skiff, being in the kayak and out on the river is truly special.  You really get close to the water and the moods of the river.  I have become so familiar with the river, that I probably go out on days when most people would stay at home.  There are usually places that I can go which keep me out of the wind and if it is truly rough on the river, I just stay in our inlet.

One of the great things about the White Oak is that it is an uncrowded, very clean river.  As you can see from the picture at the top, taken on Saturday, October 26,  you do not have to fight for space on the river.  This time of year there is usually a boat or two in sight, but it is still not unusual to have the river to yourself except for an occasional commercial fisherman passing through the oyster rocks.

Once in a while you find yourself on the river when the tides and winds work with each other to keep you in one place.  That equilibrium on the river is a great thing for fishermen like myself.  Fall is the perfect time for kayaking, and on cool mornings it is actually warmer out on the river than it is walking around on land because the water is still over 60F.

It is not unusual for me to kayak into December or even January.  By February when the water becomes cold, kayaking with only a fraction of an inch of plastic between you and the river becomes a little challenging and sometimes it takes until May for our warm kayaking water to return.

In the fall of the year I spend a lot of time sitting on the oyster rocks and fishing in the holes around the rocks by twitching a jig dressed up with a Gulp.  You can catch almost anything which is not surprising considering the tradition of good fishing during the fall on the Southern Outer Banks.

With great fall weather here for the next week, I am hoping for a nice trout for dinner one night in the next few days, but obviously I will settle for flounder or a red drum.  Fresh fish nearby is just one of the benefits of living on a big coastal river where water is on your doorstep.  November can be one of our best fishing months so the odds are in my favor for catching something tasty.

I wrote this post about life on the river over three years ago. It appears that I am even more enthusiastic about it now than I was then.  I have many albums of kayaking pictures posted and you can sample them with this one taken recently during a low tide when all the oyster rocks were visible.  When the water gets high in the marshes, the river looks even bigger.  If boating in a skiff is more your style, try this album of a trip to the marshes across the Intracoastal Waterway at Swansboro.

No matter which way you choose to get on the water, you will have a lot of fun on a river like the White Oak.

Anticipating Great Weather

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Looking From Raymond's Gut to White Oak River

Looking From Raymond’s Gut to White Oak River

Our weather is starting to show signs of returning to normal after ten days of cloudy, damp weather which is uncharacteristic of early fall on the Crystal Coast.

Until the remnants of tropical storm Karen wandered into our area, we had enjoyed a long stretch of spectacular weather culminating in a few days of Summer in October.

One of the great advantages to actually living on the coast is you can relatively easily take in stride a stretch of less than desirable weather .  When we have days that are rainy or too cool for boating or kayaking, I usually adjust my work schedule so I can take advantage of the best part of the day or any breaks in the weather. Instead of depending on early morning or late afternoon excursions, I let myself have some fun when the weather is at its best.

It works well for me.  I get a few extra things done in my job by sometimes working late in the evenings but I also give myself the freedom to take a boat ride if blue skies show up at 11:00 AM.  There are days when scheduled meetings just will not let that work, but it does not take much flexibility to work in a little water time here on the Southern Outer Banks.  Access to water is in the backyard or on the doorsteps of many who of us who live here along the coast.  That makes enjoying the area’s treasured waters very easy even during times that would surprise many people.

One of the things that I enjoy about weather is that it has the power to pull you through the full range of human emotions.  You might be blue after ten days of clouds, but the next thing you know the weather will be so good that you will want to bottle it.

Great weather all the time gets a little boring and a few thunderstorms and some rain bring a little variety to our lives here on the coast.  The rain also helps us avoid spending money watering our lawns and vegetable gardens.  It is a reasonable trade off to me.

Still the desire for great fall weather is strong and memories of several recent falls on the beach are still fresh.  When we lived in the mountains around Roanoke, Virginia, fall was a spectacular season and we often chased the turning leaves.

Here on the beach fall is less dramatic and brings back different memories.  Ones like the magnificent day my friend Dean and I had fishing for bluefish around Bogue Inlet are hard to forget.  I still have the memory from October, 2010, of a bride standing in the surf on a warm evening late in October.

Fall also brings the annual Toys for Tots Marsh Cruise hosted by the folks at Hammocks Beach State Park.  Then there is the huge pumpkin patch over at the Swansboro Baptist Church.  Sometimes the best part of the fall is just that our waters get very quiet and easy to enjoy.

I am going to hope we return to those wonderful fall temperatures and skies that are regular visitors to the Crystal Coast.   Sometimes the weather in the fall is so good that I worry that if I am pinched that I will wake up and the great weather will be gone.  I hope that does not happen until I have gotten in several more beach walks and caught a few trout and another drum or two.  Of course if the weather is right, the fish are optional and just icing on the cake.

Summer in October

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Sunset at the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Sunset at the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

I am not shy about saying that you should have been here last week, the first week of October 2013.   We had the best of a series magical weeks here on North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.

Most of you went back to work after Labor Day.  That is except for my friend, Stephen, who probably negotiated the start of his new job so he could enjoy some fall time at the beach.  He has the time of the year right.  One of these days he will figure out the beach where fall is the best.

Those of us who live at the beach are often accused of being on vacation all the time.  There is only a little truth in that statement.  We do take our enjoyment of the area seriously.  If you are going to live in one of the most beautiful areas in the world, staying inside and ignoring our world without walls would be a huge waste.

There might be some days that I do not start work until 10 AM and a few when I stop work at 4 PM.  In my defense I don’t work full-time, so I still get in plenty of work hours along with my kayaking, beach walking, fishing, and boating.

There has been very little to complain about when it comes to our weather over the last several weeks.   It is dry but I guess the remnants of tropical storm Karen are about to fix that.  During the day for most of the last couple of weeks, we have enjoyed temperatures in the low to mid eighties.  At night we were getting down into the upper fifties but as the water has warmed back up, it  has been hard to make it below the upper sixties.

Weather like that is one of the reasons we live here on the Crystal Coast.   We went close to two weeks without the heat pumps running.   My routine during this perfect weather is to open our windows around 4 PM each day and then close them the next morning at 7 AM.   The house manages to stay very comfortable all day and we save a considerable amount of electricity.  We also enjoy the fresh air and most days we get a nice breeze especially in the evenings.

Only on the last few days of the first week of October have my efforts been derailed as we got past the mid-eighties and the low temperatures struggled to get below the upper sixties.  Still, it  is was nice to have a taste of summer back even if the heat pumps did run some.  It certainly made surf fishing a pleasure.  Standing in warm water is much nicer than standing in cold water.

On October 2, we left home a little after 5 PM and drove up to Third Street Beach.  The bait was thick in the waves.  Finally about thirty minutes after we got there, I caught something besides a bluefish.  A nice Spanish Mackerel just big enough to feed us hit my gold Kastmaster.  He took a few runs before finally letting me beach him.  The total fish count for the evening was four bluefish and the one Spanish mackerel which we did take home for dinner.

The next day the weather was so nice, I had to vacation a little during the late morning just so I could fish a falling tide.  Kayaking with a water temperature in the seventies and the air temperature in low eighties is about as pleasant as it can get.  The winds pretty well disappeared and our nearly two-mile wide river was like a big pond on October 3.    It would have been easy to lose myself in the moment but I caught a nice drum and the idea of getting it home and on ice made a lot of sense.

Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of this week were about as perfect as you can hope for during a summer vacation.  It is nice to live where weather that delights is often the norm.  When it comes to kayaking, boating, or spending time on the beach, the stretch of great weather after Labor Day 2013 has been memorable and close to spectacular.

This next week, the second week of October, looks like a more variable week with some much-needed rain.  We will continue to get some great weather as fall progresses and sometimes we even get a taste of it in November and December.   However, it is unlikely that any of it will last as long as the streak of weather that we just finished.

As the weather got better and better with deeper blue skies, you could almost feel that this summer in October was on the horizon and then we blinked and it was here and the surf felt very refreshing.  My only complaint is that we have lost enough hours of daylight that it is hard to get in all the things that I would love to do.

If the number of hours of daylight in a season is the only thing wrong, things are going well.  The fishing season looks promising and our fall gardening is in good shape with just a few more heads of lettuce to plant.  I managed to the mow our centipede yard this first week in October.  It was a pleasure to mow with no serious heat.  Mostly likely I will only have to mow it once more before the grass goes dormant.  That is actually a good thing since it opens up additional time for fishing and more beach walks.  I am happy to not be living in the Virginia mountains where I often mowed our bluegrass yard well into December.  Mowing a yard with a sweatshirt on was never my cup of tea.

Now if the speckled trout would just show up and a couple of those flounder grown thick from a summer of foraging would find their way into the river and onto the end of my line, everything would be as it should be.

If you have never tried it, there is still time to make plans to try a fall beach vacation.  It might be a tradition you grow to love.  There are no crowds or waiting this time of year.  If you need some more suggestions try our travel guide.  It comes highly recommended.