Out By The Big Water

Mostly Pelicans on the eastern tip of Bear Island

Mostly Pelicans on the eastern tip of Bear Island

We live in a world with more places that have been tamed than I care to imagine.  I have always been a fan of being on the edge of civilization.  It is harder to find that feeling these days, but you can get a good taste of it out in Bogue Inlet by the ocean.

My wife is not a fan of the area where I snapped the picture of all the pelicans on Bear Island.  Perhaps she had enough living on the edge during our years in Canada. Our life in Canada’s Maritime’s was not a particularly easy one.  There were times that you were pretty close to being on your own.  Town was twenty miles away, a blizzard was blowing, the temperature was in the minus twenties and the power likely was out.

We survived with a wood stove, spring water that came through the house by gravity feed, candles and Coleman lanterns.  We also had a small generator but rarely used it. Our Chevy pickup truck never failed to start in any weather even without plugging in the block heater.

There were a lot of ways find yourself in trouble where we had our farm.  Freezing to death when the temperature drops to minus forty was just one worry.   When the wind is blowing and it is that cold, you tend to be very careful.  Materials behave very differently and exposed flesh freezes very quickly.  However,  you really feel alive if you survive a morning working outside in weather that cold.  Coming inside from deadly cold like that brings a sense of relief and a feeling of safety that most of us take for granted in our suburban existence.

Our modern world along the coast of North Carolina is not immune from danger.  People die here each year in the water.  Some die in accidents in the surf, but there are people who die because they put themselves and their boat in situations more dangerous than they have guessed.

When you take an open twenty foot boat out to Bogue Inlet, the area between the Point at Emerald Island and Bear Island,  you are in an area that can claim your boat faster than you might expect.  We have been fishing on the ocean side of Bear Island when the waves got rough enough to make us quickly pull up the anchor and head for safer waters.

There are times when it can be pretty calm out in the ocean and we do venture out beyond the beaches.  I do not go out by myself, and when I do venture out there I prefer to have a competent boater as my co-pilot.  Maybe I took enough risks on those long walks to our barn during blizzards in our years in Canada.

As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, the water near the shore was not particularly calm on our latest trip out to the area near the big water.  Anchoring in twenty feet of water in choppy seas with a strong current is also not the easiest thing to do and certainly not something that I would even attempt without another person at the helm.

The beauty of the area and the occasional fish that we catch in the rough waters draws us back year after year.  It is not a place where I take my wife who is not fond of getting wet. While I am a good swimmer, I always wear my life suspenders when I am in my boat but even with them on, falling in the water near Bogue Inlet is not something I would want to do.  Being in water that is under 60F with a strong current would not be fun any time of year much less late November.  Thoughts of the strong currents and cooling waters made me very careful when I heaved the anchor into the water recently.

You can find lots of places in our area where the water is shallow and calm and almost walking distance from shore.  Jumping into water like that in summer can even be fun, but things are very different as the waters cool from its summertime temperatures which are often well over 80F.

We try to be very safe when we are out boating. Still I am always happy to see the red Towboat.us rescue boat at Casper’s Marina as we head through Swansboro Harbor.  It is also nice to know that I have the cell phone number of Andrew, the local Towboats.us captain, programmed into my cell phone.  He could certainly be out to the Inlet in just minutes.

Still on a day like our recent trip when there are almost no other boats around out by Bogue Inlet, you know that you have to keep your wits about you and try not to do anything stupid. Making a mistake in a boat in rough waters is amazingly easy.

On our most recent November trip, we fished for a while and even caught a few small bluefish.  Then we carefully pulled the anchor and went looking for bigger fish back towards Swansboro.   Since we had limited time, we decided to head back up the river and try the oyster rocks in the White Oak River which have treated me very well recently when it comes to fish.

While you might get a boat stuck on the oyster rocks in the White Oak, contrary to my wife’s opinion, you will not sink or wash out to sea if you get in trouble on the White Oak.  It is a far different kind of place than the waters out by Bogue Inlet where boats have gotten into serious trouble even this year.  The White Oak is also a spot that I know very well even in the fog.

As much as I enjoy going out to fish around Bogue Inlet during our long boating season here on the Southern Outer Banks, there is something of a feeling of relief when we idle back into Raymond’s Gut and head to our dock.  While the elements we challenge out at Bogue Inlet are nowhere near as harsh as the ones we found in the rolling hardwood hills of New Brunswick in the depths of a blizzard, they can be just as unforgiving.

We had a chance to relax and enjoy the quiet waters of  the White Oak for a few minutes before heading home from the oyster rocks.  That trip was a short one compared to a trip out to Bogue Inlet.

After we docked and went inside to grab a turkey sandwich,  I was pleased that I could still feel a little excitement from having been out by the big water earlier in the day.  It is a nice feeling. Challenging some tough water and getting home safely does make you feel alive.

I hope I can continue visiting Bogue Inlet, those waters between the Point and Hammocks Beach, for a long time.  I am not ready for a rocking chair yet, and I am happy to be living on the Crystal Coast where there is still some excitement to be had from living close to the elements.



Seduced By The River And Fog

Fog On The White Oak River

Fog On The White Oak River

On a recent November Saturday my plans were to go for a short kayaking trip on the river, have lunch, and then head to the beach for a nice long hike along the Point at Emerald Isle.  The week was a tough one, and I needed some serious time by myself.   You can find a lot of solitude and peace at the far end of the Point.

I found that time to be alone but as is so often the case, I found it among the oyster rocks on the river.  I never made it over to the Point that day, but I did find my way over the next afternoon.  The river is at my back door and unless I go by boat to the Point, I have to get in a car and drive for a few minutes.  That being the case, the river usually wins since time in the car rarely helps anyone find peace.

From the moment I started paddling the White Oak River in the fall of 2006, I knew it was a special place.  However, it is a river you have to take the time to get to know.  Getting up the White Oak River requires a little zigging and zagging in a power boat unless you want to park your boat unceremoniously on the oyster rocks that populate the lower part of the river.

However, if you are comfortable in a kayak, the White Oak, even as it stretches to almost two miles in width, can be a very friendly place.  To be honest, I feel a lot more comfortable in the middle of the White Oak by myself in a kayak than I do in the middle of Bogue Inlet in our skiff by myself.

In my seven years of kayaking, often three or four times a week during March through December, I have never seen another kayaker in my section of the river.  I have seen some in the lower section of the river near Jones Island, but our middle section up by Raymond’s Gut is a peaceful place most of the year.  We get a few fishermen in skiffs especially during the fall.  However, even a skiff with a good captain cannot get in the area which I enjoy so much.  The most annoyance that comes from a skiff when I am on the oyster rocks would be a barking dog.

Many rivers have shallow water on their edges, and while the White Oak has plenty of that, some of the most challenging shallow water is in the middle of the river surrounded by mounds of rocks made of oyster shells or oyster rocks as we call them.  When the fish are in the river, the shallows between the oyster rocks are among their favorite feeding places.

Sometimes if you are in the right spot at the right time, you can bring home some beautiful fish like these in this picture.  They were caught Saturday, November 9, 2013.  The drum was 21″, one trout was 19″ and the other was 18″.  I returned a 16″ puppy drum to the water that same day.  In the same spot on the previous day I caught a 17″ trout.  It is days like that which keep you fishing.   I take pleasure in fishing with artificial lures so that makes catching a few nice ones even more satisfying.

Of course if you are looking for serenity and beauty, fish are always optional.  I make a lot of trips to the White Oak when I come back without fish.  Sometimes, I do not even take a fishing rod, but almost always I have a camera with me.  The beauty that I find on the river is often breathtaking and if I catch a fish for dinner that is just icing on my cake.

I often lose track of the time that I spend on the oyster rocks.  That recent November Saturday,  I thought that I had been out on the rocks an hour or so.  It turns out that I was out in the river nearly three hours.  When I came back, my GPS tracking program showed that I had paddled and floated nearly five miles on what can only be called a stunning Saturday on the White Oak.

If you have never been out on the river when the water sparkles and gleams, I can highly recommend making the effort.  The images will lock themselves into you mind for a long time.  I often go to sleep with the river’s sparkling blue water in my mind’s eye.  That is not a bad way to fall asleep.

If you cannot get out onto the river, I can recommend this album of my November 16, 2013, trip.  You will have a hard time finding that many beautiful blue water photos anywhere else.


November Beach Days

The Beach at The Point

The Beach at The Point

A great surprise that you quickly discover as a resident of North Carolina’s coast is how nice our beaches are in November.  Finding warmth on the beach is November is certainly not what I expected.  On one of our last trips to the coast before we moved here, I nearly froze to death fishing in Beaufort in late October.  With that experience as a backdrop, I assumed that once summer disappeared,  you would find mostly crazy fishermen wandering the surf in insulated waders during October, November, and December.

My first fall here I was busy taking classes, but by the next season, the fall of 2007, I  found time to enjoy the beach after summer disappeared. I quickly discovered that fall is the best time to enjoy the beach.  I took this great picture of the beach on October 20, 2007.  The next day I snapped this picture.  I even found this image of the beach taken in December 2007.

Since that fall I have probably spent more time on the beach in the fall than in the summer.  I enjoy the beach in the summer, but if I am not fishing on the beach, I mostly enjoy walking the beaches. You will not find me soaking up the rays on a beach towel.  The months after summer are actually the best times to hike the beaches.  The water is still warm enough for some wading and there is still plenty of light in evening until November. The less humid cooler air is much more favorable to long hikes than the muggies of summer.

On Sunday, November 3, 2013, I found myself headed to the beach late in the afternoon.  With Daylight Savings Time disappearing, I only had an hour or so of daylight left to sample the beach and to try to catch a fish.  It was a pretty warm afternoon and the uniform for my beach hike, a bathing suit and t-shirt, was the same as it is in July or August.  It was not  long before I found myself standing in the surf casting in the edge of the waves.

While the water had a slight chill to it, it certainly was not uncomfortable in short bursts.  There were a few people with waders on the beach, but there were lots more people without them.  I even saw a few people in the water swimming.

That I could be comfortably wading in the surf even the first week in November is a little amazing to me even though I live here.  I still remember seeing a wedding take place in the surf in late October of 2010.  We are several days later than my surf fishing adventure last weekend, and my guess is that even now the water is still warm enough for limited wading with bare legs. It is going to be a different story this weekend as our seventies disappear quickly with a cold front moving into the area.

While our fall weather sometimes has a day of showers interspersed with sunny days, there are plenty of nice days for those of us who live close to the beach.  They get harder to find as we get into January.  While we might be done with the 70s for a while after November 7, we have had a good run of weather and it will take a while for the water to cool off.

As we wait for the water to cool own,  I am looking forward to several more November beach days and even a few in December and January.  For awhile, I lived in sight of some beautiful waters near the coast of eastern Canada.  The water was beautiful to look at, but not so nice if you wanted to go for a swim or even wade in it during the middle of summer.  I have comfortably waded in the waters here even in late March.  Our beach season is amazingly long.

We are lucky here on the Southern Outer Banks.  We have beautiful scenery, clean waters, and warm water.  It is a combination that is hard to beat.  You can get an idea of how beautiful our beaches are in November my checking out this online photo album that I made from pictures taken on the beach at the Point on November 3, 2013. If you are unfamiliar with the area, a combination of this area map and  this local map will give you an idea of the location of the Point.