At Home On The Oyster Rocks

One of my favorite fishing spots

One of my favorite fishing spots

We humans often look at natural obstacles as something to remove. We cut down forests, blast roads up the sides of mountains and somehow think we can bend nature to our will.

I even have a neighbor who thinks that if he keeps cutting the marsh grass and cattails that they will go away. The marsh grass will be waving in the wind long after he is gone and the cattails continue to spread in the wind every chance that they get.

Certainly I cannot lay claim to being a purist when it comes to the environment. We cut down our only pine tree last year before it got too big to handle. I justified it by the statement that pine trees always fall down. It is just a matter of time.

When we had our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick. I was in a continual battle with spruce trees. While the cattle would eat any invading hardwoods that managed to sprout in the pastures, our Angus had more sense than to eat spruce trees. I spent a lot of time bush-hogging pastures to keep the spruce trees at bay. When we lived in Roanoke, Virginia, I saw pine trees take over a meadow in five or six years so I know how fast trees can takeover territory.

Still I have mellowed over time. When we first moved to the Crystal Coast in the summer of 2006, the oyster rocks in the White Oak River seemed to be a challenge to navigating the river.  The first time I saw one just inches underwater from my kayak, I was impressed but it was just the beginning of learning to live a great big coastal river.

When we got our skiff in 2007, avoiding the oyster rocks became a priority. While I learned to tolerate the rocks after a year or two, it has taken me a lot longer to really appreciate how wonderful the oyster rocks are. They are actually part of the reason we have such a clean river.  The long beds of oyster shells help us have plenty of bait and enough fish to keep most of us happy.

All sorts of creatures find the oyster rocks useful. I have seen oyster catchers nesting on them. Crabs and all sorts of small fish use them as shelter. In the winter, the rocks are full of birds at low tide.

From late spring through late fall, you will also find sport fishermen working the oyster rocks. Commercial fishermen often place their crab pots in deep spots around the rocks. The cuts through the rocks channel the bait into the range of waiting predators like red drum, flounder and trout. Fishing the oyster rocks has become my favorite way of catching fish. Last year I brought home my fair share of flounder, trout, and red drum from the oyster rocks that start about a third of a mile from our home and dot part of the lower three miles of the White Oak River.

This year, I have already caught a couple of nice drum off the rocks. I am sure there are folks who would like to get rid of the White Oak’s oyster rocks but I am not one of them.  Besides fishing them, sometime I just like to sit out there on one of the rocks and enjoy the peace and quiet of the river.

Fishing the oyster rocks is not without its challenges. The White Oak is nearly two miles wide where I fish it. Wind can keep you busy and there are days when paddling out to my favorite oyster rocks seems like a long trip when you are fighting the wind and or the tides. Then there are days like May 28, 2014 when the wind, waves, current, and tides cooperate. The 1.25 mile paddle to my favorite took me only fifteen minutes.

It was very pleasant out on the river. The current and tide were close to offsetting each other and there were only a few mild swells on the river. There were no other boats or kayaks in sight, so the river was mine. It did not take too long for the river to get me under its spell once again.

When the current is just right you can slide along the oyster rocks looking for a wandering drum. On May 28, I had only one thing on my mind and it was getting back to where I caught my first drum of the season just a few weeks earlier. The ride was pleasant and I only made two or three casts to test my gear before I arrived in my favorite spot which is a cut between two oyster rocks or more correctly oyster bars.

The current was just right to hold me lightly on the side of the oyster bar with my target fishing area within easy casting range. I made one cast with a white swimming mullet gulp and something got the tail. I switched to a Tsunami plastic with a similar but tougher tail. I made one cast just up river of the cut in the rocks. The next cast was in the middle of the cut. I got an immediate hit and I knew that I had a nice drum on my line.

He made one run down river and then miraculously turned and came back through the cut and was on the same side of the oyster bar as my kayak. Then it was just a matter of time. I let him take runs until he tired enough that I could slip the net under him. When I saw the drum I knew that he was at least 21 inches and was carrying a lot of weight.

I had forgotten my stringer but I just made a stringer out of my paddle safety line and headed home. I was back at the dock just an hour and ten minutes after leaving. My wife brought the cooler with some ice down to the dock and I handed her the stringer with the drum. As soon as we got the kayak in the yard, we took some pictures and I got my cleaning gear. The drum was a snug fit in the cooler.

By 1:15 PM, I had cleaned the drum, showered and was getting the grill ready for a lunch-sized serving of drum. I just cut off the thinner part of the tail and saved the thicker fillets for another couple of meals. We will get three meals out of this one drum.

I feel lucky to have oyster rocks which continue to get in our way. I have learned to love them and work with them, not against them.  I certainly no longer fear the rocks.  I even love the way the water can be blue when the sun hits the water around the rocks one way and a beautiful amber when it hits the water from another angle. We are fortunate to live in such a wonderful place.  The oyster rocks are just another blessing.

If fishing among the oyster rocks is not your cup of tea, perhaps thoughts of standing in the surf might entice you to visit the Crystal Coast. You will makes some memories and you do not have to wait because it is already officially beach season.

For more information you can get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  The guide has been newly updated for 2014.  I am working to get Amazon to allow people who purchased the 2013 version to get a free update and hope to do the same thing next year. We have just received the first batch of our inexpensive 2014 print version. It has all the same information, it just comes without the 80 color pictures to keep the cost down.  I hope to have them placed in local tourist venues soon.  The print version without color pictures is currently available on Amazon for $8.96 and is Prime eligible.

There is no greater place to vacation with a family than along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  You can find more information at Life Along The Crystal Coast.  Come visit, you will not regret it, and you might be like us and never leave.

We also publish a monthly email newsletter.  Now that I have the travel guides finally updated for this year, I will finally be sending out the next newsletter around the end of May.  You still have time to sign up before I get it emailed.

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Standing In The Surf

Standing in the surf, Emerald Isle, NC

Standing in the surf, Emerald Isle, NC

There is no better cure for a long winter that standing in the surf and flinging some metal out into the water in hopes of catching a fish.

As summer has finally appeared on the horizon, spending time at the beach has regained its important spot in our lives. While we never completely abandon the sand and surf, you have to be very careful when picking a January day to be on the beach.

That is not the case most May days. Unless the wind is blowing seriously or it is rainy, the odds are that a May day on the beach will be one that you will enjoy. You might not catch any fish, but most likely you will be able to stick your feet in the water and they will not turn blue.

We are only two days into the first full week in May and I have been to the beach both afternoons. One trip was to the Point which is high on my list of favorite spots to visit. The other trip was to Third Street beach which is also on my list. While the water was comfortable when wading, I was almost alone on the beach both days.

Certainly early May is not peak beach season, but unless you want to put your full body into the water, it is a pretty good time to visit. As you can see from the picture, there are no people, much less crowds. Restaurants and grocery stores are still mostly empty and the fish are slowly starting to bite.

I have managed to wade in the water without freezing as early as the last week of March. This year spring started out not so nice, but it has come along nicely.

Warming water enables more things than just wading in the surf. When the water is cold, most of us keep our boating to a minimum. This past weekend, I took some new neighbors on a long boat ride. We made it over to the Point in our open skiff.  We were all in shorts and t-shirts.  A boat ride with minimal clothing is something you often avoid in March and April.

On our way back we passed the area where the White Oak River empties into Bogue Sound.  There the water temperature was just under 70F.  Though the area’s waters were enticing earlier, they were definitely on the cold side.  I think we are now headed in the right direction.

At 70F, the river is also safe for kayaking. I have actually already been out a couple of times. However, even with two fishing trips on the beach and two more in the kayak, I have yet to bring home any fish. However just being able to take a ride to the Point in our open skiff indicates that summer and better fishing are almost upon us. I cannot wait to catch another drum.

It is a great, almost magic time of year to live on the Crystal Coast. The skies are blue, the water is nice enough for wading, and even our humidity levels are still reasonable.

With cool evenings and days that are just seasonably warm, we do not have to worry about holing up with the air conditioner turned on high. It is a time of year to fully appreciate a life without walls and the irresistible beaches that dot our coasts.

If winter has got you down, let our blue skies and blue waters rescue you.

For more information you can get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will soon be releasing a new inexpensive print version.  We will also provide a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  You can find more information at Life Along The Crystal Coast.  Come visit, you will not regret it, and you might be like us and never leave.

We also publish a monthly email newsletter.  There are still a few days to sign up before the next edition gets emailed.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter