Holiday White Oak River Rides

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December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River

December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River

It is not unusual for me to be out on the river during December, January or even February. However, it is a little different to be headed down river with the boat up on plane on December 27 and to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

On our Christmas boat ride last year on December 26, 2014 my daughter, Erin, and I found the water temperature just under 53F. It does not take anyone long to figure out that the air temperature close to the surface on a big river is pretty close to the water temperature. In December and January we can see some cool water temperatures. On January 4, 2014, the river water was at 43.5F.

What cold water in the river means is that you can have close to 80F air temperatures like we enjoyed on December 27, 2015 but still have a cold ride on the river if the water is down below fifty degrees especially when you add the 20 to 30 MPH wind chill from the moving air of a skiff riding on top of the water.

That was not the case on December 26, 2015. Because my GPS unit is broken I could not tell the exact water temperature in the White Oak like previous years, but I could guess that it was somewhere in the upper sixties. Based on other reliable reports and how comfortable we were riding down the river in shorts and t-shirts, the water had to be close to 70F.

Since the air temperature was very warm at almost 80F around our home just off the river, our December 27 boat ride was even refreshing. That happens to be the whole point of boat rides. You do not get a boat to be miserable riding around in it.

I have written much about the White Oak River, and I get very close to it since I also kayak the river and walk its shores. I find that being close to the river and its marshes lets the peace of nature find me. It is the best way to unwind from the tensions of modern life. Among the many choices here, kayaking is perhaps my favorite way of unwinding. My wife fails to understand how being in a kayak just twelve feet long in the middle of a choppy tidal river close to two miles wide could possibly be relaxing but I guarantee that it is.

December kayaking is even more special and if the weather and water temperature holds, I might even get in some January kayaking which is indeed a rare treat. Our waters can briefly freeze over in January and it takes a long time for them to warm. Once the water gets below fifty Fahrenheit, my only trips out on the river are in our skiff since cold water can be deadly if you flip your kayak. Usually the water warms to kayaking temperatures about the time that the strawberries ripen which is sometime from the end of March until the middle of April. That means that normally there is no kayaking for me in January, February or March. I have to make do with a few warm days, lots of marsh walks, some chilly boat rides down the river, and a few magical winter beach walks.

However, each morning sunny or not, I usually manage to walk our neighborhood boardwalk. It gives me a chance to check out the visitors in our marsh.

This year it has not been cold or stormy enough yet for the big birds to need to visit the sheltered area of Raymond’s Gut where we live. It is a little bit of win-lose situation. If our winter is warm, we have fewer marsh visitors and the bird feeder goes begging. A cold winter means there is a big bird around every corner.

Winter will find us soon enough though it is going to be tough to let go of the Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and spring onions that we are still enjoying as the New Year draws close. You do not often pick a tomato for a sandwich like we did on Christmas Day 2015 even in coastal North Carolina.

Wintering at the coast is a pleasant adventure and there are always some surprises to keep us on our toes. Just maybe the cold weather will help us get another visit by our famous egret, Frank 29X. That would almost make the cold weather worth it.


Update December 29

There was great excitement in the marsh around Raymond’s Gut this morning.  Frank 29X did show up for a visit.  This is now four straight years that Frank 29X has visited us during December.  It is a long flight from the Ontario marshes where he spends the summer. It was not surprising that we saw Frank 29X on a very windy day and that he was chasing fish in a marsh spot that I call  Where The Egrets and Herons Go To Hide.  You can get a good perspective of Frank 29X’s foraging spot by checking out this photo shot from a drone this past Thanksgiving.


Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out hopefully around New Year’s Day.

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Almost A Seasonal Wrap

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The Point Emerald Isle, NC

The Point Emerald Isle, NC

Christmas is looming and winter is planning a quick shot across our bow as we begin the countdown to the new year while some memorable months are still fresh in our minds.

From my perspective in the marsh a few miles up river from Swansboro this has been an interesting year with some wins and some losses. I will get the loss out of the way quickly.

This has not been my fishing year. There has been little time to devote to chasing fish and when I have been out there trying to find them, they have mostly chosen to ignore me. Though we have less than two weeks left, the water has not chilled yet so I will probably try for some trout at least once or twice more. It would have to a really nice trout to rescue the year.

While fishing has not gone my way, gardening has been amazingly successful especially considering the unbelievable amount of rain that has come during the growing season. As of December 18, I have recorded 61.28 inches of rain since June 1. While that might drown many areas, it has not impacted us nearly as much as one might think.

We did lose many of our late August and September tomatoes because of the wet early fall. However, because of the warm weather this fall we are still picking cherry tomatoes even after the middle of December. There is a very good chance that I will pick a very nice, big tomato just as Christmas arrives. Our lettuce this year has been unbelievably good and we have enough Romaine lettuce coming in around the holidays to swamp us. It is reminiscent of our February and March lettuce oversupply last spring. We ate so much lettuce that we were tickled when hot weather got the last of it.

Luckily our area also saw no serious storms this year. We did get some high water during the lunar high tides when South Carolina was being flooded. However, our big river drains worked and certainly there was minimal to no damage in Western Carteret County.

Every area has a slightly different ritual to get ready for winter. The Crystal Coast is lucky because yards quit growing in early October instead of December like the bluegrass and fescue areas west and north of us. Like lots of people we always plant some bulbs in the fall and put down some pine straw. We also do a little paint and deck cleaning while still managing to enjoy our fall garden. The garden goes into the ground between the third week in August and early October. The closest thing to a down season for our planting areas is late February and early March.

Our work and favorable weather resulted in a very successful fall crop of green beans. We are still pulling green onions and picking a few sugar snap peas each day. Even I am amazed to still pick some of our miracle December cherry tomatoes each day. Our Swiss Chard and Rutabagas will be ready in January and February. It is hard to believe but I will be planting some tomato seeds by January 15. Then we are off and running for the next season just as we are finishing up the last season.

While I have not been to the beach since Thanksgiving when my son took the picture that graces this post with his drone, I know neighborhood children who swam in the slightly over 60F ocean water last weekend. Swimming in the ocean in December is not normal even by our standards. However, I have worn my normal summer uniform of shorts, t-shirt, and crocs for almost all of the fall. In that respect this fall has been a real winner.

I have enjoyed the richness of the area from the kayak, skiff, and while hiking the beaches. Aside from a few days visiting our grandchildren, we have been blessed by the Crystal Coast’s treats almost every day. The beach seemed busy this summer but it never to got to  the point of feeling overcrowded.

Beyond taking in the beauty of the outside world, I have a great year baking and have perfected some sourdough bread that I love. My biscuit making success can also be counted on these days. There will be biscuits for breakfast sometime during the holidays.

As the time to enjoy the big water and to be seduced by the river passes, we will go through the seasonal reversal which results in the beach areas being warmer than the mainland areas. It lasts for just a couple of months and by March the mainland is often warmer than the beach areas.

I plan to enjoy the last of the warm water. It takes almost until strawberry time before the water is warm enough for kayaking.  As the weather cools our inlet will turn into a natural paradise and a winter refuge for many of the big coastal birds.  Hopefully we will even get a return visit from Frank 29X.  Frank has come back for three years in a row so we are counting on him not to break his string of visits.

My New Year’s wish is that the fish are in the river like they were in 2014 when I had a great year fishing. Just maybe in 2016 we can stop some of the net madness that is decimating fish stocks.

All things considered,it has been a great year. I hope next year treats us as well with just a few more fish.

Beyond that hope, may the blessing and the peace of the season be upon you and your loved ones.

May the year 2016 also be your chance to enjoy to your heart’s content the warm saltwater and beautiful coastal rivers of the Crystal Coast. To start your thoughts of the coming beach season off right, enjoy this collection of drone shots of our area.

Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out hopefully before the New Year.

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Cue The Great Weather

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Swansboro Harbor

Swansboro Harbor

We are just past the middle of September and already the worst of the heat of summer has disappeared. We have recently enjoyed some of the nicest weather since spring and the beach has been stunning.

However, coastal weather is tricky and even great weather can be a tease. We had a few perfect days early in the week of September 14. We took advantage of the clear skies and headed down to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina where we went for a marsh walk, ate barbecue instead of seafood and visited friends. The urban-high rise world of Myrtle Beach is only about 3.5 hours and a complete mind shift away from the beaches and National Forests of the Crystal Coast. While we skipped all the shopping, we had a good time and there was hardly a cloud in the sky for our drive down and back.

We got back and the next day I managed to go for a blue sky boat ride down to Swansboro. I was barely back at the dock when a bit of humidity came back with some clouds. The less than perfect weather has been here for a couple of days.

It is a transitional pattern that often keeps us on our toes during September. Even thunder clouds can rise up and tower over our inlet. Fortunately there is more great weather on the horizon for this third weekend in September and there is supposed to be a reinforcing shot of cool air early next week.

It is not unusual for the weather to change quickly on the coast. I kayaked for two hours on Thursday, September 17 and there was hardly a hint of blue sky. I came in for dinner and barely had time to sit down at the table before a golden sunset framed with blue skies surprised me.

I took it as a sign that the great weather is getting ready to settle into the area. Once it does, we hope to enjoy another great fall on the Crystal Coast. With high temperatures in the low eighties and low temperatures dipping into the fifties and sixties, you will not hear any coastal residents complaining.

With a very wet and warm summer still fresh in our memories, it is easy to welcome some different weather with open arms. That is especially the case because the water temperatures are still in the eighties and the fish have even started biting. Today was only my third or fourth fishing trip in my kayak this summer. Until today, I was only harassed by a few small croakers. Today I got a couple of gulps chewed in half by what I think were small bluefish. I also hooked a small drum and enjoyed a couple of short runs before it threw the hook.

With a little luck the next fishing trip I will bring home a fish for dinner. The great thing about living here in our little bit of coastal paradise is that the weather in the fall is often so nice that you want to bottle it. There are also times when you feel that getting pinched would wake you from a dream of perfect weather.

It is possible to have wonderful evenings on the beach in October and even after Thanksgiving. It is not out of the question to have shorts weather into December.

Beyond just being on the beach in November, it also possible to still do lots of boating even out by what I like to call the big water. When it gets a little chancy out by the ocean, there is always an opportunity to be seduced by the river and enjoy some time kayaking.

It is truly hard to beat the Crystal Coast in the fall. Even the unheated pools can still be enjoyed for another week or so in September. On top of that you will find lots of beautiful scenery to go along with all the beautiful birds and butterflies that grace the area in the fall.

If you have a chance to visit in the fall, you probably will agree that our area is a coastal paradise.

Our most recent email newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, September 4, and can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out early in October.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our five-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The color paperback version is 180 pages of information, maps, and pictures, Prime eligible, and under $25. The Kindle version has exactly the same information for a lot less money.

The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. Later this fall we plan to revise the guide for the fourth time.  All year long we will provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year for no additional cost.

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August Is Not the End Of Beach Season

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August 25, Third Street Beach, Emerald Isle, NC

August 25, Third Street Beach, Emerald Isle, NC

Labor Day weekend is within sight and already many tourists are gone from our beach area. With children back in school, many families have disappeared from our shores.  While it is nice to have smaller crowds on our beaches and in our stores, it is a little sad to see so few people on the beaches just as the best part of the beach season arrives.

While there are never any guarantees with weather other than it can always surprise you, fall on the North Carolina coast is usually a very special time. While many will argue that fall is a season of the mountains, I have to disagree and believe that Fall Belong To The Southern Coast.

I love the beach anytime of the year but much of the summer the beach can be harsh if you want to avoid the heat and the sun that seems to burn a hole right through the ozone. Our summer trips to the beach tend to be late in the evening or early morning if I am fishing. When fall rolls around, mid-day becomes a real possibility.  Even noon can be a very nice time to be at the beach in the fall.

While fall will still bring lots of warm days and more humidity than most of us like, the real heat and humidity start going away around the middle of September. We’re left with warm salt water and pleasant temperatures which often last into November and sometimes even into December.

We have fewer people, generally better weather, and the warm is still warm. It is hard not to like this time of year and then there is always the icing on the cake, the fish usually start biting in the fall and there are some festivals to keep us entertained.

I really enjoy hiking the beaches in the fall. In the spring the cold waters can take some of the pleasantness away from a beach hike but the warm breezes off the water in the fall are just the opposite.

Then there are the local oysters that come in during the fall. Of course the shrimp have had all summer to grow so they are also at their peak.

With still warm sands, water temperatures in the eighties, fewer people, fish biting, and some local seafood at its peak, it is hard to ask for more.

It is also a great time to go boating, the summer thunderstorms start to die down and the area’s waters are perfect for boating or kayaking.

If you have never been to a beach in the fall, you really owe it to yourself to visit during the season that is universally loved by all of us who live here. It just might give you a different perspective on life at the beach.

Our most recent email newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out before Labor Day.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our extensive five-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.

The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. Later in the fall we revise the guide each year and all year long provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year.

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Kayaking Our Big Tidal River

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glassywhiteoakriverwm

Looking north up the White Oak River

Maybe it is the weather or just the rhythm of life here on the coast but it seems that I often write about kayaking in the middle of July. Last year on July 13, I wrote Saturday Kayaking On The White Oak.

Until I moved to the coast in 2006, all my kayaking had been done on quiet mountain lakes. Kayaking on the White Oak is nothing like those trips that I used to take on Carvins Cove near Roanoke, Virginia. There was little to worry about on the lake except an afternoon thunderstorm.

Kayaking on the White Oak is more complex. The White Oak is a big coastal river that is from one to two miles wide. While the current seems light, it can be amazingly strong when all that water is forced into a narrow channel where that are cuts between the oyster rocks.

Most people have never heard of oyster rocks and you certainly do not want to get acquainted with one at high speed in your boat. While real rocks are not native to Carteret County, we have plenty of oyster shells that compact together to make oyster rocks.

In the White Oak the oyster rocks are long ledges that span much of the center of the lower river. At high tide some are barely covered and others are under water a foot or so. This picture shows a long oyster rock just emerging from the water as the tide drops.

Sometimes just an end of an oyster rock might be sticking up appearing as an island like the one in this picture. There are other times when just a few shells from a massive oyster rock are visible. A close look at this oyster rock should give you a good idea of why I never go kayaking with bare feet.

Oyster rocks which show up as white lines on this map of the river are a big part of kayaking the part of the White Oak where we live. While I respect the rocks, I am pretty much at home on the oyster rocks. The oyster rocks are where the fish are so that is often where I am.

There are other challenges on the river but boat traffic is rarely one of them. The interaction between the current of the river flowing to the sea and the tide which can be enhancing it or going in the other direction makes kayaking on a big coastal river interesting. Then there is the wind. Once in a while you seem to reach equilibrium on the river and you can just enjoy the glassy smooth water and not worry about wind, current, tides, or oyster rocks but that is relatively rare.

Sometimes the wind whips the river up into whitecaps. Since most of the river is shallow this can happen quickly. Because of the oyster rocks and the way they are positioned, there are areas in the river which actually enhance the chop caused by winds and tides. My Old Town Dirigo 120 seems to handle the chop better than my old Wilderness System Pungo 120. It has a higher bow but that also lets the wind push it around a little more.

You have to flexible when you head out on a river like the White Oak. Sometimes when I get out our inlet and into the big river I find conditions that I did not expect. Once in a while I end fishing along the edges in protected areas instead of my favorite area in the middle of the river.

I do go out prepared. I wear my life suspenders, have a small anchor, my cellphone and a flashlight with me. There are areas where it would be hard for a boat to rescue you, but most of those are shallow areas and with shoes you could walk to the edge of deeper water. I used my Pungo 120 for so many years on the oyster rocks that it developed a leak which I have yet to be able to fix. Somehow a couple inches of water in the bottom of the kayak never bothered me but I did take a sponge along because the extra water made the kayak harder to handle.

If you are new to kayaking there are plenty of places in our area to get some instruction and practice before tackling a big river. Lots of folks practice in our quiet inlet and there are some quiet areas in the marshes on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway near Swansboro. This map has some of the area’s public access points for kayaks. Centennial Park and Hammocks Beach actually have kayak launch ramps. There is a small boat ramp at the Cedar Point Croatan Access. You can also launch at the Wildlife Resources boat ramps in Cedar Point and Emerald Isle. Most of the subdivisions along the White Oak have launch points but you need to have a friend living there to provide access.

With a little practice, the right equipment, and the knowledge of what you might find, kayaking in this area is a lot of fun. While the White Oak might not always be as glassy looking as the post picture, it is always scenic. I have only touched on the White Oak because it is in my backyard and is the easiest place for me to kayak.

Our most recent newsletter went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out in August.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our extensive fives-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and during the season there is update information in our newsletter.

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Memorial Day On The River

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White Oak River near Bluewater Cove

White Oak River near Bluewater Cove

Memorial Day 2015 has come and gone. By all reports it was an overwhelming success. The flag was out at our home and it was a great holiday.

By a twist of fate we were in Raleigh on the Friday before Memorial Day so we got to sample 34 miles of stop and go traffic on Interstate 40. It reaffirmed my belief that there are better ways to get to the Crystal Coast. We needed to stop in Beulaville so the better routes that we include in our travel guide did not make sense that day but it was a good reminder of how bad traffic can be on the wrong route.

My other measures of success are the volume of traffic heading over the bridge to Emerald Isle and the number of boats that I saw on the river.

By both those measures there were plenty of people visiting our piece of paradise during this amazing stretch of weather. Our “sunny forecast” looks like a broken record but everyone is enjoying the extended period of nothing but sunshine.

With Memorial Day being the official kick off for summer, there are plenty of choices of what to do all through the summer.  I took advantage of the holiday to catch up on my work around the yard, attend a subdivision cookout, and spend some quality time on the river.  My barrier island beds (because they are shaped like barrier islands) continue to get more and more interesting.  It has been a great season for spring flowers. Our amaryllis clump had over thirty-six blooms this year as it finished out the spring with these last few blooms.

The neighborhood pool while tempting even to the last moment was still a little cool for me and there was too much traffic to Emerald Isle on Saturday and Sunday to attempt a beach walk. Perhaps we could have slipped over late in the afternoon but that was just when the tides were right for kayaking and fishing on the White Oak and fishing comes first in my book.

I had high hopes of catching a drum out on the oyster rocks like I did last year in the same time frame but it was not to be. In two afternoons of fishing I hardly got a nibble but I did get all my gear in top shape and get my paddling muscles limbered up.

As is always the case, the river was stunningly beautiful. It was also fairly easy paddling. My new Old Town Dirigo kayak handles heavy chop better than my old Pungo 120. One thing you learn on a coastal river is that the water fifty yards away can be very different. Depending on the wind and tide, you can find some choppy water almost adjacent to smooth blue water. Sometimes I paddle over to the edge of the river and fish the water by the marsh grasses to get out of the wind and current. Still no matter which way you look, the water is always beautiful.

I usually spend a couple of hours out on the river exploring my favorite oyster rocks. People sometimes have a hard time visualizing an oyster rock but it is simply a pile of oyster shells that have come together like a rock. Oyster rocks are impressive at low tide and dangerous to boats when hidden by a high tide. However they are great spots to fish especially when there is a cut through the rock.

Though at the last moment our neighborhood pool was tempting, I stuck with my plan for fishing.  These days you have to earn your fish so sometimes I fish with the knowledge that I will not catch any today but I will likely start catching them soon. Paddling back happened to be very easy both days and we have a good system for getting my kayak up a little hill and out of the water. We actually pull the kayak in with my SUV. It builds trust with my wife since it would easy for her to do me in by pulling the kayak into our bulkhead.

All the traffic on the bridge and the many boats and jet skis zooming around the Intracoastal Waterway really mean very little when you are out on the river.  It is a different world on the White Oak River.  It is never very crowded.  My time on the river was very peaceful in spite of the crowds only a few miles away. The peace and quiet of the White Oak was just what I needed.  I also got to visit with an oystercatcher which is always a special treat.

Our most recent newsletter went out the first week in April and can be seen at this link. We are running a little on next newsletter, but it should be out by the end of May.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information, please consider purchasing our extensive Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and I always provide instructions on how to get the annual update in our newsletter.

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