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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A November to Remember

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Last Sunday in November Beach Crowd

Last Sunday in November Beach Crowd

There are perhaps a number of reasons to remember this past November. One of the most poignant for me is that this is the first month in the last eleven years that I did not have the time to write a single post for the web.

I did find a few times when I could enjoy the Crystal Coast with my skiff, kayak, and through the camera on my son’s drone. Even with the challenges that have kept me mostly off the water, it has been a wonderful month.

Looking back a year, it is hard to believe how different the weather has been in 2015. Last year I was writing about unusual cold. That November was memorable mostly for how cold it got.

This year it is hard to write about our weather without mentioning the unusually heavy precipitation that has fallen since June 1, 2015. Currently our rainfall total since then stands at 59.40 inches. In just a few hours on the afternoon of November 19, we received 7.1 inches of rain. That downpour of rain is typical of some of the storms we have seen this summer except it was even more intense. Over six inches fell in just three hours. We had a sheet of water four inches deep flowing down our street.

With all the rain, fishing in the White Oak River has not been a way to get fish into the pan. While the water temperature was holding at sixty degree Fahrenheit the last weekend in November, it will likely drop into the fifties by the first weekend of December. That is hard to believe given that our high temperature on December 2 was 77F. However, high temperatures after Wednesday when we saw the 77F are not going to get out the fifties until the weekend. Low temperatures are also going to dip into the upper thirties. The river water will get colder fast. The last hope for fish might be finding some trout. Last weekend I tried the river and found no trout in the usual places but I remain hopeful.

Still it was stunningly beautiful out on the river in my kayak. I was even lucky enough to paddle by a couple of otters swimming in golden water. Fortunately November has been a great month for gardening. We only had one frost and were able to protect our tomatoes and lettuce from any damage. Our buttercrunch lettuce crop has been the best ever and we finished our fall 2015 harvest of green beans on November 23 just before the one frost that found us. We are starting to get a few tomatoes. A December tomato is a rarity even here on the North Carolina coast.

November is special for photographers because the area’s waters have a habit of turning golden during the month. It seems to be a regular occurrence and I enjoy capturing the spectacular scenes like the ones with the otters. Even more fun has been seeing the area through the lens of my son’s drone. Last year he was down for a few days and only experimented a little during that Christmas.

Mostly those shots got me excited for his next trip.  Seeing our area from 100 to 250 above the ground is not something that is easy to do in our land of no hills. Fortunately the drone and pilot were here for a week this Thanksgiving.  It gave us time for a major effort to photograph some of my favorite spots. He got some great shots of the White Oak, Raymond’s Gut, the Point, and even Bogue Sound. He also did a panoramic movie of the Point.

While I did not have as much leisure time as I would have liked this past month, it is hard to complain when there is plenty of great weather and I have enjoyed some of it from the kayak and on the beach. The picture at the top of the post was taken from Bogue Inlet Pier on Sunday, November 29. It looks like I was not the only person enjoying November. There were a number of surfers on the other side of the pier.

It has been another great fall and you can read about our equally nice but wet summer at my SOBX Coastal Paradise site.  Early fall is covered in this post.

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 sometime in early December.

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Great Drying Weather

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Pine trees along Raymond's Gut

Pine trees along Raymond’s Gut

It has been over thirty-two years since I cut a field of hay. Even now when a great stretch of perfect drying weather hits, I have the itch to knock down a field of grass and start making hay. The smell of grass turning into hay is something you never forget.

It turns out the same kind of weather is very effective for drying out our over-saturated ground. After the rain that devastated South Carolina and drenched Eastern North Carolina, some great drying weather is very welcome even if I have no hay to make.

We had a wet summer but the rain came in such intense short bursts that we also had a very nice summer for finding your own beach. Such was not the case with our early October storm. It stole our blue skies and hid the sun from us for a few days.

Our yards were too wet to walk on much less mow. Farmers’ crops were stuck in the fields and everything that could hold water was full of it. High water was everywhere.

Then the weather completely turned around. The skies cleared, the sun came out, and the wind started blowing. The relative humidity dropped and things started drying out. We even had a good dose of Indian summer before we got a shot of Canadian cold air across our bow.

As hard as it is to believe I had to water our green beans and tomatoes on October 20. Yes, fall gardening can very successful here. This year we are expecting to harvest some green beans in early November and with a little luck we might also have some Umberto tomatoes not long after that.

That is life on the Crystal Coast, we can have weeks of great weather then some bad weather and before we know it we are back into the fantastic weather.

Even during the amazing rain event that almost washed away South Carolina, we got a break. Saturday, October 3, was a beautiful day here. I went kayaking in the high water and my neighbor went fishing in his skiff. I kayaked in places that are impossible to reach during most of the year. Someone just a few days earlier had asked me about a lot that is for sale nearby.

It is a large river front lot and I often walk on the marsh edge of it during the winter. I told the people looking at it to make certain that they checked it out during high water. Sure enough that Saturday with all the high water and our flooded inlet, I was two thirds of the way up in the lot in my kayak.

In the end the high water receded, our tides became normal and we got the great fall weather that is often the norm here on the Crystal Coast. Now we have not seen in rain in over two weeks and there is no in forecast for the next week.

The waters have cleared and there was even a flounder blitz at the pier this week. The story is that over 40 keepers were caught in one morning and one weighed in at nearly six pounds.

I cannot claim any success like that, but I did get a two pound flounder not long ago and I expect to soon be out in the kayak chasing drum and flounder. Great weather like this should be bottled and brought out in February when we really need it.

The picture in the linked post looks great but I took an even better one on October 20, 2015. Great weather in the fall is a tradition that seems to be well entrenched on the Crystal Coast.

There is more information about our summer at my SOBX Coastal Paradise site.

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 before the end of October.

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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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A Beach Of Your Own

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Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

We all have times when something clicks and a special moment is created. Sometimes it plants a seed in us that changes the way we think about the world.

I have been blessed to wash my feet in a lot of salt water around the world. While I cannot go back to the exact moment when the sand got stuck permanently between my toes, I suspect it was a moment much like what is shown in this picture of my granddaughter walking on a beach in Emerald Isle.

When poppa lives at the beach and has a home next door to a swimming pool, you get plenty of beach and water time. Even so rarely does a seven year old get that perfect moment on a beach like our granddaughter did the other day.

She has never visited a truly crowded beach, but I also doubt that she has ever experienced an empty one on a perfect warm August evening. However, I will wager that particular August evening on the beach might be etched in her memory. There is something about an empty beach that stretches to the horizon that captures the imagination of even the youngest of us.

What better place to run with abandon and splash through the waves until your heart is content? Our world has far too few places where you can run and play without a care.

I feel fortunate to live in a little piece of paradise where circumstances have prevented the area from getting overdeveloped. Somehow I doubt that you could get that same sense of freedom and closeness to the ocean along a crowded boardwalk with highrise condos as a backdrop. It might be exciting but it would not be the same.

Not everyone loves an open and empty beach, but walking on one always leaves me a little better prepared for tomorrow and gives me hope that just maybe we will not destroy all the special places before the next generation can share them with their children.

Maybe because I grew up on the uncrowded beaches of North Carolina, I am stuck with needing that empty beach to the horizon to be happy. Maybe that is the reason that I have no need of shopping complexes just off the beach, I would much rather have some nice sandbars and a slough full of fish.

If you have never taken your children on a walk down a quiet beach in the dark, make certain you plan for that to happen before they grow up. I still have wonderful memories of walking those dark beaches along Nags Head. I would imagine people behind the soft house lights and even let my mind wander to what might be shadowing us out just beyond the waves. There is definitely magic on a beach at night. The soft summer evening breezes and warm saltwater on your feet create memories that stay with you all your life.

Some of us are so changed that we are drawn to keep coming back over and over to those empty beaches. I think I might have felt shortchanged with life if I had not learned to love real beaches and keep some sand between my toes.  Come visit the Emerald Isle area, it is not hard to fall in love with our beaches.

Our most recent newsletter about our beach area 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 do a revised version each year and provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

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.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter