The Seasonal Reversal

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A Winter View of Bogue Sound from the Emerald Isle Bridge

A Winter View of Bogue Sound from the Emerald Isle Bridge

There are many changes that we see as the seasons slide from one to another here on the coast in eastern North Carolina. The most noticeable going from fall to winter for residents near the the south facing beaches of Bogue Banks is that things get busier on the mainland and quieter over in Emerald Isle and the other beach towns.

While a trip to the grocery store in Emerald Isle the week of July 4, can try the patience of any resident, we often choose to buy our groceries in Emerald Isle during the winter because the grocery store there is about as peaceful as a modern supermarket can get.

The waters of the Intracoastal Waterway shown above also lose their summer traffic and get pretty quiet during the winter with only the odd boat headed south for the winter. You might find a handful of boats plying the marshes and inlets of the mainland in search of trout but not very many fishing in Bogue Inlet.

Even the weather takes part in the reversal. During most of the summer the beach is often cooler than the mainland. In the winter the beach is usually warmer than the mainland. That changes in the spring as the ocean water is slower to warm than the shallow marshes and rivers.

Each year as winter comes, we know that the egrets and herons that often spend much of the summer in the Bogue Sound marshes will seek refuge during the winter in our calmer inlets surrounded by trees which shelter them from the wind.

Area beaches become mostly deserted once the fisherman are gone for the winter season. There are usually a few hardy souls walking the edge of the surf but the number of people on the beach is nothing like it is even in November when the water is still warm. A lot walkers switch to the more sheltered trails at the Croatan National forest access on the mainland in Cedar Point.

In spite of the cooler weather, this is a nice time of year for residents. There is no traffic, no crowds, and there is plenty of room to wander without bumping into anyone. Even the area grocery store parking lots are safer. Most people would guess the absence of people is normal because winter weather is bound to be cold even on the coast.

While our coastal weather can be a riddle and deliver a few chilly nights, cold weather is actually not the rule here on the coast even in winter. Winter can still give us some warm days that lure us over to the beaches. It is not unusual even in January.

With some warm weather and not very many people, the Southern Outer Banks is a good place to escape holiday madness. Christmas of 2013 might be the perfect time considering the forecast which has the beach in the mid sixties and the mainland enjoying the mid seventies the last weekend before the holiday week. That is a much better forecast than the weather we got for Thanksgiving.

It does get very peaceful as the year draws to a close along the beautiful waters that surround our area. While people here do get into the holiday spirit, we are surrounded by so much wildness and natural beauty that it is hard to excited about a trip to the mall. Skipping the mall is made even easier because we actually have only a limited number of mall stores.

That is okay with me, I have spent many years trying to avoid malls. I would much rather be paddling my kayak than walking the sidewalks of a mall.

In the next few weeks I will be sending out our first Crystal Coast Newsletter, if you would enjoy reading a brief post about our area, please sign up below.  Your information will only be used for this monthly newsletter and will never be shared with anyone or used for any other purpose.

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Winter Visitors In The Marsh

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Great Egret fishing in their winter pond

One of our visiting great egrets fishing in their winter pond

We have enjoyed some almost summer days in December of 2013.  The temperatures have managed to be between 70F and 80F more than once.  However, the seasons move relentlessly even here on North Carolina’s stunningly beautiful Southern Outer Banks.  Winter even here, not far from the south facing beaches of Emerald Isle, cannot be put off forever.

On December 10, 2013, we awoke to a low temperature of 64F and watched the temperature rise once again to nearly 70F before noon.  By 2PM a front had passed through the area and a third of an inch of rain fell on the area in just a few minutes.  The skies cleared to a beautiful blue, but the temperature starting falling rapidly.  By 6PM we were down to 44F.

Cooling temperatures and winter winds bring back our marsh friends.   Many have been visiting since early December including our most famous great egret of all, Frank 29x.  While great egrets and great blue herons seem to be happy in the summer to drop by for a quick visit or low tide wading snack, when winter approaches I am never surprised when I get squawked at late at night by one of the egrets or herons who have decided to spend the night near our dock.  It is an unusual winter morning when we have no large shore birds behind our home.

Anyone who has been around the big birds will quickly tell you that great blue herons are not exactly the friendliest of neighbors.  They often see you before you see them and that almost always results in a harsh squawk as they get in the air to escape whatever evil we had planned for them.

Great egrets are much friendlier birds and often will almost ignore you once they have seen you several times. You rarely get a loud noise out of them and they are not nearly as territorial as great blue herons.  However, Frank 29x is little bit of an exception.  He is pretty territorial for a Canadian and has been know to rout great blue herons from his patch.

We can often watch the large marsh birds while we are sitting at our kitchen table.  Sometimes later in the winter our marsh becomes so busy that we need air traffic control.  We have had dozens of cormorants come to visit at one time.  The cormorants are often followed by a handful of pelicans and it is not unusual for a couple of kingfishers to add to the excitement by having a few dogfights over the gut.

If we are lucky we also get a few ducks to add into the mix.  We often have the tiny grebes but sometimes we get lucky and have some beautiful hooded mergansers.

While feathered friends are often the most visible, some of our most entertaining visitors are otters.  Last year a pair of otters graced our inlet for several weeks.  This year we have seen one otter so far.

Of course we have other birds from pileated and red-headed woodpeckers to bluebirds and cardinals with us most of the winter.  During our summer in December the birds have really been enjoying themselves and with their chatter it often sounds more like spring than winter.

We are fortunate that the marsh rarely freezes over.  Even when it does, the ice usually melts before noon.  The one time we had ice that lasted more than a day, I dropped my skiff in the water and turned it into an ice breaker.  After watching a great blue heron try to learn how to skate,  I thought it was the least that I could do.

With luck, the winter of 2013 will not last long, and we can get back to enjoying the water whenever we please instead of waiting for a really nice day.  In the meantime, we will enjoy the company of the big and little birds and hope the otters find their way back here to entertain us.  Life on the edges of the marsh is pretty neat as you can see from all the photos that you can reach from the linked post.

If you would like to read more about life in the marsh, check out my post, Winter On The Marsh,  just published  on the new Ghost blogging platform.

In the next few weeks I will be sending out our first Crystal Coast Newsletter, if you would enjoy reading a brief post about our area, please sign up below.  Your information will only be used for this monthly newsletter and will never be shared with anyone or used for any other purpose.

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Out By The Big Water

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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 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 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.



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Seduced By The River And Fog

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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.


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November Beach Days

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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.

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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 travelled 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.

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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.

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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.


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Coastal Choices

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Marsh Grass In Raymond’s Gut

Sometimes the hardest part of living on the Crystal Coast is deciding how to enjoy it most.  We live in an area of extraordinary scenic beauty.  During the fall when our weather reaches its peak of delightfulness, it is often easy to get overwhelmed with choices.

With the beach just ten to fifteen minutes away and the White Oak River in my backyard, I usually first wrestle with which kind of water I have missed the most during the last few days.  Then I start trying to decide what I want to do on or in the water.

With a somewhat flexible work schedule, I usually can find a few times each week to fish, boat, walk the beaches and kayak. Sometimes I fish while walking the beaches, but if it windy, I might just walk.  Boating is the same way, sometimes I just feel like a ride down the river and other times, I might bring my rod and see if I can find some fish.

Earlier in the last week of September, 2013, I managed to run our skiff down the river late one day almost to Swansboro before deciding to turn around.  It turned out to be cooler and windier on the river than I expected so I headed home with the thought of waiting for a better day for a longer boat ride.  When the heat is here, one of my favorite things to do is go before breakfast to fish from the skiff in the marshes near Swansboro.  It is a little cool during the very early morning in the fall for that.

As the daylight shortens, it is also impossible to get in more than one activity like I do in the summer when I might go for a skiff ride in the morning and take the kayak out in the evening.   I can still manage to burn the candle on both ends on Saturday but it is my least favorite day for boating because there are more boats around then. Kayaking on a Saturday morning and enjoying a long beach walk in the afternoon is very possible.

Of course there are days when other duties call.  On Saturday, September 28, gardening sneaked into the schedule.  While I managed to get our fall broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce planted earlier during the week, the row of English peas that I wanted to plant required a little more time and a trip to the store to get some seeds.   That left me with only Saturday afternoon for play so I planned a hiking-fishing trip to the Point.

It only takes me twelve to fifteen minutes to reach the Station Street parking lot near the Point.  Time seems to stop when I am out standing in the surf or walking along the beach so I do have to be careful to check my phone once in a while to make certain that I am not interrupting our plans for the evening at home.  This last Saturday in September I managed to make it home around 6:30 PM which kept me out of trouble. It was hard to leave the surf.  The waves were full of finger mullet and the air was full of pelicans.  It was a stunning sight to see all the big birds have their fill of fish.

Sunday is a little more difficult to sneak in some recreation other than my standard walks in the morning and the evening. This last weekend it was nearly 2 PM by the time got home from church after the service and lunch with some friends.  My spinning reel needed new line and a little football seemed in order, but I still managed to get out in the kayak sometime around 4 PM.

If time stops on the beach, it goes into another dimension when I am out on the water in kayak.  On a day  when you can just float and fish and not worry much about the currents or wind time has little meaning.  Sunday, September 29, was just such a day.  The wind was light, the water was blue and there was a rising tide.  The conditions were perfect for stalking fish along the many oyster bars in the White Oak River.

By the time that I thought to check my watch, an hour and forty five minutes had slipped away.  I made the wise to decision to call my wife and tell her that I was working my way home.  It only took me thirty minutes to do the fifteen minute journey.  I had to cast in a few favorite holes, but it was so beautiful that taking pictures occupied a bit of my time also. There was an especially photogenic great blue heron in one of the pine trees.  My fishing efforts only got me visits from a small bluefish and a short flounder, but it was close to magic out on the river. Fish are always optional.

While I could have gone out in the skiff and taken another beach walk, the kayak was my choice for Sunday afternoon.  It has the advantage of silence.  All I do is slide it into Raymond’s Gut behind our house and start dipping my paddle into the water.  Sometimes I just let the current take me where it will.

Often like my recent trip I managed to get some great pictures. Sometimes it is a great egret, an osprey, or a  special great blue heron like this trip. Once in a while I will catch dinner and that makes it even more special.  Check out these pictures for a sample of my activities. The first album is mostly kayaking pictures, but here are some pictures from a recent hike on the Point and a White Oak River boat ride from late summer.

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Waiting For Cooler Waters

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Sunset at The Point

Sunset at The Point

It is that time of year.  We are straddling the summer beach season and the beginning of the fishing season.  Warm waters keep everyone but the inshore fishermen happy during the summer.  Those of us hooked on fishing patiently await the arrival of fall’s cooler temperatures.

During August we sometimes get tastes of what might be.  We catch drum and some flounder, but mostly we bid our time until the water cools and the fish come closer to shore and swim up the rivers.   There is nothing wrong with warmth, we just get a little too much of it at times during August and part of September.

Being in North Carolina in mid-September is not like being in Maine or New Brunswick, Canada, where you know frost is just around the corner and you could see snow within four to six weeks.   Here on the Southern Outer Banks sometimes we have very nice weather well into December.  We actually count on plenty more days with temperatures in the lower eighties.  The average high temperature for the area does not drop below eighty degrees until September 24.

As our temperatures are dropping, the air around us is also changing.  The humidity that can sometime wrap us like a warm, wet blanket in summer is slipping away and being replaced with much more comfortable levels of moisture.  Fall is absolutely a great time to visit our beaches.  Most of us residents would argue that it is the best time to visit.  The water can stay warm well into November and our crowds for the most part are long gone.

As the ocean water cools, we will get more and more of a variety of fish along our beaches.  With the fish will come surf fishermen and their trucks.  I am not a big fan of trucks on the beach, but I tolerate it.  Like everything else in life, there are some very courteous drivers on the beach and there are a few that I could do without.

September 14, 2013 is the last vehicle free day on the beach for several months, so I hope to make it over to The Point for a hike and perhaps an opportunity to wet my line.  I doubt the water has cooled any recently since temperatures approached ninety degrees last week.  There is one advantage to warm water, there is no shock getting wet or standing in it while fishing.  There are lots of times that just standing in warm salt water and watching the waves is pretty close to heaven.  If you happen to catch a fish, that just makes the moment that much better.

When Saturday rolls around, things will change drastically. We are going to take a break from the almost hot temperatures.  Our high temperature next week, the third week of September, will probably not quite make it  to 80F.   That brings about a situation which is ideal for those of us who enjoy kayaks.  While the air might be cool early in the mornings the next several days,  the kayak puts us close enough to the surface of the water, that it is easy to be comfortable out on the water even early in the morning or in the evening.  You can actually feel the heat radiating from the water.

This time of year has some other things that make me love it. The sunsets are usually spectacular and we can generally count on fairly light winds.   As a photographer and fisherman, it is easy to be happy in the fall.  The blues in the sky are bluer.  The air is clearer and more fish are available in the area.

It is one of those situations where it is hard to complain.  With great fall weather, an abundance of water nearby, and a fish invasion on the horizon, there is very little not to like.



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