At Home On The Oyster Rocks

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One of my favorite fishing spots

One of my favorite fishing spots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Posted in birds, Boating, Crystal Coast, fishing, Kayaking, Out of doors, Southern Outer Banks | 1 Comment

Standing In The Surf

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Standing in the surf, Emerald Isle, NC

Standing in the surf, Emerald Isle, NC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

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Late Spring Crystal Coast Magic

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Spring waters of the White Oak River

Spring waters of the White Oak River

We are finally beyond the reluctant part of spring 2014.  Now we are enjoying those precious days here on the Crystal Coast when we can live with the windows open.

The spring windows-open season does not last as long as the one in the fall, but it seems to mean more.  Our winter weary souls survived a full frontal assault from the pine pollen just as winter’s cold winds tried to sucker punch us one last time.  Now we have warm days and cool nights. We owe the great weather to the surrounding waters which moderate our climate.  Our weather is often a riddle, but it can be kind to us in late spring as the waters warm slowly compared to the land.

We are to the point that we have gotten through to what many areas call the beginning of summer. Our local strawberries are ripe, the grass has been mowed, and the jumping mullet are airborne  and a few of the more desirable fish are even starting to bite. Air temperatures have reached the eighties a few days, but we cool off quickly at night. We had not heard a heat pump for several days until recently.  It has been a welcome break in noise that can disturb the peace in our quiet countryside.  In a warning shot of things to come, on April 28 our air conditioning came on late in the day for an hour or so. We can hope it was an isolated incident, but we know that warmer, more humid weather is on the horizon and likely will be here before we are ready for it.

The real magic of this time of year is that you can do almost anything that comes to mind. The only thing tempering my actions is the knowledge that the water will be much warmer very soon.  If you want to actually put your body in the water, it better to wait a few more weeks for the perfect dipping water.

If you live on the water like we do, you can get a little picky about going out even in a boat. Memories of perfect days keep you searching for the next perfect moment even when you are anxious to get on the water.

As April 2014 ends we are still seeing persistent winds so some of my favorite fishing holes would not be nearly as much fun now as they will be when the spring winds are more sporadic. I am figuring if the current weather trend holds that I should be fishing in the marshes to the south of Swansboro by end of the first week of May. I hope the bluefish will be there when I stop by for some drift fishing.

That is actually soon enough for me. I went fishing last week in my kayak on the White Oak River for the second time this month and still did not get a touch so I can be patient. The sound, the ocean, and the river are calling and sometimes it is an irresistible pull. There are days when the beauty of the water can sweep you off your feet. Then there is no choice. If the call is too strong,  you just have to find a way to fish either on foot by kayak or skiff. My surf rod is always ready for just such a contingency.

This is also a good time of year to visit those places which can get a little crowded during the peak season. Even with the very pleasant weather, few tourists are here. For that very reason we headed off to Beaufort, NC on Sunday afternoon, April 27, 2014. The charm of Beaufort is probably the reason that I am living on the Carolina coast. It is certainly one of my favorite places to visit.

We managed to enjoy a great Sunday lunch at Beaufort Grocery Company. We walked the docks, bought some fudge, spent $2 on ice cream for the both of us and stopped by Morehead City for a peak at the Nina replica sailing ship. It was a quick afternoon trip and it was only one of many options for folks along the Crystal Coast.

We could have taken the boat out to fish a sheltered spot or headed over to the beach for a long hike around the Point. I had a great walk with my granddaughter in the Emerald Woods park recently. It is a lovely park for a short walk down to the sound.

Spring has brought so much to do that I have yet to make it over to the Croatan Trails this spring but that is a function of living in a neighborhood where I get to walk two to five miles a day along our own marshes.

It is a pretty special spot. Just in the last two weeks, we have been visited numerous times by our neighboring ospreys and great egrets. We had a bald eagle land about thirty feet from our dock and I saw a red shouldered hawk. Today the two Canada geese that always visit in the spring showed up with their spring brood. Our green heron has also been in the neighborhood and our local turtle has been sunning himself for about a week.

It is spring on the Crystal Coast and the magic of our area is all around us. Azaleas are in full bloom and some of the old ones look like small barns. The spring wheat is looking good and my everything in my garden especially the tomatoes are growing well. It will not be long before being on the water happens almost every day. I already have my next hike on the Point planned. I will be carrying my surf rod and gear.

For more information you can get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  You can find more information at Life Along The Crystal Coast.

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

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

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Rescued By The Blue Skies & Waters

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Raymond's Gut on a perfect spring morning

Raymond’s Gut on a perfect spring morning

Spring does not usually come grudgingly to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. Life and the weather here in Carteret County are usually tempered by the waters of Bogue Sound and the White Oak River.  While cool days are not unusual, we often get a nice taste of summer in March and some memorable April weeks.

Spring of 2014 has been a little less enticing from the chilly start to Easter weekend when we had our own private storm with three inches of rain, gusty winds, and temperatures hugging 50F for over two days.  Our only warm weather through the third week of April has been sporadic and short-lived.

As the third week in April started, I was beginning to think that we might head straight from our chilly early spring to summer. Fortunately Tuesday, April 22, turned out to be a stunning day as you can see from the blog picture.  The days that have followed have reminded me just how wonderful spring can be on the coast.

When I walked out on the dock on Tuesday morning, I was so struck by the beauty of the water and skies that it was hard to leave and head back to our house. It was such a treat after a spring that left me wondering when we were going to turn the corner.

Certainly Monday,  April 21, the day before, was a nice enough day especially considering most of our other not so nice spring weather this year. Monday’s wind and weather were manageable enough to get me in our open skiff for a ride down to Swansboro harbor. It is a short ride of little over three miles, but it is not one that is enjoyable if the wind is over 15 MPH and the temperature is below 70F.  While I did have to ride the tops of the waves for it to be a comfortable ride, it was nice be in the boat in t-shirt and shorts instead of bundled up with gloves.

Monday was just nice enough for a boat ride, but there is a big difference between a nice day and one that is so nice that it stops you in your tracks or makes you completely lose track of time out on the water.   With some eighties in the forecast for the mainland this weekend, we might just have one of those magical Crystal Coast kind of days.

Unfortunately like my day job kept me from taking our stunning Tuesday off, renewing my real estate license is going to keep me in the classroom on Saturday.  I don’t list or sell properties, but I do enjoy helping people find the right agent.  In spite of having to work on Tuesday, I took enough time out of the day to manage four walks including one over on the beach. (One walk before breakfast, one during lunch hour, one after work, and a final one just as dusk was arriving).

The walk on the beach reinforced my thoughts that the beach weather has a ways to go before it is nice enough to jump in the water, but it was fine for a long stroll along the surf. Certainly there were no crowds like we have found in the island grocery store this Easter weekend.

It is good to have arrived at the point in the year when spring has sprung.  Now we just have to wait out our normal spring windy weather pattern that makes fishing, boating, and kayaking a little challenging for a while. Of course there is no way to control when the winds will die down to manageable levels so we just wait.  It is some of the hardest waiting of the year.

A quick ride down the river on the top of the waves or a hike along one of the beaches helps pass the time until the real water season is upon us.  It is, however, a poor substitute.  Even if you left the dock when I snapped the picture in the post, you probably would have only enjoyed a couple of hours of fishing before the wind picked up and started pounding the hull of your boat. By the same token even if the sun was warm enough to make the beach marginally comfortable for a couple of hours before and after lunch this week, it certainly was not our typical summer sun that will cook you just enough to convince you to throw your warm body into the cool surf.

However, progress is progress.  Thankfully we are to the point that we can almost feel the great weather of past springs.  So far our victories are limited.  The local strawberries are here, but the water that is begging to be waded is about a month late. We just need to have a week or so of that great coastal spring weather to keep us going until summer really arrives. On the mainland we have one day of 80s in the forecast, but it will take more than that for the beach to really warm up.

For more information you can get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  You can find more information at Life Along The Crystal Coast.

We also publish a monthly newsletter.  There is still a week to sign up before the April edition gets emailed.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Newsletter

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The Call Of The River

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White Oak River, headed towards Raymond's Gut

White Oak River, headed towards Raymond’s Gut

We are approaching the middle of April and we are finally putting some distance between ourselves and the cold weather that hung around since early March 2014.

Now as we move into April my tomato plants are thriving near Raymond’s Gut which runs behind our home. With blooms on a couple of the tomato plants and the yard starting to look like I might have to mow it, my thoughts are turning to getting out on the water with my kayak.

On April 5, 2014, I took our skiff out in the river for its weekly run. The picture at the top of the post was taken as I headed back into Raymond’s Gut from the White Oak River. On my short trip I found that the water temperature in the White Oak River had risen to 69F. That compares to the 55.5F which I saw on my March 11 trip. The 69F is even more impressive considering that we had a temperature plunge not long after that as March gave us one last taste of cold weather.

While our area’s waters can look very enticing in spring, a good deal of caution is warranted at least in a kayak until we reach the magic water temperature of 70F.

That why I was very excited to find a water temperature of 74F inside Raymond’s Gut. That means if the wind will behave, it is time for the first kayak trip of the year. If the winds are  little much out on the main part of the river, I can stay in the small bay just outside of Raymond Gut or if it is really not nice on the river, I can fish the marsh grasses inside Raymond’s Gut.

I prefer to fish the oyster rocks out in the White Oak but I am a realist when it comes to wind and weather on the river. In the early spring, you sometimes have to be flexible or you stay at the dock.  It is not unusual for me to be seduced by the river but it is more likely to happen in the fall when the river still has some of summer’s warmth instead of a good dose of winter’s chill. This time of year, the important thing is to get that first taste of being close to the water in your kayak.

I will be surprised if I catch a fish this time of year since April usually is a slow fishing month and May is always a much better time for me.  Even that knowledge does not stop me from wanting to be out on the water. I readily admit that if you embrace living here, you have already decided that life is all about the water.

Now that the river is almost at 70F, the kayaks will not be the only craft venturing out. Usually as the waters start to warm,  we manage a trip in our skiff out to the big water by Bogue Inlet. The good thing about living by the river is that you can be on it and back home quickly if things turn nasty.

Most of the time the White Oak River is fairly deserted. The zig and zag of the channel that you need to follow to avoid the oyster rocks often limits traffic on the river. The lack of traffic on the river just makes it easier to embrace as a personal playground.

The White Oak has a lot of moods, but if you can find the time to catch a day when the surface is glassy smooth, it is hard to beat. I am hoping the winds are quiet enough that I might be able to slip the kayak in the water tomorrow.

For more information you can get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.

We also publish a monthly newsletter.  There are still a couple of weeks to sign up before the April edition gets emailed.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Newsletter

Posted in Boating, Crystal Coast, fishing, Kayaking | Comments Off

An Irresistible Beach

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Near the Point at Emerald Isle, NC

Near the Point at Emerald Isle, NC

Perhaps I just could not wait any longer. Maybe my beach senses operate on the number of hours of sunlight. It could be a combination of blue skies, little wind, and warm temperatures.

Whatever the reason, I made my way over to the Point on March 27, 2014. The Point is a special place but few people take the time to thoroughly explore its most distant sands.  It is typical in the modern world for people to hit the convenient areas and miss the places which require a few miles walking.

The Point never stops changing and is always just one storm from returning to its wild state. It is a great place to explore what even to locals is a somewhat mysterious place. A lot of people walk the areas of the point between the access ramps but only a relative few go beyond the yellow house.

Even in the summer time I can escape our limited crowds by hiking just a couple of miles farther along the beach. While I often find peace on the water in my kayak, the Point is also one of those unique spots where nature makes it possible to be alone with myself.

By the end of March, it is not unusual to find that the waters of Bogue Inlet which flow along the Point are begging to be waded. That was not the case on my recent trip. Our area waters are still very cold after a winter that has refused to let go and a spring that started with lingering cold. Still I was anxious to get out and see the changes on the Point.

I always make the trip with idea that the sands there are always changing and that I will find some feature that has disappeared or been added.  In the fall of 2007, the sands at the Point were gone as you can see from this picture. Today there is well over a quarter of a mile of sand from the vehicle access ramp west to the edge of the sand by the inlet and the water closest to Bear Island.

My first 2014 hike was a leisurely hour and one half walk of a little over three miles. It took me from the parking lot at Coast Guard Road and Station Street to the eastern most access on Wyndtree Drive and then west and north to where the beach gets very narrow by Coast Guard/Bird Island.  Then I took the shortcut back across the now dry part of Coast Guard Channel.  I made my exit from the beach at the vehicle ramp. You can follow my hike with this map. If you switch the map to satellite view, it is pretty obvious that even Google cannot keep up with the changes at the Point.  When I have more time, I usually walk all the way back up the beach.  It adds almost another two miles to the hike and brings the total walk close to five miles.

The weather on this first trip of the year was much better than I expected. If I had gone a day or two earlier, I would have been sand blasted so I pleased with the lack of wind. By the time I reached the most western point of sand , I had to shed my jacket. When I turned and headed north, I seemed to lose any hint of a breeze. I was actually happy to pick it up again as I headed back across the Point to the vehicle ramp.  There was a great view of Bear Island today as I turned the corner and headed north where I shed my jacket.  When I looked closely at my pictures in the evening, I could see the roof of one of the pavilions on Bear Island.

Perhaps the only place by the water in our area where you might get an even more complete detachment from the world is over at Hammocks Beach on Bear Island.  It is another one of my spots where I find some space that lets me unwind from the challenges of the world.

I have been coming to the Point since the summer of 1969 when the only way to get there was a four wheel drive ride down the beach. A lot has changed like roads being added hundreds of houses being built in Emerald Isle since then but the Point is still a magical place that has the power to draw me when the wind and temperature are right.

There were some wonderful evenings that I waded the warm fall waters at the Point in the fall of 2013. Most years we have a few really great days that let me visit even in January. That was not the case in 2014 and might be the reason that I was so anxious to have my first real visit of the season.

You can have a look at the pictures I took on my hike in this album and see how things have changed since I wrote this post, The End of the Sand, nearly a year ago on April 8, 2013.  That beautiful body of the water featured in that post picture no longer exists. If you want to see the pictures on a map, this Picasa web albums link should do the trick though you have to watch closely for the “Go back to Picasa web albums” message or you will end up in the Google+ album with no map.

You can read more posts about why we live on the Crystal Coast at this selection of older posts.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area including some really great pictures of things at the Point which have disappeared, check out our recently published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

A little over a month ago we sent out our first newsletter of the season.  We will be sending  the next edition about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast around the end of the March. Our first festival of the season, Emerald Isle’s Saint Patrick’s Festival, managed to have great weather and kick the season off with impressive crowds.

Some perfect steamed oysters have helped me get into the mood for beach season.  I have already had my boat serviced for the year and my kayak is patiently waiting on the bulkhead just a few feet from the water so I am ready for the warm weather and some serious time on the water now that I have had my first beach hike of the season under my belt.

You can also get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Newsletter

Posted in Beach, Crystal Coast, Out of doors, Special Places, water, Weather | Comments Off

Some dream in color, I dream in saltwater

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A wave near the Point at Emerald Isle

A wave near the Point at Emerald Isle

There is no doubt that the Crystal Coast is one of the most beautiful parts of the North Carolina coast. Considering that much of the area is protected from development by the Croatan National Forest and the Cape Lookout National Seashore, we have much to be thankful for when we head out on our pristine waters.

Many residents in the area live for the water. We actually have so many types of water and so much water that water is something of a puzzle to newcomers. Usually everyone finds some water to love in our county which actually has nearly 60% more water than land.

Even with all the water to protect us from the worst cold, we have faced some winter challenges like much of the east coast this winter. Spring has been reluctant to provide our accustomed warmth.

Sometimes as March draws to a close we have waters that are begging to be waded. We will have to see a huge spike in temperatures for that to happen in the spring of 2014 so I am not holding my breath.

Certainly many of us who live here on the coast have one great advantage over our inland cousins. Our dreams are often focused on those magic moments on the beaches or waters of the area. Moments on the beach like what I enjoyed last fall often make me think about summer in October and easily drift into my dreams. Those dreams are a great way to forget this winter that has us seemingly waiting forever for spring.

Even in a tough spring, we know that we have a lot to look forward to as the weather inevitably warms up. First will come the time for early gardening. I already have some peas, kale, and lettuce in the ground. My first radish of the year was harvested before the ides of March.

By the middle of April even in a cold spring, it will be time for local strawberries. Not long after that we will be out on the water. I boat all year, but it is not until the water warms that I focus on boating. If it is a windy year, it is possible my first kayaking will precede my first serious trip in our skiff. Spring waters can be enticing but dangerous so I usually wait until they warm up before I spent a lot of time out on the water.

Many springs when the water is still too cold for boating, I spend my time hiking the beaches and looking for that first day when it is warm enough to stick my feet in the water.

I never mind delaying my time actually out on the water since we have a very long boating season in the fall. It is not unusual for us to be out in the ocean or the big water even as late as the end of November.

November is also a great kayaking month. We sometimes kayak well into December but eventually we give over our waters to our winter visitors.

With all the choices of  how to enjoy the water, it is no wonder that I dream in saltwater. It is just one of those things that happens to those us who live where it is best to leave only footprints and take only pictures.

You can read more posts about why we live on the Crystal Coast at this selection of older posts.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area during warmer times, check out our just published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

We recently sent out our first newsletter of the season.  We will be sending  the next edition about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast just before the end of the month after we have enjoyed the first outside festival of the season, Emerald Isle’s Saint Patrick’s Festival. I have already had a great dose of some perfect steamed oysters to start the season.

You can also get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Newsletter

Posted in Beach, Boating, Crystal Coast, fishing, Kayaking, Out of doors, Southern Outer Banks, water, Weather | 1 Comment

The Enticing Waters of Spring

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Spring View of Bogue Sound

Spring View of Bogue Sound

After what seems like an interminable winter and lots of waiting, it appears spring is beginning to work its magic on the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. It has been an unusual winter in an area that often scoffs at the ice, snow and cold.

The warmer temperatures and beautiful spring blue skies are welcome. Many of us who live here chose this area because blue skies and warm temperatures can be counted on most years.

It is not that we don’t get a little cold or nasty weather and some snow every three to five years, we just are not accustomed to weather like we have endured in January and February of 2014. After the third siege of nasty weather, most of our birds and fish disappeared.

As the weather has improved with the strengthening sun, the killifish, a favorite forage food of the great egrets has come back and in the first ten days of March I have even seen some mullet in our inlet which is called Raymond’s Gut.

When the food for the egrets and herons shows up, the big birds are not far behind. Most winters they stay all winter with us especially when it is stormy and cold out on the big marshes of Bogue Sound. Raymond’s Gut has enough pine forest in and around it that most days, a smart bird can find a spot that is sheltered from the wind. Great blue herons are especially tough birds and sometimes they just do not seem to care and will find a perch in a strong wind. Since we have our bait back, we have enjoyed recent visits by a great blue heron and a great egret as the first week in March draws to a close.

There are other signs of spring like daffodils in bloom and water that looks so blue and enticing that it is almost magical. The picture of the water in Bogue Sound at the top of the post is similar in its allure. We have a lot of beautiful water down here in the spring. Often we will have fog or mists hanging over the sounds and forests early in the morning this time of year.

As you can see from the post picture of Bogue Sound taken from the Emerald Isle Bridge, there is also not much traffic in the Intracoastal Waterway in early March. What more could you ask for? The air temperature has warmed and sometimes is well into the seventies.  The blue sky and blue waters look hard to beat, but it is deceiving. Bogue Sound had a water temperature of 49F on the morning of March 9 when I snapped that picture.  This time of year the fog usually is a good sign that the water is much cooler than the air.

Very cool water is a hazard for those of use who are desperate to get back in our skiffs and kayaks. Water that is below 50F is actually very dangerous if you fall into it. Reading some cold water facts can be very sobering. 60% of people drown in water that is 50F or less. Even scarier 66% of people drown less than 50 feet from shore. So while the water looks beautiful and the air feels warm, do not forget that the water is actually cold and dangerous for a few weeks in the spring.

Our early spring waters are very different than what we find around here in late spring or summer. Most of us with skiffs or kayaks hop in and out of the water all the time and think nothing of it. Sometimes well before late June or early July the water can be in the upper seventies or low eighties and the air temperature approaches or even exceeds ninety.  When it is like that,  a dip in the cool water is refreshing. When the water is 50F or lower, the water is not your friend.  50F water will put you in shock, not refresh you.

Many people think that because the air temperature is warm near their home that it will be warm out on the water. One of the things you learn quickly is that humans experience something pretty close to the water temperature when they are out on the water. That cool spring air that is close to the water has nothing to moderate it like some warm ground can do to the air near your home.

One of the quickest ways to prove this to yourself is go for a walk over on the beach in the spring time. I am always ever hopeful that I can wear shorts while hiking on the beach. I stay in them as long as I can in the fall and get in them as quickly as possible in the spring.  However, it usually only takes one early spring trip over in shorts to remind me that it almost has to be hot in the spring for it to be comfortable in shorts on our beaches in spring.  Actually you do not even have to go to the beach, walk near the marshes on an early spring day and you can feel the coolness of the water when you are close to it.  It will be warm in the woods and much cooler by the water.

As the air temperatures warm inland, the cooler waters help greatly to moderate our temperatures as we head into early summer, but there are few weeks during early spring when you can be quite comfortable in shorts on the mainland and freeze in shorts over on the beach or on the water. It is the opposite of the seasonal reversal that we see in the fall when the beaches are warmer than the mainland.

Usually it sometime in April before I venture out in spring waters in my kayak but the date of that trip requires almost as much speculation as when we will see our first strawberries.   We are used the weather being fickle on the coast.  As the water warms and the winds subside,  it is only a matter of time before we get out on the water.  Not long after that we will look forward to beach walk weather when those of us who switch to shorts by April will be consistently rewarded with great beach walking weather.

You can read more posts about why we live on the Crystal Coast at this selection of older posts.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area during warmer times, check out our just published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

We recently sent out our first newsletter of the season.  We will be sending  the next edition about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast just after the middle of the months after we have enjoyed the first outside festival of the season, Emerald Isle’s Saint Patrick’s Festival.

You can also get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Newsletter

Posted in Beach, Crystal Coast, Kayaking, Out of doors, Southern Outer Banks, water, Weather | Comments Off

Sunset in Raymond’s Gut

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Sunset, Raymond's Gut

Sunset, Raymond’s Gut, February 25, 2014

February is winding down and I am just one of many waiting for spring. All those of us around the marsh keep hoping for some additional warmth to make us feel like spring is on the way. It is not that unusual for us to have strawberries around the middle of April. With that being the case, a lot of growing has to be accomplished in a short period of time and that requires some consistent heat.

This has been a colder winter than normal and some of our outside plants have been damaged. More than just plants have been impacted. Most years the small fish in our watery world are around all the year. That often means that we have regular winter visitors like our great egret buddy, Frank 29X. This year after our third serious cold spell, the fish seemed to disappear. With no fish even the cormorants deserted us.

The week right after Valentine’s Day was closer to our normal temperature and we even managed to touch 70F a couple of times. With those warmer air temperatures,  the temperature of the water in the marsh started its upward climb. I was pleased to see a Kingfisher back that same week and also to see in the marsh grass a handful of the tiny fish that the egrets love to chase. It is a good sign that spring is on the way, but we will have some additional cold bumps to endure.

As far as humanly possible, we have scheduled spring to take place normally. Both the Emerald Isle Saint Patrick’s Day Festival and the Swansboro Oyster Roast are on track for the middle of March. It helps if the outside weather is in the nice range for the beginning of the outside festival season but the festivals generally survive any weather challenges.  I remember patio heaters at the Emerald Isle festival one year.

Still each day as winter slowly exits can be exciting. Coastal weather changes can cover a lot of weather ground in a day. The morning of February 25 we started the day in the upper thirties with blue skies. Well before noon, the temperature was approaching sixty degrees Fahrenheit.  I took my small forest of tomato plants out to enjoy the sunshine and the all around nice day which had a high temperature of 64F.

It is a good thing that the tomato plants were just outside my office because well before the afternoon was over some clouds started coming in, the wind shifted and the temperature started dropping. February 26 our high is supposed to be in the upper forties.

You learn to roll with the weather punches here on the coast and to structure your day to work around them whenever possible. This time of year we search for any trace of warmth even if all we can find are a few final rays of sunshine as the sun goes down. The situation flips by the time we get to August. We often have no choice but to work into the warm even hot hours of the day to get our chores done. When you do that, it is imperative to figure out how to cool off as quickly as possible or the heat can take you out of commission. Often the answer to the heat is as simple as driving over to the beach and jumping in the water.

Each season even winter brings its own treats. Though we haven’t had as many as normal, usually we can count on February for clear blue skies and spectacular winter sunsets. By March the ground is warm enough for planting. By April if the wind behaves itself, we are venturing out again on the water. By May most of us are making regular trips to the beaches and even sticking parts of our bodies into the water. June brings the start of the beach season and usually a little better fishing. Then we are into summer and spending as much time near the surf as possible.  Not long after we get used to summer, fall overtakes our beaches. Fall always seems to last longer than the other seasons. That is okay with most of us. Fall is the best season here on the coast. The waters are still warm, the air has less humidity, and the air temperatures are very comfortable. Also we mostly have the beaches to ourselves except for ever hopeful surf fishermen.

Then comes winter which some years is hardly noticed. This year was an exception with its colder than normal temperatures. Still our “winter” is nothing to complain about especially if you have lived through a few northern winters.

One of the other things that I like about February is our days are getting longer so it is easier to enjoy the out of doors after work.  That extra light makes a huge difference.

We will have plenty of nice sunsets even after February disappears so I will not miss them or the cooler waters as the month departs. I am anxious to be back on the water whether by boat or kayak. Life really is all about the water down here. Figuring out the water puzzle is part of the reason most of live here on the coast. We are an area where land and water can stretch your imagination. It is not unusual to hear people say that they live for the water.

I am always ready for the water as soon as it gets warm, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy as many of those beautiful February sunsets as I can. There is some warmth in them even if they just warm my mind up a little for the better months ahead.

You can read more posts about why we live on the Crystal Coast at this selection of older posts.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area during warmer times, check out our just published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

We recently sent out our first newsletter of the season.  If you sign up soon, I will be able to send out copies of the first newsletter to new subscribers before we send  the next edition about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast.

You can also get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Newsletter

Posted in Beach, birds, Boating, Crystal Coast, General Information, Kayaking | Comments Off

Thinking of the Point

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Near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Near the Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Like most coastal people and everyone on the east coast north of Florida, I am ready for winter to end.  I would much rather be walking on the sands of the Point than sitting inside writing about the nasty weather.  My college friend, Scott, who lives in Chicago seems to be happy with the prospect of February closing out with temperatures in the forties with the chance of maybe fifty Fahrenheit on one day.

I can tell you that is not only an unacceptable end to winter, that is actually what we have been enduring and are trying to escape. While it might be unbecoming to complain about temperatures in the forties when our Canadian friends have just endured yet another snowstorm, it is certainly not the winter weather that we have become accustomed to in our several winters here on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast.

This winter I have not even dared to dream of any magic days on the beach much less letting my mind wander to summer days on the water.

We have had a winter on the marsh unlike any that we have faced. In most of the winters that we have been here, we have been able to enjoy lettuce and some other cold weather crops during January. That has been impossible even as we slide into February this year. While we have a good week on tap the week after Valentine’s Day, one of the European forecast models has us dropping back to well below freezing on February 26 so this is going to a rocky road to spring.

I know that we are officially still in winter and I have written that spring weather can be highly variable here along the coast. The problem is that we have grown used to having long breaks between these spells of winter weather and there have really been no breaks here on the coast this year.  I thought as we were thawing out at the end of January there might be some hope.  Unfortunately we got a mix of sleet and ice coating everything including our palms in the days just before our Valentine’s Day thaw.  We were lucky that was all we got since places in South Carolina had far more serious ice, the North Carolina Piedmont had its biggest snowstorm in decades, and our friends in the Virginia Mountains got a historic snowstorm.

A quick burst of warm air late in the evening on Valentine’s Day took us into the fifties and quickly melted all the ice.  Once again I thought we might be headed into warmth, but it was short-lived.  If you look at our average temperatures for February, we should be seeing an average high during this time of year near 59F with our lows around 38F.  We are nowhere close to that in 2014.  There were only two days above 60F in early February and in the next eleven days after that only two days did the temperatures above 50F. That is at the very cold end of  winter weather for us and unlike our normal middle of February weather.  Next week’s sixties and potential seventy degree day will really be some welcome relief.

What normally happens in much of North Carolina is that by the middle of February, the sun starts to seriously warm the ground and people start planting early crops. The water around us takes longer to warm but this year widespread snow cover extending just about everywhere north and west of us is slowing the middle February warmth we have come to count on over the years. We usually warm slowly here along the coast once we get to March but we are having trouble getting into our comfort zone.  Normally once we get pass the cold of January and a brush with cold in February the weather can be very nice if we just give it time.  This year February has been a very cold month for us.

I guess the real problem is that we expect February to have cold weather but to give us enough warmth that we can easily make it to March when we really start to feel better about our prospects for leaving cold behind for another year. February on the North Carolina coast is not normally the cruelest month of the year like it is in much of Canada.

All you have to do is read this post called Spring is here that I wrote on February 28, 2011, to understand what I mean. Or you can look at this post written in early March 2012 which starts out with the statement, “It is hard to say anything but “What winter?” when someone asks about our winter this year.” Even worse is the post called January Warmth to Remember that I wrote in January 2013.

Right now there is no way that I could write an article that even hints that we might have enjoyed some warm weather this winter. We have seen a few warm days, but the streaks of warm weather that keep us coastal folks smiling have been almost non-existent. To compound matters our lovely blue skies have been hiding and sometimes smiling at us above icy waters.

We live close to the elements here so the weather is more than an idle interest to those us of who spend time on the water and lots of time outside. We have been lucky to have missed most of the really serious winter weather, but that is why we live here. Now it is time hopefully for the true warmth of early spring weather to start pushing cold weather to the north and bring us back our wonderful blue skies.  Unless that happens, I suspect my office will soon be overwhelmed by tomato plants that should have moved to the garage long ago. I will remain hopeful because this is North Carolina and eventually the heat will win and we will wish that we could have bottled some of this cold air.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area during warmer times, check out our just published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

We recently sent out our first newsletter of the season.  If you sign up soon, I will be able to send out copies of the first newsletter to new subscribers before we send  the next edition about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Newsletter

Posted in Crystal Coast, Weather | Tagged | Comments Off