Saturday Kayaking On The White Oak

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Raymond's Gut, Just Off The White Oak River

Raymond’s Gut, Just Off The White Oak River

I consider myself very lucky. My kayak is usually within 15 feet of the water. Going kayaking on a Saturday morning is something that I can do with little planning and not much more effort than the paddling.

For years when we lived in Roanoke, Virginia, I kayaked in Carvin’s Cove. It involved putting our very heavy two person kayak on top of a car and driving thirty minutes while hoping the weather stayed calm.

The opportunity to live by the water was one of the many things that attracted us to Carteret County. It is that same piece of North Carolina that the tourism bureau likes to call the Crystal Coast.

One of the first things we did the fall we moved here eight years ago was to get a new kayak. It has not been on top of the car since we brought it home, but it has been in the water more than our other kayak ever was. Some of the first pictures that I took that year are still online. I managed a few trips that year but learning the ins and outs of kayaking on a coastal river took a while. Kayaking on a big tidal river like the White Oak is completely different than kayaking on a relatively tame and captive mountain lake.

Both are great experiences but I have found kayaking on the White Oak very rewarding and perhaps the most relaxing thing in the many choices of things to do here along North Carolina’s beautiful Southern Outer Banks.

Sliding my kayak down through the marsh grass is always the beginning of a wonderful adventure. As I am paddling out Raymond’s Gut, I can usually tell what the river is like well before I get there. There are always a few surprises along the way. It might be an osprey that disappears before you can focus on it or a great white egret that lets you get tantalizing close before flying. On my most recent trip, I saw an oystercatcher on a small island in the river.

Even the way the wind is blowing once I get out on the White Oak is often different than I expected. Sometimes on weekends I find a boat or two out in the two or three miles of the river that I like to frequent but often I am the only craft on the river. If the wind or weather turns rough, I can usually dodge it by either staying close by some oyster rocks or retreating to Raymond’s Gut the inlet that connects us to the White Oak.

The tides, current, and wind always combine to make each trip unique. The White Oak is a big but short and relatively shallow river in its lower reaches. You can see the oyster rocks that I often frequent in this picture. I am very comfortable sitting out on the oyster rocks and there is nothing wrong with the view. However, the view there on the river is by nature transient. The water and clouds and light are every changing. If you sit on the oyster rocks too long, you might end up grounded there as the tide goes out.

On a really good day out on the river, you can take advantage of the current, wind, and oyster rocks to relax and fish. There are days when you have to work harder to fish or even hold your boat in position to make a single cast. Then there are times when the river seems to let you do just about anything that you want. Still a body of water that large is not the place to completely let down your guard. When the tide really gets moving, you have to make certain you do not get sucked into some of the cuts in the oyster rocks. The combination of the tide and the current especially when it is going out can be a formidable challenge.

Usually two to three hours out on the river is about all that it takes to wear me out. Most days when I get back to our dock, I have paddled two to three miles. Usually one way of the trip is pretty good exercise while I most often have either wind or tide helping me on the other way.

If I am really lucky, I can bring home enough fish to fill a cooler. Most times I stop fishing after I catch my first keeper fish of the day. We try to be judicious about using the resources of the White Oak River. Fortunately many of the places that yield the most fish are hard to reach. We are blessed to have clean, uncrowded river at our doorsteps.

The one thing I can always count on is that as soon as I am out of my kayak, I start thinking about when I can slide back into the water and start paddling once again. I have already enjoyed so many perfect days on the water, I have confidence that another great one is just around the corner.  That first kayaking trip each spring is always a treat and I usually manage to kayak well into November and most years December.

Here are some pictures from my most recent, July 2014, trip and some more photos from last fall that have GIS information embedded so you can see their locations on a map.

Our most recent newsletter went out just over two weeks ago and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site.

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Hurricane Arthur Visits The Crystal Coast

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The White Oak River just before Hurricane Arthur

The White Oak River just before Hurricane Arthur

It would not be unusual to say that the Crystal Coast of North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks owes its economic health to visitors. Yet even here we get a visitor once in a while whose timing is a little off, and Hurricane Arthur certainly came at an inopportune time just at the peak of our holiday season.

The week just before the Fourth of July holiday is without any doubt the most important week in our tourism year. Early in that week of 2014, we first heard that a tropical storm was going to develop into Hurricane Arthur and likely brush the North Carolina coast.

Even those of us who have lived here just eight years like my wife and myself have seen more than one hurricane.  We know to take them very seriously.

As a native North Carolinian, I am no stranger to hurricanes and one of my earliest memories is evacuating the Outer Banks one fall. I was five and the image of water up to the axle of my mother’s 1952 Ford somewhere near the Alligator River has not disappeared.

Like all of our neighbors, we took the pending visit of the storm that became Arthur very seriously. We were here for Hurricane Irene and know what can happen. While our power was only out for three hours with Irene, twenty-four hours of eighty-five miles per hour winds can leave a lasting impression.

Our check list of hurricane preparedness is fairly long. Anything that can blow around has to be secured or moved into the garage or house. We always buy new batteries for our lamps and test them and our emergency radios. The cars have to be filled with gas and we always get some cash to have on hand. I make it a point to trim our palm trees so they have as few old fronds as possible.

We normally tie down our boat which is on a side pole lift and use bungie cords to tie our outdoor furniture to the deck. Then there is the emergency water bottle to fill, a cooler full of ice to get, and non-ethanol fuel for the generator to procure. This time I had a drainage project to finish. I spent a lot of time on a plugged French drain in our driveway so that we would not have a pond for three days in our driveway.

We have learned to watch the forecasts very closely and to understand each storm’s wind field as well as we can. At just before 5PM on Thursday, the first bands of precipitation hit our home three miles up the White Oak River near Swansboro, North Carolina. I was trying to bury the last of the new pipe from our French drain but ended up leaving it to run on top of the ground.

As I dried off and studied the latest storm reports, I made the decision to skip using the bungie cords on our deck furniture and to rely on my normally secure side pole lift to protect our boat. It turned out to be the right decision. At the time of the first precipitation our winds were only running at 10-15 MPH.

While the storm had turned a little inland and was headed for Beaufort, we were not seeing any increased winds or rain.

By 7:00PM or so, it had stopped raining at our house even though we were only 60 miles or so from the eye of the hurricane. I decided to grill some salmon outside. Grilling was no problem since winds were still in the 10 MPH range and there was no rain. Henceforth any salmon we grill with teriyaki sauce will be known as Salmon Arthur.

When I looked at the position of Arthur at 8 PM and the wind field diagram, I got the feeling that Arthur was not going to create any big problems for us. We were west of the track and almost all the wind was east of the track. The hurricane force winds were also in a compact area and Arthur was moving right along at 16MPH.

Our rain started back up but it was no where near torrential like we have seen in some freak storms. By 9PM we were once again in a lull with no rain and only 15-20 MPH winds. The eye of Hurricane Arthur was directly south of us and probably less than thirty miles away. At that point, I was sure that Arthur was not going to throw us a sucker punch and then knock us out.

By 11PM Thursday night, July 3, there was very little of Arthur left to pass by us. Just a few minutes after 11PM, Arthur made landfall somewhere between Beaufort and Shackleford Banks, very close to where Irene made landfall.  We got a gust or two of wind in the 30 MPH range and a few minutes later just after 11PM, the eye of Arthur was passing over Beaufort, North Carolina.

During this time, Arthur strengthened into a category two hurricane and then headed up towards our old stomping grounds, Canada’s Maritimes. It looked like Arthur might go up the Bay of Fundy and cross over our old farm in Saint Croix Cove, Nova Scotia.

By July 5, Arthur’s rains have arrived in New Brunswick. Instead of the rain stopping shortly after they started like they did on the Crystal Coast, the precipitation intensified and kept coming. One of my friends near Hartland, New Brunswick, recorded 4.45 inches of rain. Somehow a weather feature, a sting jet, that is new to me developed and created gusts of 65–80 mph (100–130 km/h) developed along the storm’s backside or west of the track where we had safely weathered it in North Carolina.

That widespread wind and rain devastated the city of Fredericton, New Brunswick.  Even as Arthur was being downgraded to a post tropical storm from a hurricane, it was intensifying with the sting jet and spreading its effects over a very large area. When I called friends in New Brunswick on July 7, I found them entering their third day without power. One friend’s woodlot is over half destroyed. Fredericton is reported to have lost 2,000 of its stately trees. Another report has all the telephone poles down on the twenty miles of the Royal Road that led to our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick.

Our friends in Tay Creek were much farther from the center of Arthur than we were and yet we did not even get a pine cone in our front yard, much less 50 acres of woodlot downed.

The weekend after Arthur was a gorgeous one on the Crystal Coast. People were out on the water and the beaches. Homes a few miles closer to the coast than us were picking up debris in their yards but it was mostly small limbs not trees.  We had one friend in Beaufort who was without power for twelve hours. However, mostly it can be said the Crystal Coast and North Carolina dodged a bullet that smashed into New Brunswick, a place far less equipped to handle a severe storm than our area.

While we had some visitors leave besides Arthur, it seems they were replaced by even more people.  Our Saturday, July 5, we had a five mile traffic backup from the bridge.  Arthur while inconvenient got most of us ready for the next time a storm threatens the area. My tomato plants did not even have a problem with Arthur.

Sunday night, July 6, we enjoyed an amazing sunset which somehow said to me that Arthur was finally no longer pounding my friends along the east coast.  The week after Arthur has been one filled with classic Southern heat.

The lesson from Arthur is never dismiss a hurricane until it is completely gone or it might come back to haunt you or your friends. In fact if you are visiting you should pay close attention to the riddle of coastal weather. We have seen a storm that put hurricanes to shame when it comes to delivering lots of rain.  This is NOAA’s summary of Arthur.

As an added note, three days after Arthur arrived in Canada’s Maritimes there are still “tens of thousands” of people without power many in New Brunswick and some in Annapolis County, Nova Scotia where we lived in the early seventies.

There are always plenty of things to do here at the beach especially when there is no hurricane hanging off the coast.

If you cannot make it today, enjoy this video of the waves at the Point on Emerald Isle.  For more information about the beach, check out our newly updated for 2014, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The Kindle version is only $3.99 and it has the same 180 pages of content as the $24.95 print version which Amazon has listed for $22.46 and Prime eligible. Both books  include eighty full color pictures and lots of detailed area maps.  Plus the Kindle version has instant access to over 150 links of additional information.

Our most recent newsletter went out two weeks ago and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

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Beaches and So Much More

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Sea Oats at Third Street

Sea Oats at Third Street

Finding sea oats just getting ready to hit their summer stride confirms that we are in beach season.

We all have different images of our own person coastal paradise. What we see in our mind’s eye has been molded by our lives and our needs. Much of what I want in beach comes from what I remember of beaches when I was young.

Our trips to the beaches in fifties revolved around enjoying the beach and getting away from the heat of summer. You went to the beach or the mountains to escape the heat of North Carolina’s Piedmont. The heat pump had yet to arrive and change how people live in the South.

The idea of going to the beach to shop or to attend shows would have been foreign. We went to the beach to experience a world of water and sand.

The fifties were a time before shopping malls, television and national chains homogenized our worlds. No one worried about fancy meals because we carried much of our food with us. There might be a meal or two in a restaurant, but mostly we ate summer food, tomato sandwiches, pimento cheese, and simple things.

The beach was a place to unwind and relax. There were no laptops, no tablets, no cell phones, and most of the cottages did not even have telephones. Televisions were not part of our lives at the beach. I think even our transistor radios stayed at home.

If we fast forward to 2014 our world has changed. In many beach towns any unique local restaurants have to battle the same chains as you find in Charlotte, Roanoke, or Winston-Salem. The small motels and cottages of the fifties have mostly been replaced by huge homes and wall to wall high rise condos along the ocean front. In some beach towns, getting to the beach is a challenge and when you get there, finding your own piece of sand is even harder.

I grew up coming to a North Carolina coast where you fished, jumped waves, and hoped to meet some new people and see a world that was very different from the red clay soils of Lewisville, North Carolina. A beach town at night was unlike anything we might see in Lewisville in the summer. There as children we wandered the woods during the day, fished the farm ponds when we could, played capture the flag and chased fireflies in the evenings. It was a big deal to go to a softball game under the lights at the local school field. There were a couple of weeks during the summer when the old activity bus would ferry us to the swimming pool at Tanglewood, but mostly we entertained ourselves. Television had yet to get its hooks in our generation. A beach town at night was neon signs, music in the pavilion, strange little shops, and exotic food that was reminiscent of fair food.

Things are different today. Part of it is how our world has changed, but an even larger part is how many of us have changed.

One of the great challenges we face today is being able to focus on the moment and enjoy where we are and the people with whom we are present. Our minds are overloaded with email, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Then there are jobs, bills, home repairs, the arctic icecap melting, grid-locked petty politicians, your children, grandchildren and aging parents just to mention a few things that float through the mind of the average modern person. If like me, you had a job in a large corporation, you know what it is like to live in a pressure cooker.

When I was working for Apple, it got to the point that I needed the first week of a two week vacation to unwind or decompress. Unfortunately, after the first hour back at work, the stress was back.

Our pursuit of life after Apple had us searching the mountains of Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia along with the coast from Chincoteague to Hatteras Island down to Southport.

In the end, we ended up on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. It had the right mix of National Forest, National Seashore, farmland, and lightly developed beaches that made us feel comfortable. Yet at the same time, we did not feel isolated like we do when we visit Ocracoke Island which I also enjoy.

Eight years later, I am really happy with our decision. Development has not swamped our area, not that a few developers did not try. It helps to not be at the end of an Interstate and to have a town like Emerald Isle whose determination to remain a small town with family beaches helps set the character for the area.

The more in our “Beaches and So Much More” is not just one thing. To start with we are in a boating mecca. Whether you want to go offshore or fish our marshes from a skiff, the opportunities are unlimited. If you love kayaking, there is no better place to explore. From the marshes behind Bear Island to the two-miles wide White Oak River where I enjoy fishing the oyster rocks, there is no shortage of places to kayak. Then there are the hiking trails. Every morning I start my day by walking one and one half miles along the marshes of Raymond’s Gut. I often finish the day the same way. In the winter and spring, I often hike the trails in the Croatan or Emerald Woods Park on the Island. Then there are the beaches. Even on a busy weekend like this past June 29, 2014, it is easy to find accessible near solitude on the beach. There is no challenge in really escaping the crowds. All you have to do is be willing to walk a few miles into the sands by the Point on Emerald Isle.

Yet if we want most of what the modern world has to offer with the exception of a Target and Barnes and Noble, the drive is less than twenty minutes. It is another fifteen minutes for the Target or Barnes and Noble if you cannot live without them. Most of our restaurants are small family run ones like Santorinia Grill or Angie’s Lighthouse Cafe where Angie’s daughter Angie waited on us last night.  We live in a world where the people in the produce stands and garden centers remember you, even if they cannot recall your name.

There are no more dance pavilions, but you can still go walk on the pier in Emerald Isle.  Afterwards stroll over to the Sweet Spot for an ice cream cone, and  enjoy it outside while sitting in a rocking chair.  The chance to unwind is here in our towns and on our beaches. Some folks like the lady I saw yesterday hooked to her iPhone while trying to look for shells will likely miss the best parts of the beach, but that does not have to be you.

Take the time to listen to the waves, feel the sand between your toes, and at least let the warm salt water waves get part of your shorts wet.  A little saltwater will not kill you but it might help you connect with the natural world before you forget how to.

Whether I am standing in the surf, enjoying an evening on the beach, or fishing on the oyster rocks, there is plenty of Crystal Coast magic to suck the stress out of my mind.

The More we have at the beach out weighs any shopping mall in my opinion.  I sleep well at night.

There are always plenty of things to do at the beach, but it you cannot make it today, enjoy this video of the waves at the Point on Emerald Isle.  For more information about the beach, check out our newly updated for 2014, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The Kindle version is only $3.99 and it has the same 180 pages of content as the $24.95 print version which Amazon has listed for $22.46 and Prime eligible. Both books  include eighty full color pictures and lots of detailed area maps.  Plus the Kindle version has instant access to over 150 links of additional information.

Our most recent newsletter went out last week and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

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Waves on the Beach

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Waves near The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Waves near The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Walking along the beach is one of my top five favorite things to do. It is easy to think of reasons why this is the case.

First, here on the Crystal Coast, walking the beach is a great way to get alone with your thoughts. Our beaches are not crowded. One of the nicest walks I have taken was on a recent July 2. There were almost no people on the beach. I ended writing a post, Escaping the Crowds, about how uncrowded it was.

Besides being alone on the beach, the beach is the ultimate white noise machine. Unless there is a Marine jet buzzing you, it is easy to forget about the rest of civilization when you are on the beach. I remain confused by the people who need to be plugged into their iPods while walking the beach.

The beach is also the place to enjoy a perfect summer day. If you live in Eastern North Carolina, you are well aware of how hot it can get just a few miles inland from the coast. Yet by the time June rolls around, there is just enough coolness in the ocean water to make being on the beach the ultimate comfort trip.  The ocean is the perfect way to cool off.  There is nothing like a wave hitting you in the middle of your back to drain all the heat from your body.

Where is it perfectly okay to lie down almost anywhere and have a nap even in the morning? Obviously the answer is the beach. There are beaches where it is hard to find a spot for your towel. Those are not the beaches of the Crystal Coast. We have lots of room for you and all your friends.  We have so much sand, you can pick hard or soft sand for your nap in the sun.

Where is okay to get dirty feet multiple times and still have fun washing them off?  Of course it is the beach. In June the ocean water feel great on your feet. I find it a treat to slosh along with the water splashing on my ankles.  There is no better reminder of this is summer and we should truly enjoy it.  It you have a Labrador retriever, you might have seen the ultimate way for a dog to enjoy a beach.  First comes a nice swim in the waves, then a roll in the finest sand that can be found.  For even more fun, repeat until you are too tired to do it again.

There are other benefits to the beach that might not be so obvious. You can catch your dinner while getting a suntan. If you have some dead skin on your ankles, you take an exfoliating walk along the beach if you pick a nice windy day.

The beach is also a wonderful place to meet people. People in general are in a good mood when they are walking along the beach. People who might completely ignore you on a city street are likely to say “hi” or even smile at you on the beach.

Any trip to the beach is always full of surprises. Even experienced beach walkers like me are often surprised by what they find on the beach. You never know how the weather will turn out, how big the waves are going to be or even what color water you will find. Sometime you meet people covered from head to toe and other times you will see people with so little fabric on their bodies that you can only be amazed and try not to stare.

You can read more about walking on beaches at this post, Walking A Beach that I wrote back in 2009. I shudder to think about how miles of beach walking that I have done since then.  However, I have enjoyed them all.  I expect that I will back out there tomorrow afternoon if the weather holds.

There are always plenty of things to do at the beach, but it you cannot make it today, enjoy this video of the waves at the Point on Emerald Isle.  For more information about the beach, check out our newly updated for 2014, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The Kindle version is only $3.99 and it has the same 180 pages of content as the $24.95 print version. That includes eighty full color pictures and lots of detailed area maps.  Plus the Kindle version has instant access to over 150 links of additional information.

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A Beach Evening

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Evening on the Beach at the Point

Evening on the Beach at the Point

You are more likely to walk outside and feel a beach evening than you are to know that it is outside waiting for you. A beach evening is more about the air and breeze than it is about how it looks outside. You can go outside in the complete dark and know by how the air feels on your skin that it is great evening to be at the coast.

When you have a beach evening, you feel embraced by the warm, moist air. Maybe it is a tropical evening with a touch less heat but the warmth is crucial to the sense of comfort that makes you wish that your time outside might never end.

After dinner on Friday, June 13, 2014, I went outside for my normal after dinner walk. The minute I felt the breeze, I knew that I was in for a treat. A warm wind coming off the water seemed to follow me on my hike along the marshes. It was a beach evening that erased any thought of turning around and heading back to my easy chair.

A good beach evening removes even the slightest memory of times when you have felt a cold wind off the water. Somehow the temperature on one of these special evenings seems to be perfectly regulated because you never get chilled or too warm. It is a night when being outside is a treat that stays in your memory for a long time.

Even the sounds of a beach evening get filtered through that warm, moist air and end up somehow less jarring to the senses.

When I think back to all the great walks that I have enjoyed on beach evenings, some great memories come sliding back into my mind.

There were many evenings on Ocracoke Island when I was camping there in my twenties. The beaches were endless and the only lights were flash lights or moonlight reflected off the water. Then there were the wonderful evenings with the family, first at South Nags Head and then down by the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. There were plenty of light along the beach in Nags Head but at Cape Hatteras. Still you could easily plunge yourself into the darkness but the darkness always came without any hint of fear. There are other memories deeper down but it is hard for them to find the light when there are so many pleasant recent memories.

You do not have to be on a beach to enjoy a beach evening. One of my favorite things to do when I have finished my walk is to sit on one of our neighborhood’s boardwalk benches that look out over Raymond’s Gut. A strong breeze coming in off the White Oak River can blow away a lot of cares.  I have had enjoyed many beach evenings on the docks at Beaufort, North Carolina.

Besides feeling a beach evening on your skin, it has a wonderful smell that is a mixture of salt water and other summer smells from a Carolina night. Sometimes there is a hint of pine or beach vegetation and other times the scent of marsh grass and tidal flats overwhelms almost everything else. Over on the beach, the smell is mostly ocean but the result is the same in both places. For a moment your worries are gone with the evening breeze and pleasant smells.

A beach evening with its warm winds and comforting smells puts you at ease and lets you enter a word where the sound of the wind, water, or waves often drives away the day to day worries that so often challenge our modern lives. The only thing that can make it more perfect is perhaps a few lightning bugs flitting across the lawn as you head back into your home.

Though it was a little early in the evening for a perfect beach walk, here are some slides from my most recent hike at the Point on Emerald Isle.

We also publish a monthly email newsletter and our current issue is late.  I ended spending far more time on my new 2014 Emerald Isle Travel Guide than expected so it will be the middle of June before my next newsletter gets sent. You still have time to sign up before I get it emailed.

The good news is that my effort was well spent.  There is a lot of new content including  40 of the 79 pictures which are new in this year’s guide.  There are also many additional new links, another beach map, and a few new restaurants that we discuss.  With a total of 14 Maps and 10 recipes, and the latest information on the beaches of the area, our guide is a great deal at $3.99. It is the only real travel guide for the area.

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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.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

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

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

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

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

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