Crisp blue skies illuminated by stark winter sun reinforced the weatherman's notion that Saturday would dawn clear and cold. Stiff NW winds (25-30 and gusting higher) marked the swift passing of a moderate cold front across the Mid-Atlantic region. Air temperatures hovered in the low 30s, unseasonably chilly in this mild winter that we've had. Dismayed by the eleventh hour bailout of my intended fishing buddy, I fired up the Ford Explorer, pre-loaded with fuel, waders, and enough plastic baits to fuel a big-rig, and pointed her south.
Traffic on I-64 moved quickly during the 8 O'Clock hour as I closed on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. The SUV swayed in the blustery conditions and the plethora of American cotton snapped in the hard blow. Undaunted, I switched the XM off and turned the Charlie Daniels CD up as I approached the tunnel entrance. Emerging in the middle of the James River, brown brackish spray coated my right-side with an ugly mung, as the estuary appeared like some barista's worst nightmare.
Surprisingly, a number of SUVs and trucks carrying rods, coolers, and beach gear steamed northbound in opposing traffic. NWS Morehead City had predicted a 36 hour window Saturday night into Monday morning in which light SW winds would prevail, bringing sunshine, warmth, and clean surf. Surfline.com bemoaned the lack of wind-chop and swell and the surf cams supported their lament.
Crossing the Currituck Sound into Dare County, the Stars and Stripes continued to rattle out its staccato rhythm against taut halyards. Johnny Cash reinforced the concept with his "Get Rhythm." Rather than facing a dirty swashzone at the Point at Buxton, I called an audible and stopped for lunch and some exploring in Manteo (I highly recommend Roanoke Island Festival Park for the History-Channel-afflicted set - the historic intepretation of the Lost Colony beats Jamestown and will compliment the enjoyment of the movie "The New World").
With the wind still pushing hard from the NW, I headed back to NC Highway 12 and my final destination. Check out Ocracoke's "Molasses Creek," who combine their own songs and covers of folk classics with a very cool local sound on their albums. They provided the soundtrack for that drive.
Arriving at Red Drum Bait and Tackle in Buxton, the helpful crew reconfirmed the incessant reports on their website (www.reddrumtackle.com) and our conversation was interrupted by a local stopping to announce a non-stop puppy drum bite "down th'point." Deflating my tires as fast as I could (18 psi for this trip), I jumped my portly frame into my husky-sized waders and headed off. The guys had just come out of the water when I completed the four-plus mile drive to Cape Point. They commented that the fish bit well during the last three hours of the outgoing and that they would be back the next afternoon. Rather than jumping into the frothing surf alone (more on that later), I opted to linger and chat with some of the local young guns. Hanging out for a few minutes, I was invited to enjoy quite a few oysters roasted over an open fire that occupied my evening until the imminent showing of the greatest rivalry in sports, Duke vs. UNC in men's hoops.
I recommend the Sandbar in Buxton (just south of the school on the sound-side) for good food and drink. It's a smoker's haven (fair warning). They have all-new flat screen TVs and all the sports packages. The menu is good local seafood mixed with awesome bar grub and the prices are reasonable. Watch out for the really drunk Mexicans that try to bum rides home, though. I needed some Allman Bros. to get me ready for bed.
Although the team in better (and darker) blue lost, I found comfortable lodging in clean and afforable room at the Lighthouse View motel ( http://www.lighthouseview.com ). They offer cozy beds with great heat / AC, good cable TV, nice showers, free ice, and a big fish cleaning station, all but 300 yards from the park entrance. $50 / night! There are a few places for $40 / night for the next month but I'm really happy with my choice.
Saturday Recap: 1 History Museum, 1 Tackle Shop, 18 roasted oysters, 222 miles driven, Duke lost, warm bed.
Awaking the next morning, I started out at the jetties near the old lighthouse site, where surfers waited longingly as the incoming tide surged against the unrelenting West wind. After fifty casts and rising frustration, I found a cup of coffee and headed to Ocracoke to wait out the breeze. For those who have not been, Ocracoke Island remains relatively unspoiled and isolated from the inanity of the modern-day hustle and bustle. Highway 12 in Ocracoke really demands some high-powered bluegrass, so the Steep Canyon Rangers got me down the island and onto the beach in no time.
Finding a tasty lunch at the local market, I headed for the south beach to check out the infamous sand bars that insulated the lairs of the 16h, 17th and 18th centuries' greatest sea-dogs, including stops by Drake, Hawkins, and Teach.
Instead of pirates, I found porpoises. These porpoises had staked out two of the prettiest holes that I've ever seen on a beach. Protected from the wind by tall natural dunes and acres of maritime forest, the shallow littoral environment resembled a recently poured Bombay gimlet. Gentle waves rolled over the first sandbar and pelicans flew overhead. Then the porpoises appeared again. Surfing waves over the sandbar, they crashed into a school of dormant grey trout (weakfish) that winter in the sloughs of Ocracoke. Stirred from their winter slumber by the sudden arrival of large grey marine mammals, the fish shot out the hole, seeking safety in deeper water. However, two more porpoises waited to cut them and corraled into a tidy ball. Then, the whole lot of mini-whales (six adults and two wee ones) took turns snacking on the rainbow-speckled porpoise-candies. At times, the porpoise actually tailed like a redfish, burrowing their noses into the sand to root out more fish and waving the tails in their air, shaking their bodies like exotic dancers.
Late for my ferry, I raced off the beach as the grey trout dodgedly attempted to escape their inevitable fate. Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Mr. Breeze" and CDB's "Stroker Ace" helped me make the free ferry with forty-five seconds to spare.
Crossing back to Hatteras Island, the wind abated and the sun shone with more vigor, only exciting me to the puppy drum that lay waiting for the arrival of my Bass Assasain in front of their nose.
I stopped to grab some water before clicking on the 4WD and turning the Dirty Dozen Brass Band for some Dixieland rags as inspiration for my saltwater journey.
Sunny conditions prevailed with west winds diminishing to 10-12 knots. Air temperatures in the afternoon were in the low 50s.
Even with the light winds, the Point offered "sporty" wading conditions. I found six or seven guys in waders and dry tops in chest-deep water on the spit at the Point. Two or three rods were bent at all times. Carefully picking my way out in the water, I immediately realized that my "dry-top" wasn't quite dry enough and that I was going to get wet. For those unitiated with the Point at Cape Hatteras, currents from the north and south collide with unbridled fury and the shape of the sand changes constantly.
The sandbar on top of which we stood to cast to the next bar out required about 100 yard walk across a gully. The sandbar itself didn't offer much refuge from the waves crashing from the left, center, and in front of me. Often I'd take one over my head or just down my neck. Two guys got knocked down, one of them twice. Full-contact fishing at its finest.
Throwing green rubber baits on a 3/8 ounce red lead head, I made six or seven casts before my KM custom stick bowed over and 10# Power Pro sizzled off my Daiwa Capricorn, pulled by the aggressive presence of a puppy drum. Tightening down on the drag, I balanced the waves crashing around me and occassionally living me off my feet with the shiny copper-colored sea monster attached to my fishing line.
After a few minutes, a healthy channel bass swam into my waiting hands. With an 18" - 27" slot limit, my peers immediately encouraged me to "harvest that there fish, son. He's a good-un." I obliged, especially since he taped to 26 3/4".
Making my way back out, this time with a more appropriate foul-weather top, I made a few more casts and began catching a few more fish on the rubber and Mirrolures before being chased out of the water by the 48 degree water building in my boots and the chill in my legs.
Changing sweaters and eliminating all cotton from my wardrobe, I battled back out to catch a few more fish before the bite ended just before dark.
I drove back to the hotel in my boxers, a dry fleece, and flip-flops. I was that wet. The waves are that fierce.
I retreated to my hotel room to hang my waders in the closet, rain-coat top and fleece garments in the shower, and myself into some dry clothes.
I had dinner at Dinky's in Hatteras, which reminded of the Sea Grill in Avalon. It was quite good, but possibly too nice for what I really wanted (which was a tuna burrito).
Sunday's score: At least 8 puppy drum (I lost count as I was laughing so hard with all the guys in the water with me), good food, good times, very wet clothing.
Monday morning found my waders still wet inside after 10 hours of hanging, so I ran to the post office via the Orange Blossom Bakery, located 300 yards south of the Park entrance on the sound-side. I met the new owner, Lee, in the water on Sunday and he has great fresh coffee on Monday-Saturday from 7-2. Try his Sausage Gravy and Biscuits. I tore that up. The house specialty is an "Apple Ugly," which looked like the apple fritters at Wawa but probably tasted much better and would kill you much faster. Again, very reasonable prices for really good breakfast. The locals really seem to dig that place as moms, contractors, surfers, fishermen, and vagabonds all found solace in their fare.
I cruised out to the Point with my breakfast and coffee to see how the water looked and saw four guys in the water and four bent rods. The Grateful Dead's "Sugar Magnolia" and Willie Nelson's "Stay A Little Longer" got me out there. I stopped to talk with a few seiners on the beach who had more unkind words for the African-American consumers of their shad catch than I care to remember. They had totes and totes of bunker and shad, but only two trout and no drum.
Light W winds rolled around to the SW and onto the SE. Air temperatures hovered in the high 40s.
I raced back to my hotel, grabbed the rest of my gear, and tossed the key to the owner as I checked out. Not ironically, I went to the "Orange Blossom Special" by CDB as motivation. Powered by another cup of Orange Blossom coffee, I motored out to join the gang. The locals had just come off the beach and passed me at Ramp 44. CDB's "Uneasy Rider" and the Grascals' cover of "Viva Las Vegas" left a plume of sand behind my truck. Undaunted by the departure of the hot rods, I strapped on the not-so-wet waders and made my way back into water higher and rougher than the day before.
The bite was spotty, but I caught two in twenty-five minutes. The fish sat on the top of the bar, which had moved twenty feet farther out from the previous day and required a jig to cast that far. The Mirrolures proved more efficient in both attracting bites and hooking fish with their nine sharp points, but they don't cast as well as a 1/2 ounce head. My first two fish were small and I felt good so I retreated to dry off again. I really recommend a full pullover dry-top (like the new Sims garment) for this fishery or just a wet-suit. The guys that had them caught more fish and didn't suffer.
The crew on the beach broke my balls incessantly as I hung my waders up from my Explorer rear hatch and dried off for a few minutes. I didn't care. They hadn't the balls to go out there and hadn't caught anything in three days. In the interim, I wandered over to the north side (50 feet from my truck) to watch the hickory shad, which will eat even my crummy chartreuse and pink #4 flies. I donated the two shad that I caught to Eric, a big guy with a big smile who loves the 8nbait.
I suited back up and went out. I caught three more puppies before the bite died as the tide slackened towards high. Officially cold and wet, I wandered back to the beach, where I saw a striper lying next to my truck.
It turns out that Eric had chunked up the hickory shad and caught a 30# striped bass (weighed at RDT) within minutes of soaking it on the south side of the point. I gave myself the assist and he gave me a handshake.
At the tide change, right around noon, the weather changed for the worse. Winds switched from SE to NE and accelerated to 20 kts. Clouds foreshadowed rain and showers dominated the afternoon. However, those fish bit!
I left the beach around 12:30 to grab lunch at Finnegan's, across the street from the Park. Check out the $5 lunch specials. I needed the hot food and some coffee and to organize my wet gear away from the acres of blowing sand and spray.
Back at the Point with the heat blowing and the bluegrass bumping in the truck, I brought out the binoculars. The guys who could cast in the wind caught fish and fish in some really nasty conditions until 5:30, when I left the beach to replenish the gas tank, refill my tires, and grab a snack for the ride home.
Monday's score: 5 puppy drum, 2 hickory shad, wet clothes, warm afternoon in the truck, and a safe ride home.
In all, it was a great road trip. These puppy drum have been there since January and only recently has anyone leaked the secret. The locals have hypothesized that the old drum will show up after this current blow and push the puppies up the beach a bit. Their relationship with the beach netters for fresh bait will demonstrate that shift of puppy and yearling drum away from the Point upon the arrival of the main attraction for the bait-chucking crowd.
For all those guys who like big plugs, this isn't your scene. We had guys with 9' and 10' sticks throwing big Hopkins from behind and through us and they occasionally snagged a fish. Those armed with seven foot rods throwing 1/2 oz heads with three to four inch green grubs and orange-and-black Mirrolures caught 95% of the puppy drum. If you need help with equipment, give me a buzz and I'll get you in touch with Mike Kulick at KM Custom Rods, who built my "puppy slayer."
Get down there and catch a puppy before they are too big to keep. It's time to cook mine.
Final Score: 13+ puppy drum, 2 hickory shad, 1 assist for a 30# striped bass, lots of sand in my truck.
[ 03-08-2006, 08:58 AM: Message edited by: PortlyRedhead ]