In the movie "Jaws", Chief Brody has one of the most memorable lines of all time, when he has first seen the great white shark while chumming from the stern of the old charter boat, Orca. In shock at the size of the maneater he had just stared at eyeball to eyeball, he backs into the cabin where Quint is, and utters "We're gonna need a bigger boat." Classic. Iconic. And fitting.
Well, for almost a quarter century, a group of friends and I have been heading down to the Outer Banks every November for a weekend of nothing but fishing. We're very hardcore about it, too. We literally do nothing but fish -- with a little bit of sleeping involved. We call it Boys' Weekend, and I guess the name has stuck, because we all act like boys for the weekend. Whether or not we ever catch anything is secondary to the good-natured ribbing, joking and fun we all have. There will be other blogs recounting some of the other stories of all these years worth of weekends (consider that your warning, boys) but every now and then, we actually have the unique experience of catching some fish -- and sometimes even more....
About 10 years ago was one of those times. It was a year when only four of us went, and after an uneventful Saturday, at O'Dark:30 on Sunday morning, we were already on the road to hit Oregon Inlet. Oregon Inlet is the channel that separates Hatteras Island from the southern part of Nags Head and Coquina Beach. Right where the fishing center is, you can also access the beach by vehicle to park and fish. Driving on the beach is one of the reasons I love the Outer Banks. It's also why I only have 4WD vehicles. Anyway, the sands and currents are constantly changing the terrain there, and we knew then that with the incoming tide, if we wanted to "get around the southern corner" of the beach to face the inlet, we had to be there very early. Otherwise we would be stuck on Coquina beach facing the ocean with all the other late sleeping fishermen.
Our quarry was the striped bass, or rockfish, as it is also known. And they love moving currents like the inlet provides. with our 7/11 coffee and breakfast sandwich in hand, we made it to Oregon Inlet and around the southern corner strip of sand as the tide started coming in. We were the only ones down there.... (You don't know how unusual an event that is, unless you've ever seen how many trucks drive up and down the beaches of the OBX.) We had that whole southern strip of beach to ourselves! Let the fishing begin!
We put on our chest waders and storm coats, baited our surf rods, or "heavers", added 8 oz. of a lead weight pyramid and bait, waded into the surf, to cast into the breakers beyond to where the fish may be. After a while, I had to go back to my truck to change my bait, when I glanced out into the water a hundred yards to the left of where my friends Mike and Randy and my brother Ted were all fishing. Something caught my eye. it was a huge black dorsal fin about a foot and a half high. And then I saw a tail fin almost 10 feet behind it. Something was thrashing in the surf. Something huge!
Instinctively I started running toward the leviathan. (I know that sounds funny, as you would think that "instinct" would make me stay away, but I wanted to get close to this unique creature.) Meanwhile down the beach Ted, Mike and Randy have seen the thrashing about, too, and then see me insanely running towards it. Their initial thought was that these fins were two dolphins or a huge ray flopping in the surf. Then they realized it was a shark! Panicking, they started yelling at me to stay back! "It was a shark! Don't get close! Stay Away!" And yet I kept running into the surf, closer to the giant fish. Randy and Mike looked at Ted, and said "Your brother's gonna die." Ted was not happy. It would not be fun delivering the news to the family that Dan was dead, naively eaten by a shark.
Now I grew up watching nature shows. Jacques Cousteau and Marlin Perkins (and his brave, stupid assistant Jim) were some of my favorite television stars. I loved nature, and I loved learning about God's creatures. And even though I had never ever in my life seen one (other than on television), for some reason I knew this fish thrashing about in the surf was a basking shark. A basking shark is the second largest species of shark behind the whale shark -- but fortunately, like the whale shark, it is a plankton eater. It can grow to 40 feet long, and it's harmless. this one looked to be an adolescent -- it looked to be under 20 feet long. And it was obviously very lost, and very sick. I got within a few feet of the massive fish and admired it. I realized it was going to get beached and I beckoned to the others to come over. The three of them, upon realizing that I had not gone the way of the naked skinny dipper in the opening of "Jaws", came closer. That's when I explained to them what it was. And that, while it had a massive mouth, it also had no teeth. It was nothing but the "Bumble" from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, AFTER Hermie had pulled out the teeth.
|Me with the shark and Randy... The shark is the one I'm touching.|
We assessed the beautiful fish, and all came to the agreement it was going to get pushed onto the shore with the incoming tide, and die. We had to do something to help it. Could we get a rope and tie it to the tail and pull it back out? Could we push it? We couldn't get any help, because we were still all alone. Just then Randy and Mike were near the tail of the massive beast when it waved its tail into them both, pushing them back in the water several feet. "It's a goner", Randy said, dismissing it after he recovered his footing and balance. "There's nothing we can do. Nothing I'm gonna do. It's too big." Now Randy is an attorney, and I would have thought a little professional courtesy between him and the shark would have been expected. But he was right. We were helpless. It was doomed.
The tide started to receded and the fish was beached. There was nothing more that could be done for it. Mercifully, death came quickly when the water was gone around it. And as the sun shone down on the fish, it was amazing how much it dehydrated -- to probably half its original bulk. We measured its length and found it to be almost 18 feet long. Had it been a great white, it truly would have been almost as big as Jaws. And there is no denying that its mouth was large enough to swallow any one of us whole. Maybe Jonah was swallowed by a large basking shark, I thought. Well, we had one hell of a fish story, and the day wasn't even over yet. In fact it wasn't even noon. There was still plenty of fishing to do, and the tide was now low enough around the corner that other trucks could come join us on the south side of the beach. What a surprise lay beached for them all to see. And what a memory we had. Now back to fishing....
WRESTLEMANIA Hits the Beach, with Mini Macho Mike vs. The ROCK(Fish).
When the outgoing tide really started moving, the fishing heated up. There were numerous fellow surf fishers around us now, including one large "local" man standing about 30 feet beyond Mike, who was standing about 30 feet beyond me. Bearded and beer-bellied, he looked like a redneck sausage stuffed into a chestwader casing. A smoked sausage, because the Marlboros never stopped puffing, except to take a swig of beer. A smoked beer sausage redneck. With an attitude. And for some reason he seemed mad at us! Even though we were there on the beach looooooonnnnng before he ever got there. But maybe he figured he owned the beach. Who knows. Regardless, he wasn't nice. Anyway, the fish wrestling match was about to begin....
Mike had never caught a large striper before, and he finally hooked a nice one. Here's the play by play of how it went down. Mike's adrenaline was pumping as he fought the large fish that was screaming line off his reel. Back and forth they went, up and down the beach, playing tug of war with the line. The fish would run, then Mike would reel him back in. The fish went right. Mike went right. The fish went left. Mike went left. Bob Evans and I got out of his way. Finally, the fish was in the surf... and then in the wash, as Mike made his way pulling the fish up the beach. DING. The wrestling match was over, right? Mike won. Right? WRONG!
DING. Round Two began when the fish coughed up the bait and dehooked himself in the wash. (Now if there's anything a redneck likes more on a Sunday afternoon than NASCAR, it's attending the WWE WrestleMania Pay Per View Event Live! And the smoked beer sausage and I had front row seats. We looked at each other and laughed at the unfolding drama.)
Mike instantly throws down his rod and reel into the sand (a cardinal sin with fishing equipment) and awkwardly runs in his waders towards the flopping rockfish. He pounces on it, giving it an elbow drop to the chest and attempts a choke hold, but The ROCK(fish) counters, squirting through his legs up the beach. Mini Macho Mike spins around and attempts a leg lariat move on The ROCK. But The ROCK counters with a double tail slap to the body, which stuns Macho Mike, and it's anyone's match again. Mini Macho Mike attacks one more time with a flying forearm smash mixed with a legsweep, but The ROCK has one last move, himself. He does the never-before-attempted "stinger slash with a forehand chop with a flying clothesline finish", and Mini Macho Mike is down for the count! ONE! TWO! THREE! The ROCK has won, and he slithers back into the deep with his Championship Belt still in his grasp. The human sausage and I are too busy dying of laughter to see Mike get up and humbly, dejectedly begin to clean his rod and reel.
Jimmy Dean was a lot friendlier with us the rest of the day, and we laughed and talked for a long time -- mostly at Mike's expense. Fortunately for Mike, he had another match later that afternoon, and this time he had learned a few extra moves himself, and came out on top. My brother, who had also never caught any large stripers before, won both of his events, and took home a couple of beautiful fish, himself. But his catches were not nearly as exciting as the "Death Match" that was, between Mini Macho Mike, and The ROCK -- who was still undefeated, and still champion.
"Can you SSMMEELLLLL what The ROCK(fish) is cooking!!!" Well, it wasn't him that night....
Until next time,
|Ted with his 2 stripers, and Mini Macho Mike with his 2nd opponent|