And he said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Matthew 4:19

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A "Whale" of a Weekend!

When you've had as many Boys' Weekends as we've had, while I wouldn't say any are forgettable, I would definitely say some are absolutely unforgettable.  For the past several years, the fishing itself has alternated between good and bad each year.  2007, which followed a lousy "fishing" year, was one for the ages, and not just because of the fish we caught.  It began, however, quite inauspiciously.  It's just a good thing we don't pay any attention to weather reports anymore.

Boys' Weekend has grown from going down early Saturday morning and coming back Saturday night or Sunday, to now we go down Thursday afternoon and don't return until Sunday night.  One day, we may make it a whole week.

Well, the forecast for Thursday and Friday was not promising.  Windy, with highs in the low 40's, making windchills downright frigid, with rain and showers Thursday through Friday morning.  Still, three of us went.  There would be five of us there by Friday night.

When Mike and I began driving down to the Outer Banks Thursday afternoon through the wind and cold rain, it didn't take Mike much to convince me to stop at the Weeping Radish Brewery and Restaurant on the way down for a "flight" of their samples of beer.
one of my favorite beers at the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery/German Restaurant

We only had one flight (each) of six samples, and then continued down the rest of the way to Nags Head.  Still, it's a good thing it's a wide, straight road.  They make good beer.

When we got down there, we were greeted by Jerry who already had a pot roast and fixin's ready to be heated and served.  Since it was too miserable to go fishing, we decided to eat, drink and "get our gear ready."  (This habit of sitting around the living room putting new line on reels, cleaning out tackle boxes, making rigs, and jawing about fishing reports and past escapades, all while sipping good bourbon is one of our earliest traditions.  I think we enjoy this as much as anything during the weekend.  And it gets you psyched with anticipation.  Now if we could only sleep.  It's funny, but that first night, you're like a kid at Christmas....)

Friday morning.  It was cold.  It was dark.  The cottage was creaking, the wind was howling so much.  It was cloudy with 30kt WNW winds.  And it was cold.  Did I say it was cold?  What were we thinking?!  I'd seen this picture before more than a decade earlier, when we actually got "blown out" of a BW, when Charter Member Mark muttered his infamous line, "It's, it's, it's gonna blow!", before he got swept away from the porch in galeforce winds.  An oyster toad was the only catch we had then, so we went home to be with our wives, get warm, and have a home-cooked meal by the fire.  (Don't worry, that's a blog for another day.)

But not this time.  We hit the 7/11 for coffee and a bagelwich, then hit Oregon Inlet to await the rest of the BW recruits and fish.  It was 7 a.m., and dang it was cold!  Still we were there, so we might as well wet a line and fish.  We just wouldn't need any ice in the coolers.  We baited the hooks, cast the rods out, and waited... and got colder.  Was it too early to start drinking yet?  After all, isn't beer just liquid bread?  Hhhmmmmm....

To add a sense of competition to the Weekend, we had split into teams (Redfish/Bluefish) the previous year when eight had gone.  Each team counted their fish to see who caught the most.  The winning team would get bragging rights only, but that was enough of a prize among fishermen.  At this point, I was outnumbered two to one.  But my teammates would be arriving later.

9:45, Wake up!  Back to reality.  A rod bowed, and a fish was on!  See, that's why we come.  Just when we were questioning our sanity, Jerry brought in a nice 26" puppy drum.  Blue Team had 1.  But no sooner was his in the cooler, when I hooked into a 24" pup.  Red Team had 1.  Then Mike caught a 21 incher.  Blue Team - 2.  It was only 10:30, and we could have gone home because we had each limited out on keeping one puppy drum.  That was a first.  But of course, we didn't leave.  There was still plenty of fishing to do.
Jerry, well wrapped up on a bitter morning -- just made better by his first -- and only -- fish.  He was not heard from again the rest of the weekend, much to Mike's chagrin.  I guess he went hibernating in the cold....
I caught another pup while talking with Mark on the phone.  He was on his way and couldn't get down there quickly enough!  It was 2-2.  Then Mike caught another.  2-3.  Jerry then got a major bird's nest in his reel, as his line got all tangled up.  While Mike was helping him untangle the mess, I brought in a nice 17" speckled trout.  The only problem was, it was on Mike's rod.  1/2 point each, we decided.  Then I hooked into a nice 28" yearling drum.  It was 3 1/2 to 3 1/2.

When Mark finally arrived, he caught a small black drum, a bluefish, and a pup to add to the cooler, while Mike caught three more pups himself.  As the sun was setting, a skein of white tundra swans flew directly overhead, shimmering like angels in the gleam of the golden low sunlight.  A beautiful vision to end the day.
There are angels among us.  Sometimes they just look like Tundra Swans.
Day One drew to a close with a  6 1/2 - 6 1/2 point tie, and we drove back to the cottage, each of us with a puppy drum and that trout.
4 happy fishermen, and their fish.  Notice how both Mike and me are holding the trout....
Randy was waiting there with a couple of bottles of chardonnay, and so we proceeded to make a (rare) Boys' Weekend FISH (not spaghetti) dinner.  Now why we let Mark make hushpuppies, I'm not sure.  Not counting my brother, Mark is the oldest guy that goes on BW.  His eyes must be bad.  That's the only excuse I can think of.  Because I guess where the batter's recipe called for a pinch of salt, he must have thought it said a pint.  BOY OH BOY, were those the saltiest hushpuppies we've all ever eaten.  We couldn't drink enough water that night!
When Mark made hushpuppies, even though it had rained, this was pouring.... until it was empty....
Fortunately, Basil Hayden showed up (to mix with the water), so we turned on ESPN to watch some football, and the day was complete.
Fortunately for Mark, he also brought along his friend Basil.
Saturday morning, not bright yet but definitely early, we took the hour drive down to Buxton to fish the Point of the Cape Hatteras Seashore.  But first, we had to stop at the Orange Blossom Cafe for a couple of cardiac-arresting, fried, chocolate-covered "apple uglies".  Mike and Mark each got two, and all I remember thinking was it's a good thing we know CPR.  I'm pretty sure one of those apple uglies has as many calories as you're supposed to have in a week.  And the only thing that will help it get through you is a 24 oz. cup of strong 7/11 coffee.  But, MAN are they good!  And hey, our wives weren't around.  And it's not like we eat this crap every day (or we'd never make it to the next BW.)
You must go here before you die.  And this might actually be the place you do....
Mark trying to figure out where is the best place to "unload his apple uglies and coffee."  It's a whole lot easier to find a place at night.... Or maybe it isn't.  Just ask Johnny....
On the beach at the Point, we set up right near the point, and Jerry asked if he could use my sandspike.  No problem.  Jerry, one of our newer members still, proceeded to hammer my spike into the sand until he broke off the plastic handle that holds the rod onto the metal spike.  Thank you very much, Jerry.  (I'm still waiting for a replacement spike.)  Actually, it's still somewhat usable.  I just enjoy giving Jerry a hard time for breaking my only, my favorite glow-in-the-dark sandspike.

The winds shifted to the southwest, and we knew it was going to be a great day.  We caught so many taylor bluefish in the 10 - 16" range, that we lost track and decided that blues no longer counted for our point tally.  They were still a load of fun to catch with light tackle, slinging lures into the school.  We did that for well over an hour before moving on.  We did keep a few for bait, however, and that proved to be a smart move....
Mike holding a blue about to be bait, before he started cooking lunch.
One of a surfcaster's favorite birds is the gannett.  This large gull-like bird, with black wingtips feeds on baitfish.  And when you see them in a white tornado, spiraling down and diving into the water, that means there is a school of larger fish below feeding on the baitfish, as well.  They may be bluefish, or striped bass, or in this case... red drum.  Channel Bass.  Redfish.  So you just wait for the gannetts to fly within casting range, because that means the fish below them are, too....
This sea bird, when he's with all his friends diving into the water, is a good sign to fishermen.
Sure enough, during the course of the day, we saw numerous large drum get caught, including one guy (what we call a local "pro") who hooked up twice on two successive casts, and another guy who caught a "citation" or "paper" drum (a drum 40" or over) with only an 8 foot rod -- with no leader!  Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason, it seems, as to who gets hooked up with these prized fish.  We also saw numerous pups and yearlings get caught, but we were just biding our time....
the view to the Point.  Paradise to the surf caster....
In the middle of the day Mike broke out his table, hooked up the propane burners, and heated up some North Carolina barbecue with cole slaw, and some lentil soup.  This was a vast improvement over our early days of white bread, packaged deli meat, and slabs of American cheese.  But we weren't done eating yet.

Shortly after cleaning up our late lunch, we grilled five fat angus beef rib eye steaks.  The largest, a 20 ounce, two inch thick monster, went to our biggest carnivore, Randy.  A nice French cabernet sauvignon and California zinfandel accompanied the perfectly seasoned steaks.  After we were done, we settled down with a hefty "beef buzz", for a rest and a good cigar.  All of us, however, except Mark.  Mark had eaten his steak faster than a dog eats a dropped morsel from a table, so that he could be fishing the point at sunset.  The rest of us just sat back, ate, drank the wine, smoked, savored the moment, and talked as the sun went down.  Among the stories we retold again, one that never gets old, was Johnny dropping his "bombs" off target, and then getting hit in the back by his own "flak".  (A blog post worth reading if you haven't yet.)
A good steak, a good "buzz", a good smoke, good friends.  Randy, on the right, didn't realize what he was about to do. Where's Mark????
Now, whether or not you are superstitious, there are a few things in sports you don't do.  You don't talk to a pitcher about the "perfect game" that he is currently throwing.  You don't talk to and bother the kicker right before he's about to kick the game-winning field goal.  You don't talk to a golfer as he is setting up for his final putt.  And you don't talk about how you haven't had any "zingpows"* if you are still fishing.

*Zingpows  are the fisherman term for when you are casting your heaver with eight ounces of weight and baited hook, and the bail flips on your reel, midcast, or maybe your reel is too loose, and you "birds nest" your spool.  either situation causes your line to "zing" through the rod's eyelets, until it gets caught, and "pow" the line snaps loudly, and the "8 & bait" go flying into the ocean.  You're left holding an empty rod.  Everybody up and down the beach hears your zingpow, turns to look at you and laugh, while you turn around to walk back to your truck embarrassed... and humiliated... only to have to untangle your mess, tie on another weight, leader and hook, get more bait, and try again.  We've all done it, which only makes it that much funnier when it happens, and it isn't you.

Well, Randy started talking about how he hadn't had any zingpows yet.  Oh no.  The dice were cast; his fate was sealed.  We all stepped back away from him.  He was a leper -- a pariah.  he was left alone.  I guess he just didn't know any better.  We all felt sorry for him, and he didn't even know why....

When it was finally dark, Mike and I walked down to see Mark at the point.  He was one of only three guys fishing there at the moment, so we all decided to join him since it wasn't that crowded.  But when four guys all walk down to the point at the same time with their heavers, others think that something must be happening.  Before we knew it, there were over 20 people there.  Next time, we learned, we will stagger our approach....  We all took turns and cast into the dark, and waited....

Randy cast.  You already know what happened.  "ZING POW!"  He walked back to the truck to the snickers of 20 guys.  Mike cast next to me.  A few minutes later his line went limp... always, potentially a good sign, as it could mean that a drum picked up your bait and is swimming towards you.  He reeled in the slack, tightening his ... line... and... the run was on!  He had hooked a monster!  Up and down the beach he went, as I reeled in my line to give him room to move.  About 15 minutes later Mike had beached a 40" paper drum.  The only thing bigger than the fish was his cheesy smile for the photo.  Blue team took the lead by 1 -- a big one!  Randy came back and cast again.  "ZING POW!"  He walked away, again.  (Snicker.)
A beautiful citation "bull" drum, that was as long as Mike is tall.  I kid.... jealously.
Mark's rod then bowed as he hooked into a nice one, and a few minutes later we measured a 38 1/2 inch drum.  Tie game, again.  Both fish were caught on pieces of bluefish that we had caught earlier.
Mark getting ready to release his nice drum.  I was too busy with my camera to fish anymore.  Darn it.
Randy came back one more time, and this time cast very gently.  His bait went about 100 feet.  Unfortunately, it was no longer attached to his hook when it landed.  "That's it.  I'm joining Jerry in the bottle of Wild Turkey!", he declared, and walked back to the trucks.  The bite stopped shortly after that, anyway.

When we finally made it back to the cottage late that night, we were bleary-eyed but happy.  What a day!  A Basil Hayden later, we were ready for bed.  But we got to sleep in on Sunday!  All the way until 5:30!  End of Day Two, and both teams were still tied.

The ocean was filled with sea grass, making it unfishable at Oregon Inlet when we got there Sunday morning, so we decided to drive up the beach a mile or two, and fish Coquina Beach.  The day started slow, as the water was calm, flat and clear -- which typically means it's not good for fishing.  But our eyes watched the ocean and the horizon, scanning for signs of life.

Then we saw something spout.  A fountain of steam arose from a moving black island a few hundred yards out.  Humpback whales were swimming right in front of us!
Seeing this just offshore was the highlight of an already amazing weekend.
for the next 20 or 30 minutes, we all watched in disbelief as at least two humpies chased each other, spouted, fed, and played in front of us.  Then one of them rolled sideways, stuck his large white, wing-like flipper straight up in the air, and proceeded to slap it on the ocean's surface.  This created a large splash and sound echoing under the ocean.  It was a male, signaling his whereabouts to other males, telling them to back off, and making a display....  Perhaps the other was a female he was guarding and trying to impress.

A male, with his right flipper ready to slap the water, while even his tail is exposed.
Starting to bring down the flipper....
Building up the momentum for ...
the big splash at the end.  This behavior was repeated again and again.

"How do you know those are Humpbacks?", Mark asked me.  Why do you guys still question me when it comes to identifying marine life?  Then what did we see, but a pod of pilot whales following closely behind....
A pod of pilot whales followed close behind, perhaps looking for leftover scraps after the humpies fed.

You know it's a pilot whale by the curved dorsal fin. 
I don't think anyone will question me when it comes to what we see next time... whatever it may be.  Maybe I'll tell them it's a plesiosaur, regardless of what it is.

When the whales were gone, my rod bent.  I ran over to it, and a couple minutes later pulled in a sting ray.  No points, but it broke the monotony of not catching anything.  I pointed out the differences between a sting ray and a skate, and released it to swim away, being careful not to do a Steve Irwin.  (Although I did tastelessly do a bad Australian accent, while I released it.)
Crikey!  I don't want this thing to sting me in the chest! 
Shortly after that, MVP Mike caught a 23" puppy drum and the Blue team had the lead with time running out.  Fortunately for us, he then fired up the grill again, and roasted some hot Italian sausages, because you can't have too much artery clogging foods on Boys' Weekend.  But boy were they delicious.

The day was warming up, and the fishing was dying down.  Randy was ready to go, and started to pack up, when his rod wiggled.  Fish on!  (That's why your rod is the last thing you pack....)  A nice fight later, Randy brought in his first redfish ever.  A nice 26+ inch pup that was right on the edge of being too big to keep.  As he looked to unhook the fish, we noticed something very odd.

This fish had been hooked before, and in its mouth was a small white/green "squid" jig that had broken off above a short leader at the snap swivel.  The metal loop of the snap swivel was what had gotten hooked on Randy's circle hook, just beyond the barb to keep it there.  How on God's green Earth his hook actually hooked that small snap swivel in the moving currents and waves below the surface, while still attached to a living, swimming fish we will never know.  But a fish is a fish, and Randy and his pup had tied the score as the clock finally ran out.

I took a picture of Randy holding his drum, and it is now framed in his house -- with the jig and leader wrapped around the matting under the glass.  it was truly a once in a lifetime catch, and another story that hasn't gotten old yet.
Randy holding his oddly hooked pup, to tie the score as the clock ran out.
The day was over, and it was time to get back, so we went back to the cottage and cleaned it.  I hosed down my equipment and put it away in the shed, and began the drive home.  As I watched the sun set as I crossed back over the WoohooBoohoo Bridge back to the mainland, listening to some Allison Krauss, I remembered the weekend's events and thought to myself, "This is why we come.  This is what it's all about."  And I could hardly wait for next year.  And it wasn't just because of the fish....
A beautiful ending to an ideal weekend; now heading back to reality....

Until next time,

Fish on.


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