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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Our Fish Boy, Bunkie Doodle

A little more than 20 years ago, my wife and I celebrated our third anniversary.  I surprised her with a wonderful, romantic weekend in Colonial Williamsburg at the Inn, where we stayed in the same room that Margaret Thatcher had stayed in, back in 1982 for the G7 Summit with Ronald Reagan and other leaders of the nations.  (They weren't all in the same room.  You know what I mean....)  We ate amazingly unique, gourmet food in the taverns on Duke of Gloucester Street, enjoyed good wine, played tennis, had massages in the spa, and ... well, you know....

Several weeks later, my wife went to the stylist, had her cut off all her hair, and went Demi Moore in "Ghost" short.  I literally fell on the floor when I saw her.  She looked incredible!  I loved it.  But I also love her with her long Jaclyn Smith wavy hair, too.  She is just one of these women who is blessed to be beautiful with either long or short hair.  But that wasn't her only drastic surprise that week.  I guess she hadn't been feeling well, or something, because the next day, she showed me a pregnancy test strip -- it was positive.  We were going to have a baby!  About 2 years earlier than what we had planned, but obviously God's time schedule was a little different than what we had had in mind.

Over the course of the next several months, we did all the things that a young couple does to prepare for our new arrival.  The one thing we didn't want to do, however, was find out the sex of the baby growing inside her beautiful belly.  We wanted that to be a surprise.  Summertime arrived, and the beach ball that was now my wife's tummy was finally ready to pop!  On the first day of July, very early in the morning, it was time....  I took her to the hospital, and at 6 p.m., we welcomed into our lives little Parke William.  We had a boy!  We had a son!

We were very excited, because while Parke was not the first grandchild born on either my wife's or my side of the family, he was the first boy.  His grandparents finally had a grandson.  And I knew I would have a fishing buddy one day!

Sure enough, later that summer, Parke went to the beach with us, and went fishing with me for the first time.  He slept most of the time, and I had to help him cast, but his white little "fishing hat" was adorable.  So was he. 
He couldn't yet hold a heaver; couldn't cast very far, and had to have help reeling in a fish, but even at just a few weeks old, Parke was already at the beach fishing with me....  Well, sorta.  Actually, at this size, most of the fish I caught were bigger than him.
We have some wonderful, dear friends Jeff & Jenny, who became part of our family when Parke was born.  My wife eventually went back to work part-time, and Jenny became our "baby helper" (she did far more than just "sit").  Her husband Jeff (who is the BW "Food Man") was very involved with us, too.  They adopted Parke, and we adopted them.  Anyway, one day Jeff started calling Parke, "Bunkie Doodle".  Don't ask me why as I have no idea of it's origin, but, for whatever reason, the name stuck.  It's been his primary nickname ever since. 

By the time Parke was two and a half, he definitely liked fishing with Daddy.  We had moved to Suffolk by then, and I would take him down to the lake in our neighborhood, and we'd go fishing for bluegills.  He took right to casting, and was a natural fisherman.  The look in his eye, the excited squeals he let out, made even the smallest fish we caught feel like a trophy!  Then he'd want to hold them, let them go, and watch them kick their tails and splash and swim away... amazed at the whole wonder of fish.... 
Susan holding Parke after he caught his first bluegill.  You would have thought it was a citation bass, he was sooo proud of that fish!

Another time I took Parke down to the point of the lake, (which - for the record, has to be one of the most overfished pieces of property in Suffolk, as everybody in the neighborhood fishes there), and, just using a small rubber worm, he cast to where the beds of bluegills were (all of about 20 feet from shore), and his rod bent hard!  He squealed, and I looked to see a three pound large mouth running with the worm.  Parke couldn't quite handle that over-sized fish on the little ultralight he was using, so I squatted behind him, bracing the rod, so he could have support in reeling it in.  When he finally did, he gave it a big hug before releasing it.
Parke, in his same "fishing shirt", holding his first good-sized bass.  He had Daddy help him support the rod and reel him in, because he didn't have the technique or proper equipment to bring him in alone, yet....
A few months after that, when Parke was three, I took him to a pond where we had gotten permission to fish.  I had heard it had some citation-sized largemouth in it, and I wanted to give them a try.  While I had no luck getting my trophy fish, Parke continued to amaze me, when this time, he did bring in a nice-sized four pound bass -- this time, all by himself!  You would have thought he had just brought in a 1000 pound bluefin tuna, but he did it!
And the smile was proof in itself!  He held it for the now obligatory photo, and released it with a kiss....
A cool day still meant hot fishing for the little angling protege....  Here he is with his first bass caught solo.  And aren't those overalls under his little windbreaker just "precious"...  A "Thank you" kiss sent the fish back on his way.
During the summer months, we would go down to the Outer Banks, and enjoy the beauty of the beach.  And while midsummer fishing isn't necessarily the best, it wouldn't discourage Bunkie Doodle and me from trying.  Maybe there was a flounder near the surf... or some sea mullet... or croaker ... bluefish ... dogfish ... heck, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish!  We were going to try for whatever we might be able to get!

Towards the end of a day, Parke's baby brother Clayton, was more interested in eating sand and watching the waves, but Parke would hold that fishing rod long after I had given up on the day, sure that a fish would come along any moment to eat his offering.  Parke has always had an undying spirit for what he wants or believes in.  And he believed he was going to catch a fish -- always. 
Late summer, late afternoon by the Bonner Bridge, and Bunkie Doodle  keeps on fishing... knowing that something is going to take his bait.  Even on days when there was nothing going on, he was determined to keep trying.
The second weekend in October, Suffolk celebrates its "Peanut Festival".  From Thursday through Sunday, the Suffolk Ruritan Shrimp Feast kicks off big-name concerts (typically groups from the 70's, however, this is Suffolk we're speaking of...), great food and drinks, a demolition derby and peanut butter sculpting contest (I said this is Suffolk, already...) carnival rides, and the Midway of games-you-are-sure-to-lose.  One year when Parke was about eight or so, however, he went and won a couple goldfish, throwing pingpong balls into tiny, little fishbowls.  Great!  I thought.  More pets....  (We already had a dog and a hamster or two.)  And that was the beginning of another obsession.

The fish actually didn't die within the first week.  And when they lived, and continued to live (doggone it), Parke said he wanted an  aquarium to put them in.  The glass fishbowl we had wasn't big enough for them.  So a Christmas present from Santa was a 10 gallon aquarium with a starter kit -- everything the novice needed to have a successful fish aquarium.  A couple more bug-eyed goldfish were also in order, one of them black (which we cleverly named "Blackie".  Real original, huh.)

Actually, I have to admit, I had less of a hard time agreeing to a fish tank, than I had to the hamsters we already had.  Hamsters smell.  Hamsters are nocturnal, and make a lot of noise at night.  Hamsters can get out of their cages, and then you have to try and track them down, wherever they may be before they poop everywhere, or chew and damage something.  Fortunately our dog, a chocolate lab, named Maddie, had a nose for finding the hamsters.  We would say, "Maddie, Where's the hamster?", and her ears would perk up and she would start wagging her tail.  Say it again, and she was off, nose to the boys' bedroom floor (if she could find the floor under all the books, toys and clothes), and start tracking.  She found the hamsters in their closet; she found the hamsters in their dresser drawers (don't ask how they got there, I have no idea); she found the hamsters in the hall closet; she found the hamsters in our closet!

SIDEBAR ALERT:  Even though we haven't had hamsters in almost 10 years, if you still say to old Maddie, "Where's the hamster?" she'll perk up and start wagging her tail.  But the scent trail is long dead.  She will go outside and dig up the mole tracks in my yard, however, when I say it to her now....

Anyway, fish don't escape their aquariums the way hamsters do, and if they do, they're easy to find.  Parke once caught a tiny bass and a tiny bluegill, and put them both in the aquarium (long after Blackie and his cohorts did finally pass away and get flushed to the "great aquarium in the sky" -- I guess it's actually that "great aquarium in the city's septic system").  He found worms and crickets, and fed them for a few days, but they were restless.  He came home from school one day, only to see that the blue gill had somehow jumped clear out of the tank during the course of the day, only to land on his floor, free again at last....  and ... now, dead as a doornail.  He took the bass down to the lake that afternoon, to release it before it suffered the same fate.

Another time, I accidentally brought home a leftover live eel from Boys' Weekend in one of my coolers.  (We use them as live bait for catching stripers around Oregon Inlet.)  Not sure what to do with it (it's absolutely amazing to me how long an eel can live out of water... literally days!), I contemplated just throwing it away; but Parke wanted to put it in his aquarium.  By this time, he now had two 10-gallon aquariums (the obsession was growing).

He put whatever fish were in one, to share a tank with the other, and put the eel in its own tank.  Even though it was a fresh water aquarium, that eel lived through the winter and into the early spring, before Parke finally released it in the waters near our house.  It never did die.  It did slime up his tank pretty well, though, which was one of the reasons he finally released it.

As Parke approached middle school, and their dreaded "science projects", he struggled with what his project should be.  Eventually he decided to find out how crayfish react to light.  One Saturday morning, we went to the local fishery that supplies pond owners with bass, bluegills, and other game fish, and walked inside.  You would have thought Parke was in heaven, his eyes widened so much!  Not since our trip to SeaWorld, had he seen so many aquariums, so large, and so full of fish!  What a cool place to work, he said.  We got a bunch of crayfish, learned how to care for them, and went home.  He set up his aquarium with one side lit up, separated from a dark side with a divider, and began his observations over the course of the next couple weeks.  He not only got an "A" for his project, but he won the class Science Fair that year.  It just goes to show, that when you're doing something you love, you don't mind the work involved....

About the time of the eel in the tank, is when Parke started asking me when he could go on Boys' Weekend.  Seeing that it meant something to him, we began our own little tradition of going down to Nags Head, just the two of us, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  We would fish that afternoon and evening.  Fish the next morning, and be home by Thanksgiving dinner.  He was very excited the first year we did it.  And so was I.  We had caught a few stripers that BW the week before, and I was hopeful that Parke's first experience would be successful.  Hopefully the fish were still around and biting.

We got down to the OBX, I got my heavers and equipment together, we bought some bait, and hit Oregon Inlet.  The moment we drove onto the beach, however, I could tell it was going to be a little different than the previous weekend.  It was crowded!  And you couldn't drive around the corner to the south to get to the inlet, itself.  The tide was so high, we just pulled straight ahead, and found a gap between some other trucks and set up shop.  I set up my sandspikes, got the rods out, cut some bait, and heaved the lines out into the crowded surf with everyone else.

I was not hopeful, to say the least.  With so many people fishing such a tight space, the odds of us catching a striper were minimal, at best.  But still, you cast... and you wait... and you hope.  Surprisingly, it did not take long before my rod bent sharply down.  I picked it up, tightened the line, and... "Fish ON!"  Parke was excited watching me fight a nice rockfish to the shore.   When I finally brought it in, and up the beach, everyone around looked at us with disgust.  We had been the last ones to arrive, and we were the only ones to catch a fish.  We couldn't have been any more proud!  It made us forget about how cold it was, and Parke was feeling bigger and taller by the minute!
I love the perspective of this photo that Parke took of me with our Thanksgiving Eve Striper.  He wouldn't always be looking up at me like this....  But this day, he did; as I was the only one around who caught a fish that afternoon -- and we were one of the last trucks to arrive on the beach and find room to fish.

Bunkie Doodle grew significantly, with the confidence of seeing me catch a nice striper.  Suddenly, he could fit in my waders.  Now he just needed to catch a fish.  Meanwhile, I'm thinking "BASKETBALL SCHOLARSHIP!"
We fished until dark, then left the beach and had dinner at the local Mexican restaurant -- which was Parke's favorite place to eat.  Getting back to the cottage, we cleaned the fish, cleaned up and hit the hay early.  We were tired, and it had been an exciting day.

The next morning, we were up before the crack of dawn, and hit Oregon Inlet again.  Parke hadn't seen the sunrise over the ocean before -- shoot, I'm not even sure he had ever seen any sunrise before (he is NOT a morning person like me), and it was neat to be able to share the beauty of that with him.

Sunrise Thanksgiving morning started cold and early.  It's a shame sunrise has to come too early for most people to enjoy.  But by later in the day, it would be bright, clear - and a little warmer.
Eventually, with the receding tide, we were able to go south and around the corner to the inlet in the late morning.  So we set up shop there, after having no success on the beach side, earlier.  Unfortunately, it was another slow day, with nothing biting.  Nothing.  I began to get discouraged for Parke, as the morning turned into afternoon, and it was approaching time for us to leave.  The day had warmed up a little, and the sun was out and shining brightly.  But we had to go.  Then Parke's rod wiggled, and he went towards it and reeled it in.  A nice fat dogfish was on the end, and Parke was happy.  He had caught a fish, after all.  Even the older couple fishing next to us congratulated Parke for being the only one to catch anything that day.  Our first mini-BW together had been a success, after all.  We headed back to Suffolk for Thanksgiving dinner, with a nice striper in the cooler, and a dogfish memory for Parke.

Parke holding a shark on Thanksgiving afternoon, right before we had to head back home....  The trip was a success for both of us.  And a nice memory we would always share.

The next year, we did it again.   But the following year after that, the whole family wanted to go.  So we went down to the beach after Thanksgiving as a family.  We met up with some friends that were already down there, and hit Oregon Inlet on Saturday.  Another sunny day, another slow day of fishing greeted us on the beach.  Because it was so sunny and nice, I cast my rod and had it in its spike, while I socialized with our friends Mike, Janie and their kids.  Parke, meanwhile, was determined to catch a fish.  So I set up his rod with some bait, gave it to him, and he went on his way:  to go fish an area a couple hundred yards away, I had already told him I didn't think had any fish.  Ten minutes later, a man nearby started laughing.

"Looks like your boy caught a fish in the area that doesn't have any fish....", he said smiling at me.  I laughed.  Parke was walking back with a nice little puppy drum he had caught in the surf.  He proved me wrong, again.

Parke, doing his best Clayton "Forrest Gump" imitation with his eyes closed, holding the nice pup he just caught on the beach, where I had doubted he'd catch anything.  Shows what I really know.

Fortunately for me, I wasn't about to be outfished by my son again.  My rod wiggled, and I picked it up.  I reeled it in, and brought in a nice 29 inch rockfish.  It surprised even me, but I'll take it.  Especially when Parke had already caught a fish.  And once again, nobody else did.  Parke and I had outfished the others on the beach again.  But I wasn't about to worry about getting cocky or overconfident.  That wouldn't always happen....

I think I was as surprised by this 29" rockfish, as I was by the fact that Parke had caught the puppy drum he did.  Oh well, it was another good day for him and me, after all.  Not so much for anyone else on the beach fishing....
Meanwhile, back on the home front, Parke now upgraded his two 10-gallon aquariums for a 35-gallon aquarium on a stand.  And with the larger tank, came more and larger fish.  Yet he still kept one of the 10 gallon tanks filled, for smaller fish, too.  His room was turning into the Suffolk branch of the Virginia Marine Science Museum (one of his favorite places to visit)....

Goldfish and guppies had given way to a variety of beautiful and unusually shaped fish that I couldn't even begin to name.  I must confess there were times when all of us would just go into his room and watch the fish swimming around peacefully.  I can see why doctors' offices have fish tanks... it is very soothing to watch.  The "white noise" of the filter, the water, and the simple beauty of it all definitely reduces stress levels, and can even lull you to sleep.  It is very calming.

As Parke went through those early to mid-teen years, the tension level between him and me increased.  The "never say die", strong-willed "young bull" was growing horns, and wanted to test them out on the "old bull" of the house, me.  I can't say our behavior towards each other was always pretty, or the way I would have liked, but as a father you love, and you do your best, and you hope and pray for the best.  And as a son, you want to assert your growing independence -- sometimes far sooner than you are really ready to.  And you don't like it when you are told to do otherwise.

Somehow we made it through those years without killing each other, and one of the things that always continued to tie us together, was our mutual love for fishing.  Our trip to Alaska, too rough and un-luxurious for any woman, was just the right thing for us.  A shower in the beginning of the week, and a hot sauna and shower at the end of the week was all we needed.  Otherwise, it was all fishing, camping, and bonding....  I told Parke this was going to be a new experience for both of us; and in that sense we were both equals up there.  I was still -- and always would be -- his father; but for this trip we were just two fishing buddies sharing a wonderful experience.

Halibut Fishing out of Seward.  A float plane ride across Cook Inlet to a john boat ride to fish for sockeye.  Camping out in a tent.  "Combat fishing" on the shores of the Russian River for more sockeye.  More camping outside Homer.  And more halibut and cod fishing in Tutka Bay south of Homer.  These were some of the highlights of a trip with too many highlights to mention.
A successful day, limiting out on Halibut was just the beginning of a wonderful week of bonding and memories.  And yes, the largest halibut in the middle are the ones that Parke and I caught....  Delicious!  We ate halibut and salmon that we sent back home, for the next two years!
Beautiful scenery, flying over Cook Inlet, bears, Tundra swans, and awesome sockeye sushi were just some of the highlights of our day fishing for sockeye, flying out of Soldatna.  An incredible experience!  We limited out on whatever fish we were fishing for every day.  And the weather was unusually warm and sunny, by Alaskan standards.
Shoulder to shouder, we quickly learned what it takes to fight the fish, the current, and all the other people around, when "combat fishing" on the Russian River.  And the sockeye there were bigger than the ones we caught elsewhere, the day before.
It wasn't the "chicken" halibut that we caught in Little Tutka Bay that impressed Parke; but this nice sized codfish he caught that we ate the next night.  It was light, flaky and delicious!  But the bald eagles only wanted to eat the halibut carcasses... not the cod carcasses, after we cleaned all the fish and left the remains on the beach.
When we got home, I'd like to say our relationship was healed and perfect from that point forward.  The truth is, it wasn't.  But there was a new sense of understanding and appreciation I think we each had.  And through the next few years of high school, the tense moments between us became fewer and less tense.  There was some growing up and maturity gained -- perhaps by both of us....

And we still enjoyed fishing together.  Whether it was kayak fishing for striper or puppy drum.  Fishing in Nags Head for speckled trout, flounder, and puppy drum.  Or just fly fishing at the point of the lake for bluegill and bass again....  It continued to be one of our bonds we shared together.
Parke's first striper in a kayak was caught the first time he tried.  A beautiful fish on a cold autumn day.
Waking Parke up before sunrise is almost impossible... unless it is to go fishing.  This late Spring morning proved very successful for speckled trout.  Other mornings produced nice puppy drum or flounder, too.
Parke back down on the point of the lake, where he first learned how to fish.  With a fly rod and his young cousin... teaching her how to catch a fish.  Her first fish was a bluegill.  The cycle continues....
After Parke graduated high school, he went down and lived for the summer at the Outer Banks.  His job?  Naturally, it was at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center, where he had the wonderful task of cleaning thousands of fish, during the course of the summer....  Bluefish, spadefish, speckled trout, tuna, dolphin, wahoo, amberjack, mako sharks, croaker, puppy drum.  Whatever the headboats and charter boats brought in, he helped clean.  He ate fresh seafood all summer long.  And learned to cook, as well as clean all these fish.  Quite well, I might add.
While he didn't catch this 60+ pound mahi mahi, he did get to clean it.  He got so quick and efficient cleaning fish, he once won a bet by cleaning two mahi mahi in under 20 seconds.
But not every fish he catches is a monster, or even a keeper....  Sometimes you still have to throw them back.
This largemouth bass has a few more years to grow until he lives up to his name.  Maybe he should go in Parke's aquarium... but the Oscar would probably eat him.
Of course, as I just wrote about last week, Parke is now finally attending Boys' Weekend.  And while it wasn't much of a fishing success this year, it didn't hamper his enthusiasm for fishing one bit.

Thanksgiving afternoon, before dinner -- just like we did years ago -- we went out fishing for stripers.  This time, we didn't go all the way down to the OBX.  We just went to the Nansemond, and went kayak fishing.

The fishing was slow, but it was a beautiful day to be out on the water.  The haunting call of two skeins of tundra swans migrating south echoed above us, reminding me -- as they do every time -- of the ones we saw in Alaska.  A large skein of Canada geese flew much lower over us, migrating from the 9th hole of the nearby golf course, to the 12th hole I joked.  And we fished.

"Fish on!"  Parke said about an hour into our adventure.  And much to his chagrin, he brought in a good sized shad, he had foul hooked through the tail.  "Oh well," he said, holding it for a photo, "At least it fought well."
The shad Parke caught was held for a photo, and released.  There would be no "shad planking" for this specimen.
After a quick photo, he released it and we continued fishing.  Finally I felt the tap of a striper hitting my jig as it fell in the middle of the channel.  I set the hook.  "Fish on!" I said to Parke.  And once again, like so many times before, the joy of catching a fish was amplified and multiplied because I was sharing the moment with my son, Parke.  Bunkie Doodle.  He took a photo, and kept on fishing.
A beautiful 24 inch rockfish caught on a cool Thanksgiving afternoon, made more enjoyable because I was sharing it with my son, doing what we both love....
We fished for another hour, before giving up, realizing that the fish just weren't biting too much, and we had other obligations with family.  It was Thanksgiving, after all.

"Well, at least the afternoon wasn't a complete loss, since you caught that fish," Parke said on our way home to shower, dress and get ready for dinner.

A loss?  I thought.  Even if we had been skunked, it was never a loss to share time with Parke on the water, enjoying the beauty that is a late autumn afternoon.  We went and joined the family for a wonderful Thanksgiving feast.  We had missed out on the pre-dinner games my brother-in-law had planned for the afternoon.  But oh well, I thought.  I enjoy his games as much as the next guy; but it was worth it, for the fish and for the time alone with Bunkie.

The next day, Black Friday, I took him to the pet store.  His big Tiger Oscar and his Jewel Cichlid were getting too big for his 35-gallon aquarium in his room.  He needed a bigger one, he said.  A 55-gallon aquarium.

"I'll take you," I said, "but we're not buying anything today."

You can figure out what happened.  We got there, and they had a great deal -- only today! -- on a tank, with everything you need.  I didn't have room in my car, I told Parke.

"That's okay, I'll come back later tonight in my car and pick it up," he said.

"Okay, but that's your Christmas present.  There will be nothing more under the tree from me.  Are you okay with that?"

He nodded enthusiastically.  He was.  There was still a little boy somewhere in that 6'1" frame that was now taller than me.

And now, as I finish writing this post, he's back at college to wrap up his semester, and I'm looking at a fully functioning 55-gallon aquarium in our great room with a happy Tiger Oscar, a Jewel Cichlid, and an Algae Eater... (Yes, the other aquariums are still functioning, too.)   And I'm wondering, what's next -- a 125 gallon tank?  That will have to be at his house one day.  But I wouldn't doubt it will be.

So what will Parke be one day?  Will he be like Jacques Cousteau, scuba diving among various marine life, studying them?  Will he be a charter boat captain, taking others out to enjoy fishing?  Will he be a Navy SEAL, protecting our country?  Or will he do something else for a living?  I don't know yet, because he doesn't know yet, for sure.

But I do know this:  Regardless of how he earns his living one day, his love and respect for marine life -- whether it's through fishing, or just enjoying fish in an aquarium, will always be a part of his life.  And through it all, it is neat to see how God has shaped in him this love for His Creation.  It makes me have no doubt that long after I am dead and gone, Bunkie Doodle will be showing his family his 1000 gallon aquarium, and teaching his kids, and their kids, how to yell,

"Fish ON!"


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

GENERATIONS: A Log of Boys'Weekend 2010... (And Mark Got Skunked! I told you I would put that in the title...)

Boys' Weekend 2010 is now a memory.  And, in a nutshell, if catching fish was why we went, I would have to say this weekend was not a success.  The curse of the "Even Year" drought continued, because the weather was just too nice, and the winds were wrong.  But fish aren't the reason we go.  They're just an excuse to go.  It's all the other stuff that happens, that matters.  So let's go back and relive the weekend....

Those that couldn't attend this year were Jeff J. for the Blue Team, and Ted, Joel and Randy - who was a last second scratch.  The Red Team was hurting for players.  Fortunately, I had also invited Parke and my nephew Michael to join us.  They were going to be recruited as rookies for the Red Team.  And, as an added weapon, I had just received an early birthday present from Ted -- a new left-handed bait casting reel from Avet!  I could hardly wait to try it out!

Through the years, as Parke was growing up, I had told him that when he turned 16 he could start joining us.  Unfortunately, the year he was 16, he had a devastating knee injury playing soccer in October that kept him out of action for 6 months.  The last thing he could do was wade in the surf and get knocked around by waves in November.  The following year he switched schools, and those next two years he had finals that same week, and couldn't get away for the weekend because of his studies.  Now, even though he is off to college, he got off school for "Thanksgiving Vacation" Friday morning, and was going to join us that evening with Michael.  I was pumped they were coming!  It was about time.

Mike went down Wednesday afternoon, and actually fished that afternoon and evening -- causing BW to have it's earliest start ever.  He was joined at sunrise Thursday by Jerry, who followed him to Oregon Inlet, and the two of them set up shop on the beach.

I, unfortunately, had a few work issues to deal with, so didn't get to leave as early as I had hoped.  When I got a text message from Mike saying Jerry had just caught a 17" (undersized) puppy drum, I was anxious to get there. Finally, in the early afternoon, I hit the OBX, and shortly thereafter joined them down on Oregon Inlet.  No more fish had been caught, so I got my lines in the water.  The winds were blowing hard from the north, and would continue that way through Friday.  Not good, but oh well....

It wasn't long before my rod "danced".  I ran over, but missed the bite.  My other rod "danced" in its rodholder, and once again, I missed the hit.  Obviously they were more smaller pups, that just weren't getting hooked, and I was too busy socializing to stay and hold my rods.  Finally, my smaller rod danced again, and I brought in a 17" pup, myself.  It was too small to keep, but at least Jerry and I weren't going to be skunked.

The breakers were crashing in several directions on the shoals beyond us, because of the winds, and the surf looked good.  But it was rough, and it would have been better for the fish had the wind been coming from any other direction than due north.  We already knew fish would be at a premium this weekend.

A few minutes later, an older man in a white Yukon with a completely decked out rod rack in the front, stopped by to ask if we had any luck.  Mike approached his window, and they started chatting.  Jerry walked behind Mike to the back of Mike's truck to get some more bait.  The old man spoke up.

"Now THERE is an IDIOT!", he said, pointing behind Mike towards Jerry.  "That guy is a complete idiot!"  Mike looked back to where he was pointing.  He turned back to the man.

"Hey man, you can't say that.  Besides, how do you know that already?  You're right.  I guess it is obvious.  But you can't say that.  We can.  He's OUR idiot.  And we like him anyway."  These were Mike's thoughts toward the man.  Then he looked back again.

Beyond Jerry, out in the shoals was a small boat gunning through the waves, looking like at any moment it could get tipped over.  And neither person on it had on their life jacket.  They were the idiots to whom the man was referring.  Mike felt better, knowing that he didn't have to defend our idiot to the old man, after all.  We all agreed the men in the boat were idiots.

A little while later, my line had drifted across the others.  I reeled it in, only to realize that it hadn't drifted, but I had a 14" flounder on it.  Too small to keep, so I tossed it back.  "Too small to keep seemed to be the mantra of the weekend.

A short while after that, Jeff D. arrived and we all fished until the sun went down.  The moon had risen, and was almost full.  It would be full in a couple more nights.  Meanwhile the annual Leonid Meteors were peaking that night, and before it was even totally dark, we saw one shoot across the sky over the ocean.

We drove back to Mike's cottage, and there Mark finally joined us.  I prepared our first of several gourmet meals of the weekend:  Pecan-encrusted Rockfish with a nice, light California chardonnay.  Thanks to the success Mike and I have had recently in our kayaks, catching stripers, Thursday's meal came courtesy of the Nansemond River.  As we ate the the delicious meal, it occurred to us that we should have had B.W. up in northern Suffolk, and kayak fished for the weekend.  We would have more luck, we figured.  (We would have been right.)  After dinner, some 18 year old Elijah Craig joined us, and the evening was complete.  We went to bed, planning on getting up early to catch the outgoing tide after the 6:00a.m. high tide.

After stops at Dunkin' Donuts and 7/11 the next morning, we hit the same spot at Oregon Inlet.  Unfortunately, the surf was now filled with grass, and every cast brought in a bunch.  So a while later we moved south and around the corner to the inlet, itself.  Having not seen it in a while, it was amazing how much the sands had shifted south towards the channel, itself.  A dredge worked by the Army Corps of Engineers was spewing sand from the bottom of the channel off to the side.  With the tide receding further, it appeared we could cast and hit the dredge if we wanted to.  While that didn't appeal to us, the thought occurred to us that stripers may be lining the channel, waiting for baitfish churned up by the dredge.  We cast to the channel and waited.
I know he's a heck of a fisherman, but is Mike also capable of standing on water?  No, just on the sanbar before the channel.  The dredge was turning around for another run at trying to spew sand on top of Mike.  It missed.  He moved.

I parked my truck on a little point by the Bonner Bridge and cast directly to the bridge's pilings, hoping to find a fish hiding there....
The rodrack on the back holds several rods, two of which are at an angle, cast out, and waiting for a bite....
A closer view from the back of my truck shows just how close the sand is to the highest part of the bridge, and the channel directly below.  It's usually several hundred yards to the channel from the sands of Oregon Inlet.
As the fishing wasn't seeming to work out there, Mark spent some time collecting driftwood and seastars.
The beaches were littered with starfish, while the night sky was filled with shooting stars this weekend.
The grass got to be too much, however, as we all pulled in several pounds of eelgrass with each cast, so we moved again.  This time, we drove back around the corner, and north to Coquina.  Coquina was scalloped with numerous sloughs and holes, many of which looked promising.  And just as importantly, there wasn't any grass around.  We finally settled on a nice hole about 100 yards long, figuring that was big enough for all of us to fish comfortably.

It wasn't long before Jerry hooked into another little pup.  He went running and screaming towards his "dancing" rod, and yanked it hard, stepping backwards at the same time.  He couldn't have drawn more attention to himself if he had been shooting flares out of his butt.  A man in a Jeep Wrangler happened to be driving by, and when he saw Jerry bring in his 17" pup, the man decided this was the only hole anywhere on Coquina Beach that had fish, and pulled over next to us.  He set up his sandspikes just a few yards away.  While nobody was anywhere near anyone else, for half a mile on either side.  Are you kidding me????  Lines started crossing, because we didn't have enough room.  And then the man had the nerve to catch a pup, himself.  And it was a keeper -- 19 inches!  What an ass.  He then walked over to confirm with us what the regulations are regarding keeping puppy drum -- one a day, between 18 and 27 inches?

"Uh, no, as a matter of fact, it's only 12" now.... and you can keep 10 in a day...."  That's what we wanted to tell him.  But we didn't.  We're nice.  Even to asses.
This clown pulled up right next to us when he saw Jerry catch an undersized pup..  Notice the hole on the other side of the point beyond him.  And notice how there is NOBODY ELSE anywhere around.  And this yahoo has to park right there???  And the story only gets better....

As the afternoon progressed, we caught several more small pups -- but no keepers yet.  Meanwhile, this guy walks over to us, and tells us to watch his rods as he had to drive up to the entrance a good half mile away, and go pick up his wife.  I guess he didn't like our look, because a few minutes later, he hadn't left yet.  A few minutes after that, we see a woman walking down the beach.  He had called his wife, wherever she may have been, and told her to walk to him.  He wasn't coming to get her.  What a gentleman!  She stayed about an hour.  Maybe he figured, with her around, he could keep another pup, if he caught one; which made me wonder if she even had a license, as she never did anything but sit down and wait for him.  A few more undersized pups were caught, and then I saw this....
That's his wife walking away by the water, while the man is re-baiting his hook in the back of his Jeep.  What class!  He even made her walk back up the beach, rather than risk moving.  And no, she did not look happy when she left.
Apparently, she was ready to go, and he still wouldn't drive her back to the entrance ramp or campground -- where ever she had come from.  He made her walk back!  He was not going to leave his spot, because there was NOWHERE else to catch a fish....  Are you kidding me?  (Sarcasm alert.)

Right as she was leaving, Mike reeled in his line that had drifted down the beach, but just as he got the line up to the surf, it ran.  FISH ON!  Mike had a real fish.  And a minute later, Mike beached a beautiful 25.5" puppy drum.  We would be eating another delicious seafood dinner that night, too.

Mike holding Friday night's dinner....  And with that fish, the Blue team had a 1-0 lead
The man came over, admired Mike's fish, then got on his cell phone while he was walking back to his Jeep, and called a friend.  A few minutes later another truck pulled up, and another man got out and started fishing next to the man, in apparently the only hole on the entire Atlantic Ocean's beaches that contained any fish!  And a few more small pups were caught.  But Mark had yet to catch anything....  Jeff D. had caught a couple small pups.  Jerry had caught several.  Mike had caught a couple small ones and the keeper.  But Mark had yet to catch squat.

A late lunch consisted of marinated venison NY strip steaks (courtesy of Mark), with a Petite Syrah, and bratwursts on the grill.  Various other snacks and appetizers kept us full throughout the day, too.  Our vegetable was hummus made with artichokes and spinach.  (No wives were around to say that doesn't qualify.)

The sun eventually set behind the dunes, and we got ready for the evening.
When the sun goes down, you clean up everything but the basics, and get ready for the night.
The moon was just about full, and the surf looked good... But that daggone north wind really messed things up.  Fortunately, as the sun set, the wind finally died.  But would it be too late to make the fishing any good?  Did we really care?
When it was dark, we kept fishing, but relaxed a little more.  A cigar, a drink, check your line every now and then, and enjoy the beauty and the quiet of the night, as the surf rolls in.
Cap'n Tipsy, looking more like the Godfather, surrounded by his teammates Jeff and Jerry, enjoying the evening.
Unless you're Mark.  Then you keep fishing.  Because Mark still hadn't caught anything.  And he was getting desperate now.  He had never been skunked before.  He came close last year, but made up for it on Sunday.  This year, things might be different.
Mark waiting, praying for a bite, as the night wears on.... and on... with nothing....
Meanwhile, I was getting excited.  Parke was on his way with Michael!  They would be arriving around 8:30, so I told them we'd have dinner waiting for them then.  We finally wrapped it up for the day, and went back to the cottage, where we cut up the puppy drum, and I made blackened redfish.
For the second year in a row, we enjoyed a dinner of blackened redfish, with a nice California Caberet Sauvignon, courtesy of Mark's recent trip to Napa.
Jeff got inspired, and made an absolutely delicious etouffee to accompany the redfish.  It paired perfectly together.  But the best part of all, was that Parke and Michael had finally joined us!  This was not the first time we had a father/son generation thing going.  A few years back Jeff Davis brought along his father, who taught us all a thing or two about how to fish, as he caught some nice speckled trout using gear and techniques we had never tried.  But the old man knew what he was doing.  And now, I was being blessed by having my older son and my only nephew join us!  I couldn't have been happier.
What made this etouffee and this meal even more delicious, was the fact that Parke & Michael had finally joined us!  And, even though they had already had dinner before they arrived, they had "4th Meal" with us -- with seconds.  Oh to be a teenager again.
After the seven of us had dinner, Mark informed us that he would have to leave before daylight to show some real estate.  We reminded him that he was the only one who hadn't caught anything, but he was determined to go.  He was gone before we awoke, and we accused him of heading to a deerstand, instead.

So the next morning, after a stop at 7/11 for coffee, we all drove down to Buxton.  The winds had shifted to the southwest, and we hoped that would mean good things at the Point.  (But typically it takes two or three days of SW winds to really guarantee good fishing.)  A stop at Red Drum Tackle, and the rest of the guys hit the Point.  I took the boys to Orange Blossom for their first "Apple Ugly" experience, and then we drove into the Cape Hatteras Park.  We passed two deer walking casually along the road, and laughed about how Mark could have easily gotten a deer here, instead of going home.  We passed the landmark lighthouse, and I took the boys onto the sands of the Point.  It was Michael's first time ever there.
Parke & Michael on the Point, enjoying a beautiful morning.

We set up just NE of the Point, and enjoyed a beautiful "bluebird" day.  Bright sun, blue sky, light SW winds, and highs in the mid 60's.  It was too nice.  There were no fish anywhere.  A tiny black drum and two small pups were all we saw caught all day.  There were no fish in the area.  And we weren't the only ones who thought so, as we noticed we had a visitor.  A brown pelican walked right up to us, just a couple feet away, as though he had realized it's easier to beg for bait than it is to go diving for fish in the ocean.  He had a tag on his right foot, so I guess his experience with humans had been pleasant, because he had no fear of us.
A brown pelican, we named "Percy", showed no fear, and begged like a dog for some food.  But when we gave him a piece of cut mullet, he wasn't interested.  But he wanted something....
Percy wants to know what Jerry has in his hands....  He was probably waiting for Jeff to cook something for him.
Michael and Parke's first Boys' Weekend.  And Michael's first time on the Point, gave them an opportunity to meet Percy.
After fishing with no luck for a while, Parke and Michael went for a walk.  Parke was very excited when he came back with a starfish he had found by the shore.  He put it on a table to dry.

We fished.  Changed bait.  Fished.  Changed bait.  Tried throwing jigs.  And Mike and I decided to walk down to the Point and check it out.  There was nothing happening anywhere, but we did find a variety of starfish and the vertebrae of what I guess must be a dolphin.  We brought them back, and when Parke saw our hoard, he joked that he had thought he had done something when he found the one starfish.  Oh well.
A few of the starfish we found on our walk.  And a dolphin vertebrae, I'm guessing, in the front.  "We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun, but the stars we could reach, were just starfish on the beach."  This started a conversation about horrible depressing songs of the '70s.  "Angie Baby",  "I learned the Truth at 17", "WildFire", "Billy don't be a Hero" were just a few of the awful songs we remembered.  What was wrong with music then???!!!  Give me a razorblade, let me slit my wrists, take some pills, and put a pistol barrel in my mouth when I listen to any of those.  Aaaghh!

Then it was time for lunch!  And what a lunch it was!!!  Mike had made a homemade bean soup we warmed up, as well as baby back ribs, courtesy of Jeff, and more brats from Jerry.
A hearty bean, vegetable and meat stew was the appetizer for our lunch.

"Cooky" McTipsy showing off the racks of  ribs and brats on the grills.  Everyone around had to smell our grilled lunch.  And we didn't share at all....

After lunch, Percy came back and hung with us for a while again.  (He had flown off when he thought we had nothing he liked.)  Parke made an attempt to give him some fresh bait, but he was still not interested in what we had.  He still stayed for about a half hour before moving on again.
Percy just liked hanging with us, because he wasn't interested in the fish we offered him. 
The sun was getting low on the horizon, so I decided to try flopping a jig one last time for some flounder on the west side of the Point.  The highlight was when Parke and I actually saw a couple fish jumping.  But nothing was biting.  We went back to the trucks, and started preparing for evening.  But first took a few pictures of the late afternoon sun's "golden hour."
It's hard to see, but a full moon is rising just beyond our own special, favorite "idiot", Jerry.  It's right behind his head.  (He can't help who he is, but we love him anyway.  Besides, every Boys' Weekend Village needs an idiot.)  Oh, that's right, the old man in the white truck wasn't talking about Jerry the other day....  Or was he?
My new Avet reel, shining in the sun, courtesy of Ted as an early birthday present.  Unfortunately, it has caught just as many fish as it would have if it was still in the box.  But it was fun getting used to it and casting it.  I never had a "Zing Pow", and I never got a horrible bird's nest.

The Rookie Red Team with me.  My favorite nephew Michael, and my son Parke - who made the longest drive to join us - enjoyed a lot of wonderful food, a beautiful, warm weekend, and saw a variety of wildlife up close and personal - even if none of the wildlife were the fish we were seeking.
 As we looked towards the Point, we noticed the sun was finally ready to go down.  One of the unique, neat things about the Point is that it is one of only a few places on the East Coast you can watch the sun set over the water.  There have been times there when we've seen the sun rise from the ocean early in the morning, only to still be there when the sun set over the ocean later that afternoon.  It never gets old. It's beautiful every time.  And it typically means the fishing should heat up!  Would it this time, too?  Who knows.... But we all took a few minutes and watched the sun touch, sink, and disappear behind the ocean to the southwest.
Sunset at the Point is beautiful, and can remind you of Key West, as you watch the sun sink below the ocean.
Even the local "pros" don't get tired of watching the sun starting to go down....
Some people and the seagulls scurry to get whatever they need done while it is still daylight, as the sun gets lower.
It's amazing how quickly it moves, when you are watching it sink.
Finally the sun is just a sliver... and then, it's gone altogether... Until tomorrow.
After sunset, the Point becomes busy, as surfcasters anticipate the "bite" to begin, and start to form a loose "conga line".... Unfortunately, tonight it never happened.  We needed a few more days of SW winds to have a chance.
Walking to the Point with the full moon right behind us....
After the sunset, I took the boys down to see the Point, and the growing "Conga" line -- though when we got there, it really hadn't tightened up to where it's shoulder to shoulder "combat fishing".  That seems to only happen when the bite is on.  And tonight, it wasn't.  Oh well.  It was still a beautiful day; and now we were going to enjoy a beautiful evening.  We walked back to the trucks, and I dug a hole, got out the firewood, circled the chairs, and lit a beautiful fire.  With the full moon to our northeast, the sun now down, and the fire burning, we sat down and enjoyed the finer things in life.  A little bourbon shared spiced up the evening, as the conversations varied about everything.  And every now and then, we'd look up and still see a meteor shooting by, or a satellite moving across the sky.  It was a beautiful night we hated to see end.
There's something about a fire on the beach that just completes a beautiful day....
After several hours watching the flames, enjoying the night, it was finally time to go.  Mike got his shovel and started picking up the larger embers and logs with his shovel, tossing them into the ocean, creating quite a fireworks show.  We were then going to shovel sand on the rest of the embers, and make sure it was thoroughly out.  The fireworks tossing, however, drew attention from several people -- including the game warden.

The game warden drove up and parked, walking up to all of us, asking what we were doing.  Flashlight in hand, other hand ready to react, he was on alert for trouble....  Fortunately, we are peaceful, law abiding fishermen, and after he checked each and every one of us for fishing licenses, he wished us well and left.  It was the second time in two days we'd had interactions with the warden, (one had come up to us in Coquina the day before) so I would always advise to anyone to have a fishing license.  It's not worth the risk of getting caught.

We finished loading up our trucks, and headed back north to Kill Devil Hills.  When you've been up since dawn fishing, and you're tired, there is no denying it seems like one  L O N G    D R I V E back to the cottage.  We got home around 10, and the boys went straight to bed.  They were worn out.  The rest of us stayed up for a while watching football on ESPN, and then called it a night, ourselves.

The next morning, before sunrise, we were back on the beach at Coquina.  The waters were dead calm, and there was no wind.  We watched the sun rise over the ocean, and knew it was going to be another beautiful, warm, sunny day.  Dammit!  Fish like clouds.  Fish like waves.  Fish like moving water.  Fish like winds.  We had none of the above.  And to make it worse, the one thing fish really don't like -- is dolphins.

Dolphins eat fish.  And dolphins were everywhere!  I mean everywhere!  There were pods of three, four, five and more dolphins cruising up and down the beach all morning long.  They stopped and played.  They body surfed what little waves there were.  They swam up and down the beach, and they fed on what fish were out in the ocean.  Any other day they would have been beautiful to behold.  Especially when a pod all started jumping out of the water all together at the same time.  Some started doing backflips.  Some chased others around, splashing water everywhere.  And a mother dolphin encouraged her baby to jump by nosing him as he lept above and over her.  They came in close; and they swam far out to sea.  They slapped their tails, and they "spy hopped", sticking their heads out of the water and looking around.  And we watched them.

Mike brought some Grey Goose and Bloody Mary mix, so the men enjoyed some celery the way it's supposed to be enjoyed on a beautiful sunny, Sunday morning - marinating in a cup of bloody mary, while we watched the dolphins perform in front of us.  And all the while, we kept on fishing, and trying different techniques to catch a fish -- all to no avail.
One of many pods of dolphins cruising by Coquina Beach Sunday morning.  I've truly never seen so many different groups of dolphins swimming up and down the beach at one time.  They were doing everything they could to help keep the fish away from the beach.
The dolphins were fun to watch at first; but when they were still around several hours later, it was no longer as interesting.  We wanted to catch fish, not watch a show from SeaWorld, for crying out loud!  Even a Sea World show only lasts a couple hours.
Parke watching one of the dolphins scaring any fish that may have been anywhere near our lines in the water.
As the tide started receding farther and farther, the boys decided to go for a walk before lunch.  By that point, we weren't even watching the dolphins anymore.  We had pretty much written off catching any fish close to the shore.  It wasn't going to happen.
The boys enjoying a beautiful day at the beach, in spite of the fact that dolphins just offshore, and perfect weather had ruined the fishing potential for any fish we were seeking....  The boys aren't even interested in the dolphins swimming by anymore.
When they came back, Jeff had gotten out his monster slab of corned beef he had cooked all night.  Along with some sour kraut, mustard and sub rolls, we had an awesome lunch!
Parke making a fresh,hot corned beef sandwich.  We eat way too well on these weekends.  It really is a long way from our first few BW's when all we had was white bread, bologna and cheese....
After lunch we had a cigar, while Jeff decided to put on his waders and wade out beyond the breakers to cast into the deeper waters.  Parke saw him and did the same with two rods.  And when Jeff came back, Parke left his rods out in sandspikes way out in the receded surf.  He came back and we all sat back for a while, digesting our food.

Finally, when it was almost low tide, we all decided to call it a day, and therefore call it a weekend.  Parke and Michael walked out to the rods and brought each one in.  Parke brought his in first, and felt a tug. 
"Hey Dad, I have a shark," he said, knowing what it was by the way it pulled his line.  Sure enough, two minutes later, he brought in a good sized spiny dogfish.  At least he wasn't skunked!
Parke holding the spiny dogfish he caught at the end of the day.  At least he caught something.
 Then Michael brought in his rod, and right at the end, he realized he had something fighting, too.  A skate.  Well, it was a fish, and so he wasn't skunked, either.

Michael with his skate.  At least both the boys caught something on what was not the most productive Boys' Weekend.
We packed up,cleaned up, all said our various goodbyes, and headed out.  The weekend was over.  The Blue team won with what ended up being an insurmountable lead of 1-0.  Therefore, Mike was MVP again.  (Maybe we need to just call it the Mike Award, as he's won it more than anyone else.)   The day was over, and we headed home.

Later that evening when we were home again, watching Sunday night football, I asked Parke what he and Michael thought about Boys' Weekend.  Were they bored to tears, or would they do it again.  Parke told me they did talk about it on their way home, and that they both agreed it was a lot of fun.  They were already looking forward to next year.  That did my heart good.  Because, I told him, if they could have fun on what was one of the worst BW's ever, from a fish-catching standpoint, I couldn't wait for them to be around when the weather was lousy and the fish were actually biting!  Hopefully, that will be next year, and every year there after.

So Parke and Michael represent the first time that the next generation has attended Boys' Weekend.  It was wonderful having my son with me, sharing something we love so much.  It made me glad he had the same love for fishing and the outdoors that I do -- and that this was a bond we could share for the rest of our lives.  This special weekend....  And the fact that Michael, who hasn't fished as much, also enjoyed it and looks forward to returning, is an added bonus.

I look forward to when other sons of some of the other guys wish to join us. The advantage they would now have, is that we can pass on some of the experience we've picked up through the decades, and they won't have to struggle through the learning curves of fishing the way we had to.  So, with our guidance, they can shout out, a whole lot sooner...

Fish On,