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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Photo Journal of the Silver Anniversary of Boys' Weekend

(Special thanks and credit to my old friend, Dr. Joel Schmutz, who took the majority of these photos.)

Wow.  25 years.  We're old.  Twenty-five years of doing the same thing every November.  We must be crazy.  Or addicted.  I choose to go with the latter.  We also are nothing but a bunch of friends/family who enjoy being with each other.  And while the premise of our weekend might be getting a line wet, the promise of the weekend is a great time of being with guys you love.  And GREAT FOOD!  On to the report.

The "Weekend" started Tuesday evening when Ted and Joel showed up -- Ted from Devon, PA, Joel from Anchorage, AK.  As I know that Joel NEVER gets to eat salmon, (joke) I had hickory smoked sockeye with a pecan and raspberry honey mustard glaze, waiting for dinner, with a nice Russian River Pinot Noir.  Parke joined us for dinner, and it was a fine start to the festivities.  Then, we got our rods and prepped them for the next several days' worth of activities.

The next morning, we got up and went off for a little kayak fishing before a serious weather front was supposed to move in.  The wind was going to pick up, but as the tide was coming in, hopefully we'd be okay for a couple hours.  We got out on the water and the fishing began.  Long story short:  over the next couple hours the only thing caught was a 12" speckled trout by Ted.  Still, it was his first speck ever.  But knowing we were going to need some dinner, we looked down into the shallows and saw no shortage of beautiful oysters.  We picked up just enough for a good appetizer, and paddled to shore as the winds picked up.
Ted and me casting for trout or rockfish in a tributary of the Nansemond.  No luck this time, but at least we got to enjoy some oysters for dinner.  So we did have seafood two nights in a row.

A trip to Bass Pro Shop for a 9' heaver rod, then Dick's Sporting Goods for a reel, and we were set to head home as the winds picked up more.  But the rain held off -- at least, for now.

I put some charcoal on the grill, got the coals ready, then we enjoyed some fresh steamed oysters with butter, hotsauce and cocktail sauce.  Delicious.  And with a couple of beers, I was reminded of Jimmy Buffett's song, "Tin Cup Chalice".  "Give me oysters and beer, for dinner every day of the year, and I'll be fine."  We were fine.  We went inside, finished working on our gear and got packed.  It was a good day.
"Tin cup Chalice" and "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season" are two awesome songs on Jimmy Buffett's old album, A-1-A.  You don't have to be a Parrothead to appreciate them.
Early the next morning, the weather was miserable.  In the rain and wind, we loaded up Ted's Expedition (the 4WD worked now -- we hoped) and hit the road.  A couple hours later we were down at Mike's cottage, where Jeff was already waiting for us, having arrived the night before to prepare the food.  And "prepare the food", he did.  Boy were we in for a treat this weekend!  Jerry was right behind us, and Mark arrived shortly after that.  Finally, Mike rolled in.  Let the weekend begin!

We stopped by TW's, picked up bait, and hit the beach at Oregon Inlet.  It was windy, but the rain had finally come to an end.  It was supposed to clear off, but be cold that night and the next day.  While the water had been clear and perfect the last few days for trout, it was now muddy and choppy.  We could only hope it wasn't too muddy for bait fish -- and puppy drum.  I wasn't holding my breath.

Now last year when we were down on Hatteras, there was "Percy the pelican", who was so used to being around people that we could hand feed him.  Well, apparently Percy is not alone.  It wasn't long before another pelican came walking up to us on Oregon Inlet, for a snack.  We named him Pavlov, because he was so well educated he would drool and walk up to us every time we walked over and opened one of our coolers.  Unfortunately for him, we were hitting the beer cooler harder than the bait cooler.  Still, he stuck around for a while.  But this bird did please our resident ornithologist, Dr. Joel.
Joel and Pavlov both had to squint to keep the whipping sand from getting in their eyes.  We all got exfoliated quite nicely on Thursday from the sand.  I found it in my ears later, too.

Then, while talking to some of the other guys, my rod wiggled while it was sitting in my sand spike.  Fortunately, Jeff was standing right by it to make sure the fish was still on.  It was.  Fish ON!  I got the rod and had a nice fight on hand.  I wasn't sure it was a drum until it went on a couple of runs, taking drag.  But having watched Mike last month fight a skate, while thinking it might be a striper, I wasn't saying a thing.
Fighting my first fish with my new StingRay Tackle Heavy Hooker rod, I wasn't sure how big it was, as I had nothing to gauge it by.  All I knew so far, was that the rod could handle whatever it was.

Finally after one last run, the fish was in the surf.  Fortunately, my big brother Ted (who always feels compelled to run over and help whenever I catch a nice fish -- Cayuga Lake 8lb. lake trout anyone?  My first big striped bass down on Hatteras out on the shoals?  Just to name a couple....) came over and grabbed the fish (after I had already beached it.)   It was safe....  And it was a nice redfish!  Yeah!
What would I do without my big brother, who catches the fish I catch....
A quick measurement showed it was a 33" redfish -- a "Yearling".  It was a personal best for me, and the biggest drum any of us had ever seen or heard of caught recently at Oregon Inlet.  The "Red Team" was on the board and took the lead.  Then I nursed it back to health in the shallows, and watched it swim away in the waves.
The afternoon wore on, and we realized that it was not going to be a day where we catch fish after fish, like we did two years ago.  So we enjoyed catching up, talking, and having a beer or two.
Jerry, Mark, me and Hannibal Lector, all catching up on what's going on in our lives -- while we wait for another rod to bend and wiggle.
Wait, that's not Hannibal Lector sampling his "Chiaannti and fava beans", but Jeff with a beer.  But, boy was it cold.
See, there is a difference.  The real Hannibal wasn't freezing his @$$ off.

But just before the sun went down, Ted's rod wiggled.  And he brought in a dogfish.  You know it's a slow day when I mention that Ted caught a dogfish.
The last fish of the day finished our "Dog Day Afternoon" of my 1 red drum, and a few dogfish.
Sunset at Oregon Inlet on Thursday was beautiful.  Shortly after dark, it was time to go home and make dinner.
The day complete, we packed up and went back to the cottage.  There, Mark had waiting for us, several nice bourbons for us to sample.  It was  a great way to end a day, except for the awesome meal Jeff prepared for us.  We may not catch fish, but we sure do eat well! 
Mark wasn't so sure after all that he wanted to share the Rare Breed bourbon.  But he was "busted" pocketing it, and had to share it, after all.  It was the first bottle emptied.
Okay, they weren't ALL bourbons that we sampled.  The 15 year old Glenlivet and the 1800 tequila were a nice change from the bourbon.  Don't worry, nobody made it through more than three a night.
Dinner was a Brazilian pork loin, closely shaved with herbs and spices, rice and beans and a nice California red blend wine.  Then it was back to the bourbon and a football game on television... I think.
The next morning after a stop to get coffee and breakfast, it was back down to Oregon Inlet.  The pirate flag was raised, and we hoped there were still some fish in the area.  The water was mud brown.  Still, we cast, and we waited.
Our flag was really whipping in the wind.  In fact, it was making so much noise that it got annoying after a while, and we had to lower it just to have a little peace and quiet.

The most exercise Jerry did was this cast early Friday morning.  Then, I think, he slept and consumed the rest of the weekend.  (Not really Heather, that's a joke.)
 The southside of Oregon Inlet was literally covered with hundreds of thousands of cormorants and other various sea birds, that came in a continuous skein, lasting several minutes.  It was quite a sight to see.
Just a few of the thousands of cormorants and sea birds we saw flying to and fro on Friday around Oregon Inlet.  I'm glad we didn't have to count them....
Of course, now that we had settled in for a few moments, Pavlov came flying back in, like a C5 Cargo plane, landing on the beach for another hand-out.
Pavlov comes in for a landing, looking to refuel on fish heads....
The USAF C5 Galaxy, which Joel and Ted would have passed in Dover, DE, on their drive down,  is impressive to see in the air, just like a pelican.  It can hold a great deal of freight, and still fly.  The pelican is quite impressive, too, with what it can hold and swallow....  Stay tuned.  More pelican adventures are to follow.
Pavlov was as well trained as any dog, but we couldn't get him to roll over and play dead.
After Ted had scared him off once, Pavlov was looking for a way to get even....  A peck on the butt, perhaps???

As we stayed on the beach for a while, however, we realized that there was nothing happening here.  So we moved to the channel of Oregon Inlet to see if that was any better.  It was beautiful, as the sun was out now; but it was still cold.  Unlike last year, however, we couldn't cast all the way to the high rise part of the Bonner Bridge.  Hurricane Irene had completely rearranged the sands.  The channel looked good, however, but between the current and the grass, our 8 oz. weights couldn't hold bottom.  80 oz. might have worked.
Is Joel bringing a Blue Marlin?  No, just fighting the current and grass, as he's reeling in.  It was time to move on, again.

Just like last year, Oregon Inlet and the channel were unfishable because of grass.  So we moved to Coquina beach, hoping like last year that water was clean of grass.  It was.  But the fishing was still slow.  Real slow.
The fishing was slow, and Jerry was tired.  after all, he actually cast his rod once....  But at least he wasn't snoring.
The lunch Jeff prepared for all of us consisted of massive Cuban subs, well over a foot long.  They were as huge as they were delicious.  And we ate every last bit.  No seabirds got any part of those babies....

The beach at Coquina is narrow in places, but it's scalloped with holes and sloughs in the surf, if you know what you're looking for.  But no fish were to be found today.  Having said that, when you looked down from one of the dunes, I must admit if I was a Ford Motor Company executive, I would have been very pleased with what I saw.  Every vehicle we had on the beach there, was a Ford SUV or Pick up.
Coquina beach was like a Ford commercial this afternoon.  But the fish were camera shy, and stayed away.
Looking for something to do, I found eight equal sized clam shells, dug two holes in the sand about a foot across and 30 feet apart.  Then I drew a four foot circle around each hole, and I challenged Jeff to a game of shell cornhole.  And the son of a biscuit beat me at my own game!  Well, I'll take him on in real cornhole one day.
You don't need to drag your corn hole game to the beach.  Just do what I did.  It's just as fun, and plays the same way.  And you leave it behind when you're finished.  There's no clean up involved....

Knowing that Parke was coming down later that day, and knowing that tomorrow would be a long day down at the Point in Buxton, we called it an early day Friday, and were home before dark.  We cleaned out the cars, and prepared our equipment for the next day.  Then we prepared another tremendous meal, as we waited for Parke to join us.

Appetizers were steamed Chincoteague oysters, sprinkled with shaved gruyere cheese on top and a jalapeno pepper slice.  It was certainly not the way I'd ever prepared them before, but it was delicious!  Then for dinner we had a massive Prime Rib, seasoned perfectly, and grilled to perfection with some Cabernet Sauvignon.  Man, we eat well on this trip.  Parke made it just in time for dinner, and we feasted.

Then Mark had to go.  AND IT WAS THE SECOND YEAR IN A ROW WHERE HE WAS SKUNKED.  (We thought the boy knew how to fish, but apparently he has forgotten how, and was too embarrassed to stick around for any more humiliation.)

After Mark left,  it was time for another round of the bourbon tastings, and football, then an early bedtime.

The next morning we were awake by 4:45 and on the road heading south to Hatteras as soon as we could get everyone up and at 'em.  It still was after sunrise by the time we reached the Point, but the day was going to be beautiful -- sunny and warmer.  We were ready for some warmth!

It wasn't long before we hooked up with fish... Unfortunately, they were dogfish.  But Mike caught a big one.  It's just a shame they don't count for "points" for the teams.
If you could get a citation for a dogfish, this one may qualify.  Still, it was NO POINTS for the Blue Team.
Early on, sharks were the word for the day.  Parke walked down to the Point itself, and caught this impressive little "biter" that put up a nice fight.
Biters actually should count for points.  Because they fight well, and can take a finger off.  And they're pretty.  Shortly after Parke caught this, we looked to the west side of the Point, where 10 years earlier we had seen a 9 foot bull shark, and saw something amazing....
As we fished the Point, I glanced to the west and saw a massive fin and tail about 4+ feet apart.  A shark was cruising the Point.  I looked again, and Parke said, "That's a Hammerhead."  He was right, even though we couldn't see it's distinctive shaped head.  Parke has watched plenty of nature programs, too, and could identify it from its unique dorsal fin and tail shape.  We watched this fish swimming south, and then noticed a young man with a massive rod and reel walking to the Point.  His line extended to the surf, and to the shark.  He had hooked this shark a mile down the beach, and it was working its way here.  (Earlier we had seen a guy go out in a kayak towards the western side of the Point.  Now we knew why... he had paddled the bait - probably a tuna head -out into the "hook" of the Point, and the hammerhead had taken the bait.)

We watched in amazement, as he fought this fish that had to weigh a few hundred pounds, and then "snap", his line broke.  He was upset and walked away, but the shark took its time in the surf for the next several minutes, regaining its strength and energy before swimming off into the deep again.  It was quite a sight to see.  One I won't forget anytime soon.
The long, laid back tail is a dead giveaway for a hammerhead, if you're not able to see the distinct head.  It was an impressive fish, and I was happy to see it swim away safely.

Meanwhile, after a busy night cooking, Jeff was ready to do what he wanted to do....  Catch up on some sleep.  He deserved it for the past couple of dinners.
A warm day.  A comfortable chair.  And no agenda or schedule.  It's nice to have nothing to do at the moment on BW.  Sleep well, Jeff, you earned it with those gourmet meals....
The Point was slow, with just a few fish, but we did see one guy catch THREE puppy drum.  Nobody else but him.  We were all casting to the same spot, but only he had the "magic joojoo" on his bait.  Sometimes it doesn't seem fair, but having been "that guy" on a few occasions, myself, I understand skill doesn't have anything to do with it.  And we all certainly know that Mike has been "that guy" on a few occasions, himself.

It seems there is always a hazard on the Point that snags your hook and breaks your line.  Once you learn where it is, you just don't cast exactly there again.  But when I watched one guy lose a couple rigs in a row to the same spot, I leaned over to Parke and told him that the definition of stupid is doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different result.  Apparently I didn't say it quietly enough, because the guy on the other side of my heard me, and started laughing, having witnessed the same thing.  Sure enough, on my next cast, I caught the snag and lost my rig.  But only the one time....
A slalom course of heavers marked the tide line of the beach, as Ted weaved his way through the graphite forest to cast his own rod into the mix just north of the Point.
Among the fishermen, Parke was at the Point, having success landing bluefish on almost every cast.  He's the 3rd from the left, enjoying being among the men of BW and the Point.... earning some "cred" as he was at least catching fish, and there were plenty that weren't.
As the day progressed, the Point filled up with more trucks.  But still, because bait was scarce at the tackle shops, there weren't that many trucks.  There have been years when it looks like an SUV parking lot with hundreds of vehicles.
Of course, no day at Cape Point is complete, unless you take a photo of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.  Maybe they should paint it red and white at Christmas, like a candy cane.
Parke with one of the dozen or more blues he caught at the Point.
While fishing at the Point was fun, it was worth it to walk back to the truck, because Jeff had arisen and was now preparing beef brisket subs with cole slaw.  And all I can say, is that I have never had a better sandwich on the beach.  It was outstanding, and definitely filled us up.  Did I mention I had lost 10 pounds before this weekend?  I think I gained back 5 by Saturday afternoon.
Two generations enjoying the beauty of the Point... and it was only going to get more beautiful.  And I'm not talking about the fishing.  But that place is just an awesome place to witness God's glory and creation.
Of course, I would be negligent if I didn't mention that not only was Percy still hanging out at the Point, but now he had an older friend hanging with him.  A beautiful white-headed one that also had learned his tricks.
Percy's friend had learned his tricks, and was also quite adept at catching fish heads.
Percy and his friend had the same trick mastered as Pavlov had.  Catching hand tossed fish heads and tails.
They could even do a "double" together.
Well, Percy got picky, and didn't like this piece I dropped.  I guess they eat too well there at the Point.

Of course, after everyone was well fed on brisket or fish heads, it was time for a good smoke. 
Of course Jeff and Jerry were doing what they do best.  And that's NOT catching fish....
As the sun began to set, a few more fishermen wandered down to the Point.  Parke, Joel, Ted and I were among them.  The "Blue Team" was content sitting and drinking.
Of course, if the size of the fish caught is shrinking, then maybe sitting isn't a bad thing...  Here's Parke doing his Mike Jackson imitation from Fenwick.  But this blue was much bigger than Mike's.
A beautiful shot of the sun setting, while I'm bringing in yet, another taylor bluefish.
Sunset at the Point.  One of the few places on the East Coast where you can watch the sun rise and set over the ocean.  Simply beautiful.
Me, Parke and Ted at the Point with our new rods and a couple of taylor blues, as we watched the sun set.  After dark it would get interesting....
Fishermen lined up at the Point after the sun has gone down.  The only thing missing were the big drum
From the East side to the South, to the West side, the fishermen were waiting for a bite.  There are days and nights when the drum are running, that the fishermen are shoulder to shoulder, forming a "conga line".  This was not one of them.
I went back to the trucks only to realize that Jerry had awakened! 

After it was dark, it was time for the fire.  We all sat around, sharing stories and laughing.  Good ol' male bonding at its finest.
After a nice, relaxing time around the fire, under an amazing sky filled with stars so thick you could see the Milky Way,
No, the other one.
To see the Milky Way with no ambient light around, is amazing.  Add to it the remnants of the Leonid meteor showers, which had peaked a couple nights earlier, and it was hard NOT to keep your eyes on the heavens in awe.

Then Ted and I decided to take one last walk down to the Point to see if anything was going on.  Some other fishermen followed behind us, and within two minutes one of them had brought in a nice 25" puppy drum.  Otherwise there was nobody else at all on the entire Point.  Amazing.

Ted and I walked back to the group and told them what we saw.  We all rigged up and went down to the Point.  As did a parade of cars and other fishermen.  By the time we were in the water, there were well over a dozen guys fishing down there.  It's amazing how quickly other fishermen smell when fish might be around....

Having said that, while we were fishing, Parke and I were admiring the constellations around us.  Orion awoke and rose from his slumber under the ocean to the east, while Cassiopeia was directly overhead.  Then Parke pointed out some of the constellations he knew, and confirmed them with his I-Phone sky app.  It was quite an impressive sky.
Parke shared with me how Orion killed Taurus the bull.
How the "ancients" ever saw a queen on a throne, by what I see as a "lazy 'w'" simply amazes me.  But I guess when smoking funny weeds was legal, and there was no television, the imagination really took over, and their tales grew.
Just as Parke had impressed me with his knowledge of astronomy, I went in the other direction and bent down in the shallow surf, and splashed my hand through the sand and water.  It lit up instantly with phosphorescence.  I showed Parke the "sparkle" of life, and explained to him how it was animals, plankton, that have a similar substance in them, like fireflies, that lights up when they are disturbed.  He was amazed.  It was impressive how the puddles lit up with a shake of my hand.
While the bioluminescence that we saw wasn't this bright, it was impressive, none-the-less.  And it was something Parke was not aware of--even though he's spent his whole life going to the ocean.  I was glad to share a neat first moment with him.  From the microscope to the telescope, the Point was a testimony to God's grand creation.  And it was all beautiful.
Finally, after a few more bluefish, we realized that the one redfish must have been a fluke.  We wrapped it up, and made the LOONNNGGGG trek home.  Fortunately we all stayed awake long enough to make it back to the cottage safely, then we crashed... into chairs, while Parke crashed in bed.  The rest of us turned on SNL, and watched Ted's crush, Florence and the Machine, do their new song.  Then after Weekend Update, I hit the hay, too.  I was exhausted.  It had been a long, but memorable day -- not so much for the fishing, as much as the beauty of the day.
Florence & the Machine, SNL performance of Shake It Out
"A beautiful redheaded 6 foot Amazon", Ted called her, with an amazing voice.
The next morning we all slept in.  It was after sunrise when we awoke and hit 7-11 on our way to Oregon Inlet.  Cormorants had taken over Oregon Inlet, with thousands all over the sand.  But if they hadn't been there, we still couldn't fish there, as the grass was everywhere.  We went straight to Coquina and set up shop.  It was going to be a hot day.  And before it was done, we'd be down to short sleeves and even shorts.  What a contrast to Thursday and Friday.

Needing some fresh bait, Parke put on my waders, grabbed my casting net, and showed off his fine form throwing a net -- unfortunately, there were no baitfish or finger mullet around.
A perfectly thrown casting net yielded no bait fish, as the waters were completely empty of life at the moment.  Still, he looked good doing it.
After a while on Coquina, it wasn't long before Pavlov found us again, and wanted some breakfast.  Having kept a dogfish the day before, (as we had planned on trying a recipe of Mike's that never occurred, since we stayed so late the night before), we took it out of the cooler and Pavlov immediately came over wagging his tail and drooled.  As it was too big to take whole, Ted cut off a small section, and then fed the rest to the pelican.  He took it happily, and showed off his impressive beak's ability to hold a large fish.  I wondered if he needed Rolaids, but he was just content to keep it in his pouch for a while-- kind of like Jerry used to do with his massive wad of Skoal (before he quit that nasty habit, Heather.)

Pavlov realized he needed to adjust his breakfast and get it going the right way.  But first he decided to suck on it for a while.
Pavlov must have carried around the dogfish in his pouch for 20 minutes or more, before woofing it down, and then flying off somewhere... and we never saw him again.  We hoped it wasn't to die of indigestion.  But if it was, Ted said, he was thankful he didn't keel over right there in front of us.

While it was a beautiful day, and we gave it our best efforts, there was nothing to catch, as there was nothing but one pod after another of dolphins swimming, splashing, jumping and surfing in the waves.  But the only fish we saw were a few small bait fish close in the surf -- after Parke put the casting net away, and we had bought more bait. 
It wasn't for lack of effort that we didn't catch fish.  But eventually you have to realize it is a wasted effort.
When the fishing wasn't there, we all just chilled and enjoyed the beautiful day.
While we didn't fish until the cows came home, we did fish well after the horses came by.  But then we'd had enough and reluctantly pulled up our lines.
When we got back to the "Reel Family" cottage, we cleaned the trucks, the cottage, and our equipment.  Then we all embraced and parted ways, already talking about the next year -- and the next 25 years.
So the 25th Boys Weekend was over.  And while it wasn't a bonanza of fishing success, we've certainly had worse.  And perhaps Ted said it best when he said, "If we only came for the fishing, this would have died out a long time ago."  But we enjoy being with each other, and catching anything is really just a bonus.  And that's why we look forward to the next quarter century, and the continuation of the next generation joining us when they can.  It really is the best way I know to catch up with all my "bro's" and spend some serious quality time with each and every one of them.

So, with that said, the RED TEAM kicked the Blue Team's butt.  Parke was the Runner Up Master Angler, and I was the Angler of the weekend, primarily for that first and only redfish.  The Worst Fisherman of the weekend -- for the third year in a row was Mark.  He's been skunked two years in a row, and only caught a couple fish on Sunday the year before.  Maybe he should stick around a little longer. (Hint, hint.)

Until next time, I love you guys!  Thanks for making this and every year so special -- regardless of our success.  You all mean the world to me.

Fish ON!

Post Script:
Ted and Joel left early Monday morning.  Early Tuesday morning I had the opportunity to go kayak fishing for an hour.  My first cast in the channel where I had taken Ted and Joel, I caught this beautiful striper.  It was 27.25" long and weighed 9 lbs. 5 oz.  It was the second largest striper I've caught there, and the third largest I've caught in a kayak.  It gave me a wonderful Nantucket Sleigh Ride, and was almost too big for my net.  It figures that he wasn't around just a few days earlier, when Ted or Joel could have had a chance to catch him.  Oh well, I guess that's the sign that Boys' Weekend is over -- when everybody is gone, and we locals start catching fish again.  I guess that's the advantage of living in God's Country.

This beauty was the biggest striper we've caught in our section of the river this year.  I'm just glad I had the chance to get out there for an hour.  He'll be a delicious dinner for several hungry people.