Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wednesday fishing

The autumn days provide a mixed blessing down here on the coast. In late September, all of October and usually up until Thanksgiving, you would be hard pressed to find a more beautiful place than the coast of Carolina. The days are warm, but not oppressive, the sun is angled in a way to give the acres of spartina grasses a golden hue, the water turns gin clear, the fish are everywhere gorging themselves before winter comes and the summer crowds have dispersed back to the Piedmont and the Triad and the Triangle-back to their corporate lives and the land of the strip malls-to the beltways and interstates and concrete parking decks and knots of heavy traffic where they sit at desks and daydream of their next chance to come down and chill out and put a line in the water. The downside is the sure and steady approach of winter-there's always that one day at the beginning of every season that seems to scream "I'M HERE!"-down here that point can come as early as Thanksgiving or as late as mid-January, but it will arrive. That's the day when the desire to go out in the boat is trumped by the desire to don sweatpants, throw another log on the fire and take a nap on the couch. It's a time when the slate-gray skies predominate-when the sun never really is aggrressive enough or strong enough to chase away all the clouds for an extended period. Since last Sunday we've had a succession of "bluebird" days-bright sun, warm days, cool nights and light winds. I got my boat back yesterday after teaching and took the afternoon off to take my friend Dicky Scearce redfishing back up in the marshes that line the Intracoastal Waterway near the Newport River. Dicky has been kind enough this summer to invite me along to play some guitar when he does a local solo gig. Again I will shamelessly plug the four awesome CD's that he and partner Jack Ketner have churned out in a genre they call "Carolina-Carribean Pirate Rock"- two live recordings and two studio efforts mixed at the infamous Litterbox Studios located at Dicky's condo. Dicky, like me is an emigree from the Triad, specifically High Point, N.C.. the furniture capital of the world and also like me has a tremendous love for the beauty of this area. Our county is huge-from Cedar Point, where he and wife Susan live, which is on the westernmost tip of the county to Cedar Island, the easternmost point is at best a two hour venture. Each coastal community has its own unique history and flavor. There are millions of acres or ocean, salt marsh, rivers and bays and you could explore a different place everyday for your entire life and never come close to seeing it all. I have my own little piece of heaven that I know like the back of my hand-I know where the shoals and the oyster bars and the hard bottom grass flats are and I know the place at all levels of the tide. It has taken me five years to learn it all-it's a small area that draws me to it like a moth to a flame every time the boat rolls off the trailer and for obvious reasons I try to keep it's secrets to myself as much as possible. There are times when I enjoy sharing it with folks that I know will appreciate its simple beauty and its bounty and won't abuse it-you show the wrong person your favorite spot and before you know it they've e-mailed 200 of their closest friends and the place gets pounded to death. Today was my day to repay Dicky in some small way for letting me share a stage with him this summer and fall. I built him a spinning rod as a gift and today was the day he put the first bend in it.

I spent about 2 restless hours at work making a list of things to do before meeting at the boat ramp at 12:30. I bought 6 dozen live shrimp for the livewell so we could actually fish instead of chase bait at high tide. Gassed up the boat, filled up the cooler, got some sandwiches, packed some warm clothes just in case and got to the ramp with not a minute to spare. No crowd at the ramp but this is spot fishing season and there's always the ubiquitous "ramp rookies"-this time of year they are just annoying-in the crowded summer these yahoos tend to cause a phenomenon I call "ramp rage." The locals, who know how to launch a boat and get it the hell out of the way of others wanting to launch are driven to fits of cursing and violence by "upstaters" who can't back a trailer with someone watching; launch their boat without checking first to see if the motor will crank; have no concept of the effect of current, tide or wind on said boat; back into an oyster "rake" and spend an hour beating their prop to death on the hard shells; or the capital offense of putting the boat in the water and blocking the slip while traipsing back and forth to the car to get the fried chicken, the beach chairs, the fishing poles and then waiting for old granny with a walker to make the 30 minute trip across the parking lot to have her shriveled ass hoisted into the cockpit. Mix the above scene with a red-faced marble-mouthed hothead who's downed 30 beers and some Fritos in the hot sun all day and you've got yourself the makings of a true reality show. As my friend Scott has so presciently noted, "nothing good ever happens at the boat ramp."

We took off across the Newport River two hours after high tide and pulled the boat up to a grass bank on an unnamed creek-it has a name, I'm just not going to spill it. Thirty minutes of nothing happening using live shrimp is a good sign nothing is there so we went one creek up. Three good heaves with the cast net and the shrimp were joined in the livewell with a hundred finger mullet. Time to fish-We pulled the boat up into a oyster strewn basin where the water was 18 inches deep and dropping an inch every fifteen minutes or so. We put out two popping corks suspending live bait and a carolina rig that I heaved into the creek channel. I got the first one-a baby about 12 inches long but still sporting the copper color and the tell-tale black spot on the tail. Dicky saw his cork disappear and was onto a nice red-probably 20 inches at least and weighing four to five pounds-the photos are below. He did a great job with the fish-keeping a lot of presssure to keep it out of the oysters or the motor prop when he neared the boat and spooked. Got some action photos with the new rod getting broken in right. We had a great afternoon-drank few beers, listened to some tunes, traded stories and the time raced by. The drag on the reel to the bottom rig started whining and the line cut through the water. He got the call to land him and did a great job-all the way to the boat. That fish was a monster, probably in the ten pound range and as I reached to pull him in the boat, his weight straightened out the hook and he dropped off before I could pull him over the gunwhale. Nice fight-nice fish-just wish I had a photo of the beast. As the tide poured out things slowed to a crawl and we made our last relocation out in the main waterway. Another singing drag and some flopping on the surface about 50 feet out and I thought Dicky was onto another big one. All the way to the boat he put up the classic redfish battle but when we got him beside the boat it was the bane of bottom fishermen-the skate. We cut him off, lobbed a few more casts, finished off the last of the beer in the cans and headed for port. As promised I had Dicky back at the ramp just before 6:00. Another great day on the water-glad to share my small piece of heaven with a great guy and great friend. I hope we do it again soon!

PS- I did manage to pull two blue crabs into the boat. After my blue crab dinner massacre last Saturday, I used these boys to redeem myself-here's what's left of them.


Anonymous Scott said...

Here, I do not actually imagine it will have effect.
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12:22 AM  

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