Fishing Blues!

Rob Temple
Catch o' the Day!
Catch o' the Day!

Surf-fishing on Ocracoke is worth doing at least once a century.

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.            Henry David Thoreau

I always suspected the above quote was an indication that old Henry David’s fishing luck wasn’t much better than mine.  After all, as some other wise angler once observed, “a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work!” (Obviously a guy whose worst day of fishing didn’t involve the Coast Guard, the fire department and the local emergency room! But that’s another story.)

Although it may come as a surprise to folks who know me, I’ve actually been a fisherman all my life. I’m just not as persistent as most other guys who fish. In fact the intervals between my fishing trips usually vary between, say, a year and several decades.

So a couple of days ago my new buddy Jim, a veritable Field & Stream poster child, invited me to go surf fishing on the beach right here at Ocracoke. Thinking back on it, I realized it had been a while since I last fished the surf here – sixty years in fact – so I readily accepted. He came by in his beach car promptly at eight and we were off.

Like most activities worth doing, fishing is both an art and a science. Most of my fishing, like that of Thoreau, has tended more to the arty side – sitting on a bank, rod in hand, reading a book, swatting mosquitoes, and coming up with deep philosophical musings.  Jim, on the other hand, is a little more about the science. A former chemistry professor, he has a notebook full of data collected on his more successful outings – conditions of wind, tide, temperature, shoreline contours, bird behavior and who-knows-what-all (he didn’t actually show it to me so I suspect it contains lots of well-guarded secrets). 

We finally reached his targeted spot for the day. I’d tell you where it is but then I’d have to kill you. There was only one other vehicle in sight and he was a good half mile farther down the beach. Jim sank three rod holders in the sand, baited up and casted about twice as far out as we were ever able to with the old line and reels of the 1950s.

Jim and his surf-fishing gear
Jim and his surf-fishing gear

It was a gorgeous day to be out there, the only downside being it was a bit early for drinking beer. Within minutes we had some action on one of the rods. It turned out to be the first of four stingrays (or the first of the four times we caught the same ray). Although our luck was less than stellar, we did manage to catch two respectable bluefish which Jim promptly slit open and submerged in a bucket of seawater. Removing most of the blood right away, he explained, would make the fish taste a lot better. He sure was right about that. I’ve eaten a lot of bluefish in my time and have always enjoyed it but these were the tastiest I’ve ever had.

Although we didn’t exactly fill up the cooler, we both agreed it was a luxury to have the beach almost exclusively to ourselves, knowing it won’t be long before the jeeps and trucks will be cheek by jowl for as far as the eye can see.

Writing about fishing, I just automatically assume that most of my readers will know far more about the subject than I do, but just in case there’s any among you who might know less, I’ll share the main lesson I took away from my recent experience: 

To catch fish (and, more importantly, not to look like a complete idiot to the other anglers) requires a lot of expensive, hi-tech equipment. Walking into a tackle shop can be a bewildering experience for the novice – so many different types of rods, reel, hooks, lines and sinkers. Which ones should I buy? The best gear to fish with is gear that someone else has purchased and rigged. And better still, be sure and have that person along to show you how it’s done!



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