Tight Lines, Good Times

Updated 3 years ago Jenny Scarborough
Tight Lines, Good Times

OISFT may have grown older in 33 years, but it hasn’t grown up.

The results of OISFT 2016 have been added below the story!

The annual tournament continues to value camaraderie more than competition. “It’s everyone’s favorite tournament,” said Head Judge Woody Billings. Seventy-one teams competed along five miles of Ocracoke's beach in four sessions on Thursday and Friday.

A ten-year OISFT veteran from Dare County said, “It’s a fun tournament. People get together after fishing.” At other Outer Banks tournaments in which he’s fished, rental cottages are spread out, and the watering holes are farther afield. When life intruded on their fishing schedule, and he and his buddies had to choose one tournament to attend, Ocracoke was the clear choice.

Islander Dave Robinson was up early and at his post at the beer truck, where the taps were flowing before the 8 a.m. start of Friday's morning session. Yeah, it is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house, said Dave. The Carolina Boys, from Martin County, have catered the event since its inception. Near the back of the event tent, past the folding tables, there was a large pot filled with spicy sausage, served folded between a slice of white bread from Piggly Wiggly, with your choice of smear: classic yellow American mustard, or a darker, spicier, vinegar-infused condiment of the boys' creation. 

I've already eaten eight sausages today, said Woody, before the clock struck 10 a.m.

Thursday morning
Thursday morning
Photo by Candice Cobb

The Carolina Boys – 12 this year – send two crews of three men to drive the beach in their pick up trucks, passing out sandwiches and cascades of shiny beaded necklaces. There is a Mardi Gras element to OISFT. Some teams wear matching costumes to the post-fishing festivities. Last year there were nuns, and tutus. There is always at least one man dressed as a lady.

The other half of the Carolina Boys, none of whom were cross-dressed, it should be noted, stayed behind at the Community Center to tend the six pigs that were the main course of Friday night's barbeque dinner. Eastern NC style, of course. Richard Alexander is the sole original member of the crew, and has attended every single OISFT. Cooking and eating is his favorite part of tournament, he said.

Earl McKnight came down from Richmond, Virginia to help prepare and serve pig two ways. "He's the Yankee in the crowd," said Alexander. Stewed potatoes, slaw, and black eyed peas will complete the plates. 

"It could be called the Ocracoke fishing and culinary festival," said longtime board member and Blues Brothers fisherman emeritus Richard Perkins. 

The Ocracoke Internationals were provisioned with "beer, water, and hot dogs," said Chad O'Neal, as he watched teammate Jamie Jackson reel in a sea mullet, earning their team one point. 

"We had bear meat and quail eggs yesterday," said Jamie.

Bob Toth with a red drum
Bob Toth with a red drum
Photo by Trudy Austin

Local boys Chris Waller, Rob Lewis, Justin Boor, and Jimmy Bowen had one Hatteras resident, Chef Dwight Callahan, on their team. Rob's mother, Sharon Justice, was the only one actively tending her line. Everyone else stood around sizzling brats on the grill, in the lee of the truck. Someone offered them a jello shot. Nah. Well, okay, said one, and then another.

I've got my eye on my line, and can sprint to my rod if need be, said Jimmy. A competing team a few stations away had all waded out to the bar, fishing hard. They've caught exactly as many fish as we have, observed Chris. Which is to say, no feesh. 

OISFT is, and always has been, a catch-and-release tournament. On Thursday, a few blues and puppy drum were landed, as were lots of sea mullet and some gray trout. Official photographer Trudy Austin said everyone appeared determined on Friday morning, with the scoreboard tight. One large fish can mean your team takes home the trophy. At least two anglers coaxed large bluefish into the wash, only to have the aggressive fish snap their lines at the last minute.

Joyce O'Neal was devasted when that happened to her. Teammate, and Tradewinds Tackle owner, Melinda Sutton saw the fish in the water as Joyce coaxed it in, and said it was at least 30 inches long.

Carolina Casters team member with a black drum
Carolina Casters team member with a black drum
Photo by Trudy Austin

Word of the ones that got away, and of significant catches, spread fast along the row of trucks, flags, and fishing lines. "They're out there," people kept telling one another. OISFT judges serve as a communications network, in addition to their official duties of measuring the fish and insuring the integrity of the tournament. The rule book is for real.

News that a 27" puppy drum, earning 31 points, was landed during the Friday morning session, which grew windy and brisk, caused some competing teams to buckle down, and others to pack it in a little early.

In 2015, Ocracoke Island Realty joined Howard's Pub as a major sponsor of OISFT, paying $2500 to enter their six person team. The board is hoping to enlist another corporate sponsor to field a 72nd team. Sixty-nine teams pay $420 to enter. OISFT is a non-profit, and proceeds after event expenses are donated to local organizations. Five or six island non-profits receive donations between $1000-$2000 each year, said Perkins. 

OISFT fills rental cottages and restaurant seats each April, during what was previously a slow time on the island.

Ocracoke Island Realty team captain Bob Jester, wearing a jester hat, got hooked by OISFT when he was invited to the barbeque and awards party a few years ago. It was so fun, and something I wanted to be a part of, he said. He owns a home on the island, which he rents through OIR. Property manager Jack Whitehead put him in charge, and Jester brought "two more boys from Ocean City," Maryland, to help round out the team.

One of them was Shel, who didn't offer a last name. He is a "die hard fisherman" who fishes at least 200 days a year. He seemed to be having a good time, though he had only recently gotten the day's first bite. OISFT randomly assigns stations to each team. Stations change with each session. Some are better than others.

"I wouldn't be fishing here if I had my pick," said Shel. Their team was stuck behind a bar at low tide, with a trough too shallow to attract fish. "Fish usually feed close to the beach," he said, but there was no little rip or break in the bar to allow fish access.

Ocracoke's own Misfit Mermaids
Ocracoke's own Misfit Mermaids
Photo by Trudy Austin

Despite the unfortunate spot drawn, "I wouldn't miss this unless I'm dead," said Jester.

A long running tournament joke is that someone does have to die for anglers to be offered a position on a team. OISFT fisherpeople are loyal. Is there any event, anywhere, more exclusive than OISFT? "Well, it's inclusive, but it is elite," said Perkins. 

John McAden was "born and raised right across the water," and has only missed four or five tournaments in its 33 year history. He was fishing on Ocracoke before the tournament, and has a long connection with the island. He remembers staying at the Island Inn as a child, when ponies would be grazing outside while guests enjoyed breakfast in the dining room. Relatives of his served with Confederate forces at Fort Ocracoke, and as the first naval commander at the base on Ocracoke, during World War II. At 84, he is not the eldest angler at the 2016 OISFT. Carol Dillon of Hatteras has a four year edge on him.

Bones the Pirate
Bones the Pirate
Photo by Rob Temple

Ocracoke resident and part-time pirate Bones Frank was fishing in his first OISFT. "I waited twenty-six years. Somebody asked me to play. I'm so excited," he said. He's a skilled surf fisherman, who habitually gifts the drum he catches to Virginia and Clyde Austin. "Other days I slay them," said Bones, who confessed that so far at the tournament he couldn't "catch a fish in an aquarium."

OISFT organizers were pleased to see National Park Service Rangers from the Manteo office strolling the beach on Thursday, chatting with anglers and enjoying the good times. Due to the history of the event, NPS allows OISFT access to stretches of beach typically closed to off-road vehicles. Two closures to protect nesting species sent us out to Highway 12. On our slow drive down South Point Road, we passed a few birders, the serious kind toting cameras with huge lenses. The truck I rode in stopped, too. American egrets, snowy egrets, gallinules, spoonbills, and ibises enjoyed a marshy feast, and perched in the cedars that cling to the hummocks. Large numbers of shorebirds migrate through Ocracoke early each May, a fellow passenger told me. A land of many species, and uses.

The fishermen migrated into the village after the morning session. The sun came out in the afternoon, and lines were re-baited and cast for the final hours of OISFT 2016. Another year older. Any wiser? Even the Misfit Mermaids have calmed down a lot, observed McAden. "They've got so they at least make it through the first session." Join the fun and find out who won tonight at the pig pickin', awards ceremony and after party at the Community Center. See you there.

Who won?

The Overall First Place winners were the Merchantsville Fishing Club from Delaware. Congrats to team members Greg O'Connell, John O'Connell, Kevin Price, Charlie Price, Gene Aikens, and Bill Watson for catching – and releasing – a total of 42 fish! This team has been in the tournament since the early days, but this was their first win! 

2nd Place Overall went to the Bud Light Six Pack, and 3rd Place went to Team Diawa. 

The Top Three Female Teams were the Outcasters, the Queen Mackerals, and the Fishing Pelicans. 

Al Bevan (team Singing the Blues) caught the biggest fish among the guys (it was a 27" red drum), and Peggy Byrd (team Queen Mackerals) caught the biggest fish among the ladies (it was a 19" red drum.)

The Most Fish caught by a man prize went to Greg O'Connell (Merchantsville Fishing Club) for 13 fish. Two women tied with the Most Fish (catching 4 each): Ashley Bahen (team Queen Mackerals) and Sandy Madre (team Outcasters). 

The scorers were Dave Frum, Molly Lovejoy, Phyllis Wall, Martha McMillan, and Al Scarborough. 

Pirate wenches a.k.a. Fish Lips. Apparently, they come to party. OISFT judges were surprised to learn that some of them actually fished this year!
Pirate wenches a.k.a. Fish Lips. Apparently, they come to party. OISFT judges were surprised to learn that some of them actually fished this year!
Photo by Rob Temple

 

 

 

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