Greta, Rod, and Reel

Jeramy Guillory

Rod and Greta Frugé of Lake Charles, Louisiana rented the big house on the harbor next to me opening week of grouper.

He, a burly kind of Rod Steiger look alike and she, a thin-nosed brunette with kind hands and a pleasant smile were both in their late sixties. Like most vacationers, they assumed I had all the time in the world to make small talk about the island. I guess I did since the only rush I was in was to get on the water and catch dinner before the charters returned from grouper fishing. It was one of those mornings where all the little hoops in life were preventing me from getting out there and dropping a line in the water first thing in the morning. He offered me a beer and since it was almost noon (10:38 a.m. to be exact) I justified the Natural Light I was offered. Here we were in one of the most expensive rentals on the harbor and the man is springing for a case of Natty-lights. But I liked their accents, so I stayed and even offered to take them fishing.

Rod and Greta's blues caught off South Point
Rod and Greta's blues caught off South Point

That was before we got to the dynamics of their relationship. “Greta!” he would shout every time she left the patio.  “Greta, get my phone so I can take a picture!” or “Greta, this sun is cooking me, get my hat!” “Greta get this. Greta get that.” And so it went. When she returned and was finally about to sit with us, he held up his empty beer can and gave it a wiggle. She rolled her eyes but took the can into the kitchen. “I love you, Boo,” he said grinning ear to ear with a wink in my direction. It forced out of me that uncomfortable, courtesy smile men share from time to time when women leave the room. I hate that feeling. I find myself disapproving of the behavior but do it anyway.

They asked about fishing licenses. I directed them to Tradewinds Bait and Tackle, then made my way home. I passed an empty Coors light box on the side of the road and waved at an elderly couple taking pictures of Allan’s red door house. I can’t imagine sitting in my living room and seeing cameras pointing at me from the road. Never quite understood that behavior, but it keeps the backs of tourists to my house which offers me some privacy, so I can’t complain. I’ve even seen a lady pick daffodils from his flower garden. She couldn’t see me through the screened porch. Then, when Scout crossed the street to see what the hell this lady thought she was doing, she realized she was being watched and scampered away. Even my dog knows better.

Rod and Greta returned shortly with their licenses and a bag of Eduardo’s. Turns out Alan Sutton, the owner of Tradewinds, had offered advice to Rod on exactly what tackle he would need, but they didn’t have time and somehow it was all Greta’s fault. Apparently she hadn’t made lunch for him, and he was too hungry to think, so they left without tackle and returned with burritos instead.

We boarded the boat and cruised slowly across the harbor as Rod stuffed his face. Salsa and cheese dripped through is fingers and onto the floor of the boat. Scout was making a treat out of it which only led to Rod giving more and more scraps away to the dog. 

We throttled up and headed towards the inlet. I perched Greta on the seat at the helm next to me and Rod held the bow low, seated front of center console. We anchored up just outside of South Point and started casting metals with rusted hooks towards the shoals. I’m sure Alan would have suggested a few Hopkins. We needed bait and drum rigs, too. Rod apparently knew better than Tradewinds, so we were making do with what I had. We managed several good sized blues on lures, but no drum.

By now the chop was really banging us around. Greta was looking a little green and Rod hadn’t stopped running his mouth. Nothing like getting banged around in the chop and holding conversation at the same time. Add to that the constant tying and untangling of lines and lures, I too was feeling the nausea. The incoming tide finally pulled anchor on us and we had drifted into only a foot of water right on top of the shoal. I throttled up to keep us from running aground and as I looked back to keep the prop from hitting the sand, there they were. About a dozen or more drum staring back at me. Dinner!

I wanted a drum fish. I needed a drum fish. Spring had taken her time entering the Outer Banks and after a winter’s worth of chicken I wasn’t about to go back to my steady diet of yard bird. I had been fortunate enough the last month or so to sustain myself with blues, drum and trout, not to mention the onslaught of bounty from the last charter trip I took last week. But today we needed drum fish.

We powered away from the shoal enough to cast into the school and right away Rod hooked up. The drag began to pull and Rod started hooting and hollering. The chop was rocking the boat back and forth and throwing Rod’s 300 pound body side to side. Again the tide was pushing us onto the shoal and we powered out of there enough to get back into 10 feet of water. I could see the drum pulling alongside the boat as Rod continued muscling that fish like a tuna on 100 pound test. Sooner than I could say anything to prevent it, Rod lifted his pole to the heavens and zip.  Off came the slot-sized drum.

“Greta!” he yelled as he fell back onto the floor of the boat. I pushed the boat further away from the chop to settle into some smoother water. Poor Greta was green as a pear and Rod was bleeding from his knuckles when he fell. All the while, Scout had stuffed his snout into the bag of burritos and swallowed down the rest of lunch – aluminum foil and all. I know, because in the middle of all this commotion, he choked up all the beef, cheese, and aluminum foil right there on the bow.

I called out on the radio to the Drumstick that I saw returning to the inlet from a grouper trip. I figured if we couldn’t hook any drum we might as well let someone else have them. Farris couldn’t get his big boat positioned in there well enough without risking running aground either. Drumrunner heard us on the radio and was scooting back over to us from Portsmouth. I told Captain Ernie what I saw. Drumrunner was chartered for a short inshore trip, so I was sure dinner was gone for me. E.D. has a lifetime of experience on the sound, and if you’re ever wanting a half day on light tackle he’s your guide.

About the time Rod realized we were motoring out of there he asked surprisingly, “Are we leaving?”

“I think Ms. Greta’s had plenty,” I said.

“She’s alright. You OK, Boo?”

“Na, I gotta take my dad to a doctor’s appointment anyway,” I said helping her save face.

By the time I had secured the boat to the dock behind their house and washed her down, Greta was feeling much better and had already made a plate of finger sandwiches as I passed between the houses. They offered money for gas, which I refused, but accepted the snack. I should have passed on the mid-morning beer because it made my stomach feel empty, so the sandwiches were very satisfying. She kept apologizing. “I don’t usually get so queasy,” she said as she made her way back to the kitchen to grab Rod’s soda and set it on the table. She was just about to be seated when Rod interrupted, “Greta, did you pack my slippers?”

“I’m sure they are in the suitcase upstairs,” she said.

Jeff and Wendy Berube with the crew of the Drumstick
Jeff and Wendy Berube with the crew of the Drumstick

He looked at her sheepishly. “Baby, not all of us got to sleep on the boat today. Some of us actually did some fishing,” he said jokingly. 

She pinched off a piece of the sandwich with her fingers and trotted upstairs for his slippers.

 “I love you, Boo…”  He grinned and winked. I left to take pictures of the grouper trip.

At the docks, local homeowners Jeff and Wendy Berube limited out on a half day bottom fishing tour. They were joined by a fellow named Jerry from New Jersey. It was a fairly slow week for most of the charter boats due to weather, but first day of grouper was a success. Everybody limited out. While I was there taking pictures, I gathered that nobody got our school of drum. Ernie said they didn’t even see them.

I got back to my house later and was helping my dad walk into the back door after his doctor’s appointment. We only had to wait forty-five minutes in the waiting room so my patience was running thin. I felt like I was missing out on a beautiful day. I saw Greta pulling into her driveway after I put dad inside and pulled the truck around to the other side of the house. She came over with a bag of lures she wanted to give me.  She had been to Tradewinds Bait & Tackle.  “I met the owner, Alan Sutton,” she said.  “He was so helpful. He said he uses metals like this one.”  She held up a pair of Hopkins. “He also showed me how to tie these for bait fishing. Said we should try bait fishing this time of year,” she said.

She was right. I remember going to Tradewinds when I used to visit and knew nothing about fishing in Ocracoke. I never got the sense that Alan was just trying to get me to buy things. I’ve actually seen him turn folks away from wasting their money on some of the most expensive things in his store when it was more than they really needed. He gets a lot of information about what is happening throughout the day from both tourist and locals. Each day changes, so he is a great resource.

Jerry from New Jersey on the opening day of Grouper
Jerry from New Jersey on the opening day of Grouper

“So I think we should cut up some of those smaller blues we caught and use them for bait on these rigs.” She pulled out some bait fishing rigs with twin circle hooks and a sinker. “I’ll show you how to tie ‘em like this when we get out there.”  I paused. “I’ll buy the gas if it’s not too late to go out,” she said.

I looked perplexed. “Where’s Rod?”

“Sleeping from all his hard work fishing.” She grinned. 

I liked it. “Let’s go.”

We made wakes across the lake and raced out the entrance. Full throttle, we shot out towards Teach’s Hole and rounded South Point to anchor on the same shoal from this morning. The sun was falling more to the west so it was difficult to see into the water. I already marked the spot on the GPS, and I puttered around the general area until took anchor. We set out two rods on bait. I started casting a white bucktail into the rough water. I could see bait fish bouncing around my line as it hit the water but that was it. After several casts with no blues I began to worry.  Catching that drum was now more about pride than filling my belly. Pride for me. Pride for Greta. And we both felt it.

I climbed up on the T-top to see if I could get a better look into the skinny water near the shoal. The boat was rocking so I couldn’t stand up straight and look down. I sat on my knees and watched the water. And then it happened. I saw the rod tip bend full force and yelled, “Fish on!”  I scrambled down and Greta had the pole in her hands already. The drag was pulling. “Got one,” she said calmly. I grabbed the net and waited.  She was reeling it in and saw it come right up to the boat. I reached to scoop it with the net and it dove.  I saw her rod bend under the boat. “Damn,” I thought, “Don’t ruin this for her.”  I’ve seen this happen before. The line can snap when they pull under the boat like that. But she managed well. The fish pulled some drag but quickly came back to the surface and right into the net. “Got him!” I said and pulled him onto the floor of the boat. The hook came right out of his mouth as he bounced around in the tangled net. “Ahhh, ha, ha, ha haaa!” I shouted. Greta stood over the fish in disbelief.

“Now that’s what I call a fish,” she sighed.

“That’s a nice one. That’s a real nice slot sized fish there, Greta! Real nice. Good job.”

Greta's 25-inch drum posing with the author. Thanks, Tradewinds, your rigs worked perfectly!
Greta's 25-inch drum posing with the author. Thanks, Tradewinds, your rigs worked perfectly!

We exchanged a few high fives and measure the fish along the fish box. 25 inches. I tried to get her to hold it for a picture but she was too afraid of it slipping out of her hands and back into the water. I held it up for her while she snapped a photo.

The sun was getting ready to set as we passed Springers Point and rounded into the harbor. I dropped her off at the dock behind her house, and took the boat back to Anchorage Inn to wash her down. Greta looked tired walking towards the house, and I could tell the nausea was there underneath her adrenalin. She said they were making steaks tonight and invited me over for dinner, but I declined. I offered to clean the fish for her and bring it by on my way home. 

When I got there, Greta was on the deck with her bare feet in a chair and a clear drink in her hand. She looked pretty wiped out, but proud. I put the fillets in the fridge. Rod was milling back and forth from the grill to the house, all the while barking out some story about the best way to grill steaks. “Greta!” he’d shout managing some flames around the meat. “Greta! I need my good fork for this. Greta! Go see if they have some big plates, Greta. Greta!  We gonna need the big plates for this, Greta. Greta get this! Greta get that! Greta! Greta!”

“Rod!” she interrupted sitting in her lounge chair without looking up. “I’ve been fishing all day. And while some of us slept all afternoon, we were out doing all the work. So I’m going to sit her and have a drink. And I can promise you, I aint’ getting up until dinner is on the table.”

“But I love you, Boo!” he frowned.

“Then go get my slippers,” she grinned. Then gave me a wink. 



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