Photo Finish at OISFT 2017

Jenny Scarborough
Thursday morning during the calm before the storm. All photos thanks to Official OISFT photographer Trudy Austin.
Thursday morning during the calm before the storm. All photos thanks to Official OISFT photographer Trudy Austin.

Fishing tournament time. Cue the wind and rain.

Hooligan's Marauders earned bragging rights and a cache of valuable fishing gear as 2017 Overall Winners in the 34th Annual Ocracoke Island Surf Fishing Tournament. 

It was a nail-biter, a down-to-the-wire drama as anglers fished throughout gale force winds and an inhospitable deluge to secure victory. Last years 2nd place overall winners, the Bud Light Six Packs (always a bridesmaid, never a full beer?) caught three fish during the worst weather Friday morning, and entered the final session with the lead. Hooligan's Marauders, in 2nd place, and the Blue Beetles – who leapt into 3rd place after Scott Uzzell landed the tournament's largest fish, a 34 1/2" red drum scoring 52 points – were fishing adjacent positions during the final session. All three teams had the six permitted lines in the water as the clock approached 4 pm, and only a few points separated the front runners. One fish could win it all. Can't you feel the tension growing with each cast? 

With the Six Packs still in the lead, the Hooligans reeled in a fish that scored, and the tournament was tied at 96 points. The Blue Beetles hooked a fish just before the official close, but it wasn't enough. They finished 3rd with 92 points. Tied. What to do? A test of filleting skill? Maybe, except that OISFT always has been and always will be a catch and release tournament. A timed obstacle course of hooks to be baited? A casting competition? Everybody wins? Nope. The only participation trophy OISFT gives are those little pins, and they pass those out like candy on Halloween. The greater number of fish caught won it for the Hooligans. Rules are rules. 

Bubbie Boos, Captain of the Castaways, is welcomed as a new OISFT team by co-chair Woody Billings.
Bubbie Boos, Captain of the Castaways, is welcomed as a new OISFT team by co-chair Woody Billings.

The Queen Mackerals of Kill Devil Hills took home top honors in the All Female category for the 3rd time. They are veterans who have been fishing OISFT since its inception. 17 women's teams, with six anglers and one alternate each, fished this year.

Often people don't remember who won which year, but the participants know who has sportsman's pride on the line and who is there for the party. The 2016 winners, the Merchantville Fishing Club, looked legit and serious in their matchy neutral toned waders. Greg O'Connell has come since 1998 from Mays Landing, in the fabulous Garden State of New Jersey, and his team was in its 33rd year. Other anglers mentioned his name with respect. The first OISFT, prior to its becoming a non-profit, was five teams. There are now 72, and the waiting list can stretch to decades. 

One of the new teams was the Castaways, captained by Bubbie Boos, owner of Teeter's Campground. As soon as he got off the list, he "started making phone calls," and a crew of folk who keep year-round campers on the island had lines in the water. 

Despite the miserable weather, "Nobody complained, and it was some of the hardest fishing I've ever seen," said Woody Billings, who served as OISFT co-chair for the 27th year. He was surprised by the high attendance at Friday's sessions. "The beach was slam full, and people fished their butts off." 

 77 fish were landed at this year's OISFT, compared to 451 last year. OISFT 2017 will be remembered as the year of the drum. Not a lot of fish, but big fish, said Woody.

"We can stand no fish if we have no complaints," said co-Chairman Richard Perkins.

Misfit Mermaid Jennifer Esham sports her new Captain hat. Sarah Fiore was one of two Mermaids wearing nautically themed leggings.
Misfit Mermaid Jennifer Esham sports her new Captain hat. Sarah Fiore was one of two Mermaids wearing nautically themed leggings.

A few teams opted not to fish Friday's sessions at all, and for those that did, many spent part of the time sheltered in their trucks. Misfit Mermaid Susie Hutchinson said she was relieved to receive a message from team Captain Jennifer Esham, who looked out the window on Cinco de Mayo, then texted her crew to stay in bed.

"It beats some of the weather we've had," said Daryl Austin of Ocracoke's Mighty Mullets, who was enjoying his ninth year at the tournament. True. It could have been cold, and the lightning was minimal. The most important thing to bring to OISFT is a "great attitude, 'cause you can bitch about anything," said Austin. His crew of men in their mid-forties is a new generation of team. Austin was invited to join longtime tournament member "Geneva" Frank's team after he "showed enthusiasm." Frank is missed.

Bring a positive attitude, and oilskins. On Thursday, before the weather turned it up a notch, Pubette Cindy Fiore walked over to the truck I was riding in and stuck her head in the window. "I just want to get out of the wind," she said, securing her hood more tightly over her ears. Teammate Daphne Bennick had yet to arrive, because the Michael Clark Band and the Wednesday night kickoff party at Howard's Pub had people dancing until closing time.

Perkins said it has been years since he stayed out that late, and blamed it on Barbara Jemison's sassy shoes. He also claimed the two of them looked "like Fred and Ginger on the dance floor." 

Pub owner and Pubette team captain Ann Warner was the only angler I saw wearing cashmere. The crabs were eating all her bait, she said, "but that's because I don't throw it very far." 

Tiderunner Candice Cobb tried to look on the bright side during the blustery first session, with the forecast promising worse to come. "Well, the water's warm and it's not raining," she said. Fellow Tiderunner Mary Dean was focused on keeping her tackle on the bottom, commenting that an anchor might come in handy. The tide was cutting hard, and most lines were at a pronounced angle to the beach. 

Candice Cobb and Mary Dean
Candice Cobb and Mary Dean

"I've got an 8 ounce weight on there and it's still moving," said Jamie Jackson. Early in the first session his team had caught 3 undersized sea mullet, a skate, a perch--nothing that scored. And as for the wind? "We are getting beat to death. It's terrible," he said. But the optimism of longtime tournament fishermen reigned. The incoming tide, mused Jamie, might improve things for the afternoon session. 

Water temperatures in the 70's and low tide on Thursday morning meant a number of fisherfolk waded out to the sand bar, casting for the big ones. Megpie Spencer said her strategy was to work the little slough in front of their position, hoping to catch sea mullet while her teammates braved the wash. 

Perkins is fond of saying that the rule book has a lot of things you can't do, but there isn't any rule saying what you've got to do. He was impressed and mildly surprised to see his son's team, the Blues Brothers, though tardy, driving back out to the beach for the final session. Would they catch a fish that scored and end the tournament with points on the board? We saw them aiming for the village after only a brief stay on the beach. The explanation? Out of beer.

The Blues Brothers may have ended at zero, but OISFT is a net gain for Ocracoke. Each team pays a $420 entry fee, and three corporate teams, Howard's Pub, Coastal Gas, and Ocracoke Island Realty, pay $2500. Many of the prizes are donated, explained Perkins, and after expenses – the pigs, the pig cookers, the beer, the beer truck – remaining funds are donated to two scholarships for graduating Ocracoke School seniors, honoring OISFT founders Sigma Willis and John A. Watkins, and to other island non-profits. Last year $8500 was given to community organizations. 

Nice Drum!
Nice Drum!

Mark your calendar for the 35th Annual Tournament May 2, 3 and 4, 2018.

1ST PLACE OVERALL  Hooligan's Marauders (1st OISFT Championship!)  96 points (MOST FISH)

2ND PLACE OVERALL  Bud Light Six Packs  96 points

3RD PLACE OVERALL  Blue Beetles   92 points


1ST PLACE FEMALE  Queen Mackerals   41 points

2ND PLACE FEMALE  Outcasters   35 points

3RD PLACE FEMALE  Island Girls   29 points


LARGEST FISH--Male  Scott Uzzell  34 1/2" Drum  52 points

LARGEST FISH--Female  TIE:  Jean Flannigan 27 1/2" Drum and Ashley Bahn 27 1/2" Drum


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