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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Being Thankful on the Coast

Thanksgiving seems to be one of the favorite holidays of everyone that I know. It is a magic time which somehow has been able to survive with minimal commercialization. Most people take Thanksgiving as a holiday to get together with family and friends and enjoy a good meal together. While plenty of food is involved, even more effort is expended on being together. People drive hundreds of miles to be with loved ones. First and foremost, if we are lucky, we can rejoice in everyone being healthy enough to make the celebration. While family dominates Thanksgiving day, there are plenty of things for which we can say thanks here along the coast.
When I go down my list of what to be thankful for beyond my family, often the first thing I come up with is the privilege of living in such a scenic area. I always take a short detour to my dock each morning as I head out to get the newspaper. The view of the water always amazes me. Sometimes I will get fussed at by one of the big Blue Herons. Other mornings, there are White Herons flying overhead, and in January, I can be surprised by Pelicans in the neighborhood.

Similarly when I have had a tough day, I always find an excuse to drive across the bridge to Emerald Isle. Riding across Bogue Sound around sunset can cure almost any case of disappointment. The colors on the sound are truly something special. The view from the bridge brings great beauty into the life of all who are fortunate enough to see it.

Next on my list of things to be thankful for is Carteret County. First and foremost, it is a safe place to live and raise a family. We have little crime and plenty of great people who make it a friendly area. We have a moderate climate, wonderful seashores, Croatan National Forest, and even low taxes with great schools and almost no traffic. It is a hard to beat combination.

Similarly I am thankful for the wonderful waters that are a part of Carteret County. I cannot think of an area where you can have more fun boating, fishing, and just relaxing on the water. We have waters which are safe for swimming and for our marine creatures.

Also I would add to my list the many people here in Carteret County whose jobs and lives touch my life. The list includes my business associates, the members of our church, the people who live in our subdivision, and the many hardworking people who provide the services which make our lives so pleasant here on the Crystal Coast. That includes everyone from the fishermen who catch our shrimp to the many waiters and waitresses who somehow always have a smile on their face even during tourist season.

While many places close up during the winter, that is not the case here in Carteret County. The Crystal Coast just becomes an even closer community. By mid winter, most locals are easy to spot in restaurants. I am thankful that we are small enough to be a friendly community but still large enough to have all the basic services and shopping that we need.

As other areas of the country get covered by snow, I am very appreciative of our weather which allows snow only as a very rare occurrence. The lack of ice and snow is one of the prime reasons that my wife and I are living here in Carteret County.

The Crystal Coast is a great place with much for which to be thankful, and of course it is even better if you can surround yourself with all your friends and family who can help you enjoy all the bounty of our area.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Never Scrimp on Your Bait Shrimp

We have faced some cold weather here on the normally warm Crystal Coast. It has made fall fishing a little more challenging. Between the winds, rain, and cold weather, most fishermen have not been out on the water nearly as much as they had planned. Today the weather moderated somewhat, and this afternoon we even saw the temperatures make it back into the sixties which is near where they should be this time of year. With that background, one of my fishing buddies and I decided to try our luck at one of our fishing holes which happens to be just a couple of minutes by boat from my dock. This morning I went out to get shrimp for bait. For some reason I decided to buy really nice medium shrimp. It turned out to be a wise decision.
It only took us a few minutes to load my boat and get underway. My wife's last words to us as we pulled away from the dock were "do not bring any fish back for dinner." While I am sure she meant that as a funny parting comment, I think it turned into a curse.

Since my boat had not been out in a couple of weeks, I wanted to run it down the river at a pretty good clip just to get the motor warmed up. We turned at the red sixteen buoy near Bluewater Cover and headed towards Swansboro with the boat planing nicely.

It only took a couple of buoys for us to figure out that we did not have enough clothing on to make a comfortable run down the river. I slowed the boat down quickly, and we started working our way close to some oyster rocks where we had enjoyed some great success on our last two fishing trips.

We anchored in about nine feet of water with a slope of deeper water near enough for our casts to reach. The tide was just starting to come up in the river. In a short time we both had lines baited with shrimp in the water waiting for our initial bites. The last time we were at the same spot only a couple of weeks earlier, we had on shorts and tee shirts. Today we both were wearing jeans and jackets. The last time we also had gotten bites almost as quickly as our baits hit the water.

Just as we had anchored I had noticed a couple of nice fish on the fish finder so we were hopeful that the fish would be interested in our baits.

Within about five minutes we trying different spots around the boat with no bites of any kind. After about twenty minutes of no interest from the fish, we decided to move to some deeper water.

We pulled up the anchor and moved fifty yards up the river to a spot where the water is twenty feet deep. My theory was that perhaps the fish were holed up in warmer and deeper water. It did not take us very long to decide that the deeper water was not the answer to our problem.

We both switched to artificial lures and flailed the water for another hour while checking our shrimp baited bottom rigs regularly. About an hour and one half into the trip, I picked up my camera and started snapping some pictures of clouds reflected on the water. I figured if I could not catch any fish, I would at least come away with some nice pictures.

Despite our best efforts, we did not get a single bite. Just before five o'clock, we pulled up our anchor and headed back to my dock. It had gotten cool on the water, and with no action, we figured that we would save our efforts for a warmer day.

Still we had a great trip, but what happened to the shrimp? Since we had only used five or six shrimp, and they had been nicely packed in ice for the trip, I took them inside and cleaned them. My wife did her magic with the quick dip that she gives shrimp in boiling water, and we enjoyed a nice shrimp cocktail before dinner.

Now if I had bought bait shrimp, the only creatures getting to enjoy shrimp would have been those neighborhood crabs that live a very good life at the end of my dock.

So rule number one is buy good shrimp, they might be the only thing edible that comes back from your fishing trip.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Beach Trip

It is only in recent years that coming to the beach for the holidays has become popular. It has become a tradition with some families. I suspect the holiday beach trip has a lot to do with how easy it is to drive to the beach. The four lane highways with fast food available at almost every interchange is far different from the experience that families faced years ago. I can remember the preparations for trips to the beach made it seem like we were going on an expedition.
The North Carolina of the fifties was a very different place than it is today. There were just a few four lane roads, and none of those went anywhere near the beach.

A trip to beach from western North Carolina required careful planning and preparation. There were few if any restaurants east of Raleigh where once a year visitors could count on finding good food. With a trip to the beach taking much of a day from our home turf near Mount Airy, much of the preparation for the trip involved cooking food to be enjoyed along the way.

My mother was an expert at packing picnic lunches. The meals on the trip down to the beach were a highlight of the trip. The meals always had some combination of country ham biscuits, fried chicken, and pimento cheese sandwiches. The only beverages that I can remember were those small bottles of Coca-Cola.

In addition to the food for the trip down, much of the food for the week at the beach was carried down in the car. I can even remember taking jugs of water along with us. It is a good thing we did not need a lot of clothes since there were no giant cars back in the fifties and sixties.

There were also no by-passes in those days, and even gasoline stations were a challenge to find. The trip to the beach was a tour of many small towns and villages.

There were a few things that we watched for to indicate that we were getting closer to our destination.

One was the first Spanish moss and the other was the first sign of the mosquito ditches along the roads. Then we would look for that first long bridge over water. I do not ever remember being bored in spite counting cows being one of the few games, but I am certain we were normal kids anxious to get into the water.

Spending time on the beach and in the water pretty well summed up the activities. We often had a couple of my older cousins with us. They were teenage girls, and I can remember them going to dances and having a lot of fun on the boardwalks.

Meals were not a big deal though I can remember some seafood restaurants. It was really all about the beach and enjoying the water.

Much of the coast shut down after the summer season years ago. That is no longer the case especially along the Crystal Coast. Most of our services are year around since there are plenty of us who spend all of our time here.

Today's holiday visitors often come to the beach to get away from excessive holiday celebrations. The uncrowded fall or winter beach attracts people who are seeking peace and quiet during the holidays.

With four lane roads leading right to the Emerald Isle or Atlantic Beach bridges, travel from anywhere on the east coast to the Crystal Coast is much easier than it was during those early expeditions that our family made.

In looking through the recent local papers, I am amazed at how many restaurants in the area are doing Thanksgiving dinners. There are plenty of choices so that you can come to the beach and enjoy a holiday meal without even cooking.

It is a short trip to a different perspective on your usual holiday celebration.

We recently drove from Charlotte to Emerald Isle. The driving part of the trip only took five hours even though we mostly stayed off of the Interstates until we got to Raleigh.

Along the way there restaurants of every type. There was even no challenge finding gasoline priced below two dollars a gallon.

Even so I sort of miss the picnic we used to take with us.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Enjoying the View

Today was a cool day here on the Crystal Coast. Tomorrow our high temperature is forecast to be almost fifteen degrees lower than our normal November high of sixty-five degrees. While western North Carolina has received some light snow in higher elevations, most of us on the coast take little pleasure in knowing that other places are colder. We would rather have our nice warm weather. While today was cool, it was still a day when we enjoyed the out of doors, we just picked our places and took pleasure in the warm sun.
While this unusual cool spell has kept all but the most dedicated fisherman onshore, it certainly has not driven us all inside. I was in shorts and working outside on Saturday. Today I had on blue jeans and a sweatshirt.

The winds were fairly quiet, and the sun was shining brightly through our clear blue skies. When that happens, it is pretty easy to find a nice spot along the Crystal Coast. Since we had been over on the beach yesterday, we decided that our daily outing would be on the mainland.

As we were driving through Cedar Point, I noticed how nice the White Oak River looked so we decided to take a quick walk on the river walk that Swansboro has installed just across from First Citizens Bank.

As you can see from the photo in the post, the view from the river walk is one of the nicest water views that you can find. The walkways are well done, and it is great place to get some fresh air with very little effort.

There was a fair amount of traffic on Highway 24 so I suggested we find a quieter spot to enjoy the water. One of my favorite sheltered areas is Hammocks Beach State Park. This time of year the ferry to the beach is not running but you can still enjoy the mainland area of the park.

It is only a short drive from Swansboro to the park. The road into the park is one of my favorite spots with live oaks providing a canopy for the road.

If we had been facing rain, we might have taken advantage of the museum, but with cool temperatures and a warm sun we walked down to the dock and enjoyed the view of the Intracoastal Waterway and beyond that Huggins Island.

The dock where we enjoyed the view is probably the best kayak launch point in the area since it has two specially designed floating launch points with rollers to make it easy to slide your kayak into the water.

We then took a short hike over to another pavilion where we could see the pontoon boats used to ferry beach goers to Hammocks Beach during the summer. It was pleasant spot to enjoy the setting sun.

As we got back in the car which was parked near another beautiful live oak, my wife commented that the sun warmed car felt especially since we cooled ourselves along the water.

On the way back home we got to enjoy yet another golden Carteret County sunset. It was just another pleasant afternoon here on the Crystal Coast.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fulfilling the Dream To Be Near Water

We all have dreams that we chase. One of my first ones was to live close to the water. As a youngster wandering the quiet woods of Forsyth County several decades ago, I had visions of being able to walk outside and fish from my backyard. As close as we could get in those days was damming up a small stream or riding our bicycles to one of the local farm ponds. Those waters were ones where we had great fun, but I knew from our annual trips to the North Carolina coast that there were waters which dwarfed those small ponds. Some magical memories were made during those weeks we enjoyed lazy summer days in those early beach cottages. Yet life can and often does lead in different directions from your dreams.
After college I managed to live for a few years along the shore in Maritime Canada, and later we spent a couple of years in Halifax, Nova Scotia where I could see the harbor from our bedroom. It is likely that those sojourns along the water combined with those early beach trips made it nearly inevitable that I would try to find a spot on North Carolina's coast.

It was a trip to Beaufort for our thirtieth anniversary that really got me interested in living by the water once again. The charm of Beaufort's waterfront and the easily accessible water all through Carteret County were two powerful arguments for finding a spot along the Crystal Coast.

We did want to make certain we were settling in the right spot. We ventured up to Virginia's eastern shore, tested the communities all down the northern Outer Banks to Ocracoke and even looked as far south as Southport and Oak Island.

None of the other spots had what we really wanted in a place to live. However at the time, it was hard to define what type of home we wanted along the Crystal Coast. Before we had our priorities settled, we looked at beach cottages and homes on the mainland even in the same day.

It took us a while to figure it out, but we finally decided that we really wanted to be on the water. We also wanted to have our future boat on a lift behind our home. With that thought to guide us, we were able to focus our search. We ended up in Bluewater Cove on the White Oak River since a soundfront home with a boat lift was out of our price range.

It has turned out to be a great location in an area that offers much to people like my wife and I who love a small town atmosphere and really want to be part of a community that stays active all year.

Having easy access to the river is something I enjoy almost every day. Being able to reach the Intracoastal Waterway in ten minutes by boat has really been a treat.

In different circumstances we might have ended up over on the beach. Being on the river has turned out to be a good decision for us . A fishing trip is something that I can do almost any morning or afternoon when the winds and water are cooperating. We often catch fish less than five minutes by boat from our home.

I have had the rare pleasure of catching fish, cleaning them on my dock, and cooking them all within an hour or two of when they were swimming in the river. Those are fish so fresh that are easy to remember.

While being on the water and fishing from the boat has been my passion, I do know others whose love for surf fishing makes living close to the beach more important.

One of these days, perhaps the surf will win my soul, and we will have to find a spot over on the beach where I can take my rod and walk to a fishing spot.

The beauty of the Crystal Coast is that I will not have to go far to find that spot.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beaufort, a Favorite Spot To Visit

Beaufort was the area that first attracted us to the Crystal Coast. As a special treat for our 30th anniversary, I booked a weekend at one the best B&Bs in town. That was several years ago, and I think the handwriting was on the wall even after that first visit. There was something special about Beaufort and Carteret County that kept drawing us back to the area. Beaufort is still a favorite spot to visit. We often take visitors for an afternoon of Beaufort dock walking. While we live on the other side of the county near Swansboro, it still only takes us thirty-five minutes to drive down to Beaufort. It is a great place to visit because you can park your car and walk to everything.
Almost everyone who visits Beaufort falls in love with the beautiful white homes along Front Street. Walking down the street, you get the feeling that they have survived many storms and seen a lot of history. In some respects Beaufort is all about history.

From the historic site with its restored buildings to the grand homes whose exteriors look much as they must have in colonial times, Beaufort exudes history. I love the old court house surrounded by live oaks. Beaufort's wide main street takes you back to a different time.

The one thing we always do when we visit Beaufort is walk along the boardwalk by the docks. I am always amazed by the variety of boats that range in size from small skiffs to large research vessels.

I have never been to Beaufort when Town Creek did not have several sailboats anchored in it. Part of the attraction of Beaufort is that the town and its harbor are a popular stopping point along the Intracoastal Waterway. There is always someone new wandering the docks or eating in the restaurants.

Of course when it comes to restaurants, Beaufort has some great ones including Beaufort Grocery, Blue Moon Bistro, Front Street at Stillwater, Sharpie's, Spouter's, and Nethouse. There is something for every taste preference among the Beaufort restaurants.

We also enjoy the shops along Front Street. I have a couple of favorites where I can kill some time while the ladies get serious about shopping.

When we get bored with walking especially in the summer and on warm weekends, you can catch a boat tour or a boat trip to Cape Lookout. We have enjoyed tours on the tiny Waterbug and the much larger Mystery.

My of favorite spots is the Maritime Museum. It is the only museum that I have seen which could entertain my son who is almost thirty. It is a great place to wander around especially if you need a break from the warmth of summer. The shell collections are amazing.

If you need a first introduction to the Crystal Coast, Beaufort is a great place to get it. As I watched the sun slide down behind the Duke Marine Research Laboratory, I am pretty sure I could still hear some sails flapping in the wind.

For some of the recent history of Beaufort read my article, Beaufort, An Unforeseen Rebirth .

For a few pictures of Beaufort visit this Picasa Web Album from our recent visit.

Friday, November 7, 2008

This Is Why We Live Here

If you could have been with me today, you might well say, yes, this is why one might want to live here. I have a hard time imagining that there could be any nicer weather than we had today. We spent the first few days of November up in the Virginia mountains. While the leaves were magnificent (click here to view) we did have to run the heat for a couple of nights, and I did change from my standard uniform of shorts to bluejeans. We managed to come back to the coast just in time for a nice warming trend. This afternoon, my fishing buddy and I were out on the river. Tonight my wife and I enjoyed fresh from the water trout and black sea bass for dinner. If you can fish on the river in November with just shorts and tee shirt, you have probably found paradise.
Our weather is not always perfect, but it is very good most days. This fall except for a couple of cool days is shaping up to be just as nice as last fall when I can remember it seemed like summer would never end.

When we got back from the mountains, I noticed we had gotten a couple of inches of rain. We needed the rain while the grass in our yards is slowly going dormant. Even after the rain we had a cloudy, nasty day, but after that one day, it almost seems like each day is trying to out do the previous one.

With few yard chores left, there is not much to get in the way of fishing. Last night some friends went with us over to the beach to enjoy another spectacular sunset. It was a fantastic sunset as you can see from the attached picture.

People were strolling on the beach, and I could see a few folks surf fishing. It was a great evening for a walk. After leaving the beach we decided to grab dinner at one of the many family run restaurants in the area. I love going to these restaurants because you are treated like family, and the food is usually very good.

While having dinner, my fishing buddy and I decided the weather for this Friday looked too good to miss so we made a date to go fishing.

We have gone enough together now that it takes us almost no time to load the boat and head out into the water. Part of the convenience is that my boat lives on a lift behind my house.

With the cooling of the river waters, lots of fish have moved into the White Oak River so now we do not even have to go very far from home to fish. In fact we cruised out to the first buoy on the channel to Swansboro, but we never made it to the second buoy. We only went about another one hundred yards before anchoring and starting to fish. Our total travel time was under five minutes.

It was probably quarter after one this afternoon when we settled into our fishing routine. It took us a while to catch our first fish, but after that we caught them steadily. We caught a lot of small bottom fish, but we also caught three nice black sea bass and two trout.

I kept the biggest trout and sea bass. As the sun was setting over the river, we headed back into the quiet waters of Bluewater Cove. It only took minutes to get my boat on the lift behind my house and unload it.

I rinsed down the boat and as the last light of the evening faded, I cleaned our dinner. It did not take but a few minutes to have a quick shower and then fry up some fish which had been swimming less than three hours previously.

If you have never had really fresh caught fish cooked for you, you should put it on your to do list. There is a big difference.

Now I am upstairs in my office enjoying the cool breeze from the river and thinking about our next trip. I do wonder what we will catch the next time out. It is a very good way to end a great day.

For those who love the water, beaches, a mild climate, and blue skies, Carteret County is just about paradise. Just ask those of us who have chosen to live here.