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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Time To Respect the Ocean

We were really lucky with Hurricane Bill. It did not get anywhere near us. However Bill gave us some serious waves and decided to modify the Point at Emerald Isle, If you check the pictures linked in my post, "The Ramp to Nowhere," you might just wonder what would have happened if Bill had paid us a visit. 
While Bill moved a lot of sand around on the Point, two years ago just after I bought my permit to drive on the beach, the same ramp was even in worse shape. Water was lapping at the foot of it. This past winter so much sand came back, that I heard talk of a parking area on the Point for four wheel drive vehicles. It is the nature of the ocean to change things.
Bogue Inlet which borders the Point at Emerald Isle is a very unique spot. It is not static real estate. The strong currents and shifting sands never seem to be satisfied. There is always a new cut or sandbar popping up.

While it means that a printed chart of Bogue Inlet can be near worthless, it does not mean that Bogue Inlet is unnavigable. Actually Bogue Inlet is very well marked and assuming you are not trying to boat during a storm, you should not have any trouble as long as you take your time.

While I would not choose to do it myself, I have even seen kayakers out in the roughest part of Bogue Inlet. The currents are very strong where the ocean waters meet the waters of the sound.

Of course that very spot is where the fishing is often great. Even with a couple of experienced boaters, maintaining your position can be a challenge.

The Point is great magnet for beach goers. It is a little bit of a hike to get to the CAMA accesses nearest the Point. However, I do not mind the extra walking. It is worth a little effort since the other beaches get much heavier traffic than the Point. That means the Point is usually cleaner with fewer people.

It is also a special spot. No place on the island is a better example of where the water meets ti sky. Enjoy the Point, it is a special place.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Last Folks Off the Beach

There is no question that I really enjoy walking the beaches of the Southern Outer Banks. It is a particular passion of mine to spend some regular time walking along the beach just where the waves wash up over my ankles. Three times a week is adequate beach walking. Less than that can have an impact on my work and my sleep. 
Most people if they walk a beach and let the sound of the surf and the smell of the salt water take charge of their senses, can lose their thoughts on the beach. The beach is a wonderful cure for whatever is giving you trouble. 
The problem can disappear for a few important moments while the surf and sand take charge of your body. It is often at these times when you can see things with the most clarity. While walking the beach works at all times of the day, there is something special about being on the beach as the sun starts to drop.
I actually think the harder it is to find time and good beach weather together, the more vigilant I become in adjusting things so we can have our beach time.

By design we often leave for the beach this time of year around 5 PM. By the time 6 PM rolls around, the light is getting just right for photographs. Once in a while the tides, light, and fish combine to make an especially nice evening.

A golden sun on a beach is hard to beat. There are times when the sun drops that the winds will pick up speed and then when the sun is gone, the winds die down.

Even the shore birds are calmer as the sun starts setting. Some of them even start bedding down. From these photos that I took on the beach yesterday evening you can get a nice feeling of the peacefulness of an evening beach.

Especially in the fall, after most people have gone back to their shore side homes, it is not much of a challenge to find a beach where you can watch the lights go out with only the shore birds as company.

That is exactly what happened to us yesterday. We were greeted by blue skies and the moon over the water. You can see the moon if you look closely at the photograph

By the time we left the beach everyone but the birds were gone. I know that I came off the beach feeling a real sense of peace.

My wife and I hardly spoke for the first few miles on our way back home. I suspect that neither of us wanted to destroy the moment that had been created by being the last to leave the beach that evening.

We thought about going back today, but unfortunately the winds are visiting us, so we will have to wait a day or two for the right conditions.

With the beach as part of our backyard, we know that it will be there tomorrow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Carpe Beach Diem

Even if you did not take Latin, you have probably heard the poet Horace's phrase, "Carpe Diem." which roughly translated means seize the day. Well here on the Crystal Coast when it gets to September with October showing up in a few days, we know that it is time to seize whatever beach days are remaining. This Thursday was one of those days. It was a very busy day for me since I had a real estate closing and a couple of other meetings. In spite of that I had it in my mind that I was going to make it to the beach. The weather and the skies were just too perfect to ignore. So after we had finished sticking a sold sign in the yard of my very happy client, we came home, changed clothes, loaded my fishing rod, and my wife's beach chair and headed off to the beach.
There was really no debate since we both needed some relaxing time on the beach. We knew from being there on Sunday that the water was still warm. There was no mistaking the warm beach weather that descended on this week. It cried out for a trip to the beach.

My wife has one requirement for a beach that I try to get her to ignore. She wants to be able to wash her feet with water when she gets off the beach. I view that as a nicety, but as something that can easily be given up for other beach characteristics.

I value fishing structure or sandbars. I also like beaches with few people so I do not have to worry about my fishing bothering their activities. Since I was also on a mission to catch a bluefish with my spinning rod, my wife let win and go to my favorite beach which is the one at Third Street.

It only took us fifteen to twenty minutes to get to Third Street beach which is roughly eight miles down the beach after you get across the Emerald Isle bridge. There was only one car in the parking lot, and it was a young couple from Rhode Island. They were far too busy with each other to even notice our presence on the beach.

My wife set her chair up on the edge of a small drop off in the beach. I took up my position in the surf, and we both unwound. She watched the birds and the bluefish jumping just out of my casting range. I concentrated on getting my shiny lure as close to the jumping bluefish as physically possible.

Of course I took breaks to take pictures and to enjoy the beauty of the scenery around us. It was a perfect evening on the beach. The warm salt water washing up on my legs made me feel like I was out on the beach on a summer night.

It was about as magical as a time on the beach could be. About fifteen minutes before sunset I switched to my favorite lure, and in a few more casts landed a nice bluefish which I quickly returned to the ocean. I did not need to catch anything for the evening to be a memorable one, but I certainly will remember that bluefish in the context of that spectacular evening.

As we drove home into the setting sun, we both agreed that we need to seize each and every fall beach day. We were planning another one today. I managed to get my yard mowed and trimmed by about 1 PM. By the time I had gotten cleaned up, and we had finished lunch it was after 2 PM. I needed a little rest to recover from mowing in the heat of the day, but I ended up taking a couple of calls relating to another closing coming up early next week.

We were just getting ready to leave a little after 3 PM when the skies opened up. We ended up with a torrential downpour which delivered over an inch and one half of rain in just a few minutes. Light rain continued until after dark and stole our beach evening.

Rest assured we are ready to grab the next great beach evening. It is hard to beat getting a great photograph, catching a fish, and having fun with your wife on the beach.

We will be ready when the beach is ready.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Other End of the Beach

It is natural that I write a lot about the beaches of Emerald Isle. It only takes me ten minutes to get to them so I spend much more time walking Emerald Isle beaches than I do walking beaches at the other end of the shore. Still variety is the spice of life so I do get the itch to walk some different sand. This past Sunday was one of those days. 
It was too nice a day to spend inside, but the White Oak was a little choppy so I ruled out kayaking or taking the boat out. We needed a few things from Morehead City so I suggested we hit the Atlantic City beaches before doing our grocery shopping. My wife was agreeable since Fort Macon is one of her favorite spots. It turned out that we never made it as far as Fort Macon.
As we came across the Atlantic Beach high rise bridge, I was amazed at how few people were on the causeway compared to just a few weeks ago. I guess some of the tourists are back home now, but there seem to be a fair number of people wandering the beaches.

When we got to the stoplight at the end of the causeway we turned left and headed towards Fort Macon. Just on a lark I turned onto Henderson Avenue to see if there was a parking space at the small CAMA lot in front of the Oasis Condos.

The location is one of my favorites. There is no dune to walk across and the sand is usually very nice.

We were in luck, there was one space left so we grabbed it, parked the car, and headed out on the beach. It was such a pleasant day that lots of people were strolling on the beach.

The sun was very bright, the water very blue, and the temperature for walking just right. We had a great time and almost lost track of time.

We had spent so much time walking that we really did not have time to go to Fort Macon before sunset. That was actualy okay since I got just the right amount of warm saltwater on my toes during our nice long walk.

While I cannot prove it, the water feels like it has warmed up a little since last week. I was surprised at the lack of fishermen on the beach. When we stopped at Eastern Regional Access in Emerald Isle yesterday, there were between twelve to fifteen fishermen on the beach there.

I did not see anyone catch anything of size, but it is nice to know that people are still holding out hope for a geat fishing season.

Before we headed home, we took advantage of some of Morehead City's shopping and one of its many restaurants.

Even with our long beach walk and some triple coupons at Harris Teeter, we managed to get home by 8:30 PM.

Sunday was just another example of Savoring our Southern Fall.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Summer Is Back and In Fine Form

A week ago people were ready to bury summer. Fortunately this is the North Carolina coast. Here on the Crystal Coast our south facing beaches will not slide into fall and winter without a battle. 
Today the forces of warmth, blue skies, and emerald waters stormed back into town. I was happy to see the invasion, especially the blue skies. We really have not been cold, we just have not been hot. With the absence of hot, people assume that winter is around the next corner. 
It did my soul good to see people swimming in the ocean today. I was also pleased to hear my wife say that she needed cooler clothes for a beach walk. 
These are all signs of a summer that is fighting to stay in place as some places to the north of us are facing frost for the first time this weekend. If we see frost by December that will be soon enough for me.
If you listened to the weathermen last night, today's blue skies and warm temperatures were something of a surprise. The forecasts did not have us clearing up today.

When I rolled out of bed this morning, I thought that we were in store for even worse weather. Fog had blotted out the sun and blue skies were only a memory.

Fortunately it did not take long for us to get some better looking skies. The improved local weather quickly changed my plans for the day. First we headed off for a boat ride to Swansboro.

After that we took a quick trip to the beach to enjoy some ocean breezes. We were surprised by the large number of people on the beach at the Eastern Regional Access in Emerald Isle. There were a number of people fishing. There were also several people swimming with some of them a good distance off the beach.

It was actually pretty warm on the beach so there were a lot of umbrellas spread up and down the beach. This is such a great time of year. We have warm days and at night, we can sleep with the windows open. It is so nice to not have to run the air conditioning.

I also do not mind that the grass no longer needs to be mowed every week. There are some other signs of fall. Today when we stopped at Winberry's Produce Stand, they were selling their large bags of sweet potatoes. That is a definite signal that the growing season is drawing to a close.

There was a special treat waiting for me at the produce stand, scuppernongs. I have been eating those grapes since I was a kid growing up near Winston-Salem, NC, in the fifties. Considering that they are recognized as one of North Carolina's native grapes, they are a little challenging to find in the stores. However,they are well worth the effort.

It has been a good week here on the coast. I even managed to sneak in some kayaking during our impressive high tides.

With the sweet potatoes ripe, the skies blue, and the weather warm, all we need now is for the fish to start biting.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Limitless Possibilities

Getting out on the water early in the morning is one of the best ways to start a day that I know. When the skies and water are that special morning blue, it seems like you can see forever. If on top of that the winds are calm, it really does feel like you have limitless possibilities with your day. 
A morning of great weather with no winds makes a trip to Shackleford Banks easily imaginable. Perhaps even a trip to Wilmington by boat crosses your mind. That one would be a stretch for me. It is more likely that I might have thoughts of spending the day over in Bogue Inlet chasing bluefish or flounder. 
Of course just because you are out on the water does not mean that all your thoughts have to be related to water. Sometimes morning waters are like a clean slate on which to write your day. Here on the Crystal Coast there are some neat things to do coming up this fall, and you do not need a boat for any of them.
First on the list should be the Beaufort by-the-sea 300th Anniversary Celebration. There are a number of events scheduled throughout September to celebrate this historic occasion. On the schedule is everything from boat rides, to concerts and even stories about menhaden. I suspect everyone could find something to do and enjoy.

Next on my list would be the 55th annual Swansboro Mullet Festival. There will arts and crafts, a parade, several bands, a duck race, and a mullet fry among other things. This year I actually plan to try some mullet. I have always worked a booth, and the mullet has always been gone by the end of my shift.

Before we get to the Mullet Festival we have some lobsters to eat. A week from this coming Saturday, on September 26, there is the St. Peter's by the Sea Lobster Festival. If those lobsters are not enough to fill you up, then just wait for the St. Francis by the Sea and Bogue Banks Lobster sale on Saturday October 10. And of course our local oysters are back in season this time of year.

If after eating all that lobster and mullet, you need to get a little exercise, you could sign up the 3rd annual Flounder Surf Fishing tournament sponsored by the Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation Department. What better activity could there be than sticking your toes in the salt water in an attempt to catch a nice flounder?

Beyond these organized events, fall is a great time to walk the beaches, fish for some spots or bluefish and enjoy the endless blue skies. We are lucky on the Crystal Coast, the glow of summer lasts well into the fall. While the waters might have cooled down some, the air is plenty warm, and the sun can still provide lots of warmth.

September or October is also a great time to catch a ride on the ferry over to Hammocks Beach. Make sure you check the schedule since it changes in the fall. There is nothing like being on a beach where vehicles exist only in your memories.

Normally when you are out on that glassy smooth morning water, bad weather is far from your mind. However, if you do get caught in some showers or experience a rainy day, you can visit the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores or the Maritime Museum in Beaufort and enjoy them without summer's crowds.

The possibilities are limitless here in the fall on the Southern Outer Banks.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Summer Is Not Over Yet

With these last few cool days and a full crop of acorns on the trees, I am hearing predictions of an early winter. I seriously doubt the Crystal Coast is ready to let go of summer that easily. While September did seem to turn a weather page, we will not be enjoying seventy-five degree high temperatures for much longer. After Friday, September 11, the long range weather forecasts have the high temperatures in the mid to low eighties for the next two weeks. In case anyone has forgotten, it has been only a few weeks since heat was what we got every day. We were begging for some cooler temperatures with less humidity. Right now we are getting those cooler temperatures. We will be warm again very soon. However, there are few questions worth exploring.
The first question among the beach walkers is whether or not the water will warm back up? At the moment that does not look promising. Water temperatures at Hammocks Beach have already dropped to seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit. The only thing that can reverse that is a number of warm nights when the air temperature stays above eighty degrees. I only see a couple of days when the air temperature is going to stay above seventy at night in the next couple of weeks.

With those cool evening temperatures, it is going to be hard to warm the ocean back to the eighties unless we get some really warm weather in October. That is not out of the question, but it is also not likely.

The next question is whether cooler water temperatures really matter?

At this point the beaches are really nice for walking, very refreshing if you go wading and pretty nippy if you go swimming. However, we all know that most of the people who enjoy swimming in the water are back in school.

Those of us who love to walk the beaches, look for shells, and cast for a few fish are not impacted by the cooler water temperatures. In fact, we fishermen welcome the cooler water temperatures. The fish are much more active which means they are more likely to take a bait or hit a lure.

The rains of last Monday did not help the situation a lot. If you dump eight inches of cool rainwater into the ocean it is likely to have some impact. While the river handled it easily, there was still an impact on the water temperatures.

However, with temperatures climbing to the mid-eighties for the next couple of weeks, the Crystal Coast will be nearly a paradise for most people which is why so many of us live here the whole year.

We still have enough visitors to keep us on our toes, but we are definitely past the peak of tourist traffic. This is actually the time of year when you might have a few more conversations with visitors. Things are not as rushed or crowded so people are a little more likely to strike up a conversation.

This is a very pleasant time of the year. We will not be using the air conditioning very much. I have the windows open at our house tonight. Still as long as the temperatures are getting into the eighties, I refuse to declare summer over. The waters might be a little cooler, but the people living here are just as warm and friendly as they are in mid-July.

Eighty plus degrees in September is a pretty nice temperature. Just check with my friends in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in Canada. They had frost warnings last night.

We are certainly in no rush to see summer disappear, and if past falls are any indication we might still be rewarded with some great beach weather over the next few months.

Sometimes fall keeps winter at bay even in December. I for one am counting on it. My second crop of tomatoes has only been in the ground three weeks. I already have a green tomato so my hopes are high.

Also I might need plenty of time to catch that red drum I want this fall.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Gateway To Fun

We all have places we go to have fun. There are usually points along the way that signal that the fun is about to begin. For me one of those places that triggers the feeling that the fun is about to start is the narrow passage from Raymond's Gut to the White Oak River. With just a few strokes of the paddle, you go from the safe harbor at Bluewater Cove to the huge expanse of the White Oak River. The river looks very different sitting a few inches off the water in a kayak than it does from behind the center console in our skiff. The Friday before Labor Day weekend, I went out a couple of times in the skiff. On Saturday morning I paddled my kayak out in the river to fish for red drum at high tide. The experiences were completely different, but both were fun in their own way.
I have been itching to get back on the water. Weather and some busy days at work have conspired to keep me on shore. Monday of this past week, I vowed that I would find a way. On Wednesday I consulted with Brian, one of my fishing buddies. Our considered opinion was that based on schedules and forecasts, Friday was our best bet.

Thursday night we talked, and it looked like a front might be hanging just off the coast on Friday. I also got a call from another friend, Dean, who fishes with me a lot. I had been with him earlier in the summer when he bought his wife a new fishing rod. We both had been hoping to get her out in the boat so she could test her skill. He said they could fish Friday afternoon.

Friday morning dawned with some clouds but just a light wind. Just after breakfast I decided to get some shrimp for bait and check out the Intracoastal at the same time. I drove down to Clyde Phillip's between the bridges and bought the shrimp after I had surveyed the waters and determined that they were calling my name.

I pulled into Dudley Marina's for a few weights and hooks. I was the only customer vehicle parked at Dudleys. I commented on that as I walked in and was told to come back in a few hours if I wanted crowds.

When I got back in the truck, I called Brian, my morning fishing buddy to see if he was still available. I told him we could go for a couple of hours before I had to come in for some real estate work. That worked well with him since he had some things to do in the afternoon. I headed back to our house after picking up some ice.

We had the boat loaded and pulled away from the dock by 10:30 PM or just before high tide on the White Oak. We had decided to make this a reconnaissance trip with the hope that we could spend a full day fishing the week after Labor Day.

As luck would have it, we had to stop and catch a couple of bluefish in Swansboro Harbor to satisfy ourselves that all the ones breaking the surface all over the harbor were too small to keep.

We checked out the Inlet and surveyed the changes since we had fished there earlier in the summer. We fished a little more and then decided to go up the Coast Guard Channel before heading home. We saw more boats in the water there than we had seen anywhere.

As we were going under the bridge and heading back up the White Oak, three jet skis were coming out of the White Oak and heading into the Intracoastal. That made it feel a lot more like a holiday weekend.

We got home, docked, and I grabbed a sandwich. I finished the work I had to do just as my friend Dean and his wife pulled into the driveway. We loaded their stuff in the boat and headed back down to Swansboro. After looking at a couple of spots, we picked an inlet just off the Intracoastal. Dean's wife, Gail, actually caught a fish before Dean and I even got our lines in the water. We went on to catch over twenty croakers and assorted bottom fish. We threw them all back, but we had lots of fun catching them.

As we made our way back to Swansboro and up the river, it became clear from the increased boat traffic that this was going to be a boating weekend in spite of the clouds that had rolled in during the afternoon.

Saturday morning blue sky once again held sway on the White Oak. At my Friday stop at Dudley's I had purchased a couple of top water lures to use in chasing red drum, We have some big oyster rocks not far from Bluewater Cove. When they flood at high tide, they are a pretty good place to chase red drum.

As I slid my kayak in the water I had high hopes that I might be at the right place at the right time in my red drum chase. With the north wind at my back, I had an easy paddle out to the river. There were a couple of boats already fishing in the general area, but they were not in the spot that I had in mind. Just as I got in position, I noticed the wind starting to pick up.

I was probably 100 yards or more from the marked channel that takes you from the Whtie Oak to the Intracoastal, but the combination of half a dozen boats headed out the river at full throttle and an increasing wind made kayak fishing a marginal proposition. While small wakes are mainly an annoyance in a skiff, in a kayak they cannot be ignored. After forty-five minutes of fighting to stay in position, I headed back towards the quiet waters of Raymond's Gut and Bluewater Cove. It ended up being a hard paddle since I was paddling right into the wind, but it was good exercise.

It probably took me as long to paddle home from the middle of the river just outside our inlet as it did for us to come the three and one half miles from Swansboro in the skiff at full power on Friday. Still both were lots of fun. I posted some pictures of my kayaking adventure.

I feel like I am tuned up and ready for the fall fishing season. Now if the weather will just cooperate, I suspect that my pulse will start to race each time that I head through my gateway to fun. It will not matter if I am in the skiff or the kayak, I will be ready for some action.