Search This Blog

Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Favorite Runway

Living on the Crystal Coast can be a life style change that renews your connection with both the natural world and people around you. Moving here can change your life dramatically. For me coming here has been a dream come true and an opportunity to remove the pressures of the corporate world while still having the opportunity to stay active and even busy. Like many people in today's modern economy, I spent far too much time in airplanes both in the air and on the runway. For years, I flew back and forth to California. I used to joke that I really did not care what airport I got to as long as I was less than a three hour drive from Roanoke, Virginia where we lived. In the winter I tried to make sure my cross country flights started in Pittsburgh with their heated runways or Charlotte with their almost snow free airport. I am proud to say that I have not been on an airport runway since November 2003. However, I do have a runway that I use sometimes two to three times a week.
My runway is the marked channel to the White Oak River that you see in the blog picture. It is my launch point for fishing, boating, and kayaking trips. This morning I was out there checking the river at 8:30 AM. I wanted to see if it was going to be a good fishing day.

Though it was stunningly beautiful when I went out, there was a strong breeze from the north once I got to the middle of the river. Winds that early in the morning made me think that we were likely to see deteriorating weather as the day moved forward. That turned out to be correct. We went from beautiful blue skies and a warm sun to heavy clouds, cooler temperatures, and no sunshine.

Fall weather is always something of a guessing game. It was only a week ago that we spent one of the best days ever on the water. The weather was spectacular and the fishing was just as good as the weather.

That runway into the White Oak River takes me from White Heron Lane in Bluewater Cove eventually to Swansboro, the Intracoastal Waterway, Bogue Inlet, and the Atlantic Ocean. There can be adventures all along the way. On a quiet morning like we had last week, the trip out to the Inlet can be one of the most pleasurable rides on the water.

There can also be excitement coming back. It there is a storm bearing down on the White Oak , the ride back up the river can be exhilarating as you skim the wave tops while racing the thunderstorm back to the dock.

I would rather try to outrace a thunderstorm in our skiff than ride a puddle hopper down between thunderclouds only to be diverted to another airport. The transition from a corporate traveler to the pilot of a small skiff is a really nice proposition.

Many times I would hurry off to the airport only to get there and face a wait of hours in a room of people who would hardly look at each other. The nice thing about having my skiff on a boat lift behind the house is that I look out the back door to see if is raining. Then I check the computer for the tides and local radar. If I see nothing on the radar and it is not raining, I lower the skiff into the water, and I am off to the runway.

Last Friday, I had picked up ice and shrimp for a planned fishing trip. As my friend showed up at 12:30 PM, a few rain drops started falling. We walked inside to check the radar and sure enough, a surprise storm had formed off the coast and was moving through Bogue Inlet and up the White Oak. We had a nice chat while the rain was falling. He took the ice home and stuck it in the freezer. I cleaned the shrimp, and we ate them in shrimp and grits for dinner that night. Our chat in rain was a lot more fun than reading a magazine at the gate in an airport.

Moving to the Crystal Coast is a chance to be part of a community that loves the water and enjoys being outside. While we sometimes might get a little tired waiting for the wind to die down, it is still not like missing your plane on a Friday trip home.

This is a world where the tides, the winds, the sky, and the sunshine often define the schedule of events. Most people figure out how to have their lives flexible enough to enjoy some of the special times that we often find here on the coast.

The next time you are stuck in an airport, remember that on our runway we only slow down for bottle nosed dolphins and schools of fish.

If you want to try our runway on for size, there are two new homes available in Bluewater Cove. Call us to arrange a visit, the only interview you might have would be with the resident white herons.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Memorable Afternoon on the Water

We made the move to the coast a little over three years ago. Our move was one of choice. I wanted to get back to a place where we could see the water like we could in our first home on the shore of the Bay of Fundy In Nova Scotia when we lived there in the seventies. The sea and its powerful moods had brought a new view of life to us in those days. I still have wonderful memories from those days, and I wanted to be in another truly scenic place where it would be possible once again to be under the influence of the ocean. Unlike long ago, I wanted a place where the water was warm and inviting, and where I could safely boat and create a whole new set of memories. I wanted to spend time on the water that would give me dreams of fish of all types and water in colors that can barely be captured. The Crystal Coast ended up being the spot, and this past Thursday, October 22, ended up being one of those days which I will get to enjoy over and over.
Thursday's morning sky was full of puffy white clouds. The temperature was cool, but there was no wind. This was to be my first chance this fall to hit the water when by all reports the fishing was really good. People were reporting decent catches from the fleet of boats going after the fall spots, Other boats were reporting good catches of puppy drum, trout, and blue fish. The surf and pier fishermen were also doing well.

I had one meeting at our church to do some training for the church secretary who was kindly taking over maintenance of the church website. After that I made a stop at Dudley's Marina to replenish my gear, picked up some shrimp for bait, and stopped by the ice machine on the way home. At 12:30 PM my fishing partner called to say he was home from work and would be over in a few minutes. Just before 1 PM we pulled away from the dock and headed out towards the White Oak River.

Surprisingly the river was still glassy smooth at 1 PM. Usually by that time of day we have a little breeze. We went slowly by two boats fishing not far from what we consider our private White Oak hole, and then I brought the boat up on plane for the trip to Swansboro.

Even when you live on the river, there are a limited number of days when the water is so smooth that the boat literally glides across it. Thursday afternoon was just such a day. The trip to Swansboro was so smooth that I was able to take a series of slides from my center console mounted camera. That the pictures are so clear gives you a very good idea of just how smooth the river was on Thursday. It was pretty close to amazing. I have had rides like it before, but they are usually around sunrise. The other nice thing about the trip on Thursday was that it was warm with the temperatures in the mid-seventies. We were dressed just as we were when we fished in the summer.

Getting to the Swansboro bridges from Bluewater Cove takes about ten minutes. I usually throttle back and go through Swansboro harbor relatively slowly. This time of year, you almost have no choice since you have to thread your way through the flotilla of spot fishing boats.

It was not long before we turned up the Intracoastal and cruised through what I like to think of as Cedar Point's main street. You briefly slow in the no-wake zone at the Wildlife Resources Ramp, but it is only a few minutes before you are turning and heading out Bogue Inlet. We passed a string of boats anchored along the eastern edge of the marshes that line the Inlet. That is also a favorite spot for fishing.

Soon we were making the last turn to the east where the Point at Emerald Isle is straight off your bow. After that you turn and head pretty much straight out into the ocean. It was this area about one half mile to one mile off the beaches that we wanted to fish. We first chose to fish on the west side of the channel and had very little luck so we moved farther out and fished on the east side of the channel.

From our position we had a good look at the Corps of Engineers' dredge that was working about another mile out. We had started bottom fishing with double hooked rigs. I had shrimp on one hook and artificial blood worm on the other hook. We were in about seven feet of water just off a hole that I had seen on the deepfinder, but we were getting no bites. Just then my partner, Dean, spotted some bluefish feeding on the surface. I grabbed the rod that I keep rigged with a Gotcha plug and put the plug in position to come back through the feeding zone. I immediately hooked a very nice bluefish. It was large enough that we needed to net it to get it inside the boat. As soon as Dean got rigged with a plug and cast into the feeding zone, he also hooked a bluefish. We landed eight nice bluefish in about fifteen minutes. Including a double where I had the distinct pleasure of unhooking two bluefish from one Gotcha plug. We decided that was enough fish to take home. We started throwing back everything that we caught.

We managed to hook and bring to the boat about thirty bluefish from that hole. We then moved on and tried to fish a wave zone for some red drum, but the water was so clear we decided the fish could see us and were staying away.

Then we made the fateful decision to fish on the west side of the Inlet just off Hammocks Beach. I had rigged up my trout rod with a new lure in case I saw any more feeding fish. We were back bottom fishing when once again we saw some blues feeding. I put my new lure right in the middle of them and three fish dived on the lure. I hooked one of them and brought it to the boat. I did exactly the same thing on twenty straight casts. The lure was a bluefish magnet. By this time I had caught all the bluefish I wanted. My partner had been catching them also, but not on every cast. So I passed over my magic lure and sure enough, Dean started catching a fish every cast. We had a grand old time. I had bluefish dancing on the surface. Then there were bluefish diving as hard as they could, and most of the time my trout rod was bent almost double.

Finally it slowed to a fish on every third cast. We lost count of the fish at around seventy. It was one of those days that fishermen live for and never forget. We had been in one of the most beautiful spots on the east coast, and we had caught fish until we were tired of catching fish. The potential of having a day like that is one of the reasons I moved to the Crystal Coast. The fact that we could have that experience less than twenty minutes from my home dock is just amazing.

After getting back to the dock, I filleted the bluefish, skinned them, and cut away the dark meat so Dean and his wife would have some unforgettable fresh fish. According to all reports they loved the fried bluefish.

I was ready to go again today in search of red drum with another friend, and just as we were getting ready to put our gear on the skiff, a storm came in from the ocean. It appeared to follow the channel through Bogue Inlet and then come right up the White Oak. I was not heart broken at missing fishing today, I still had plenty of memories to savor from yesterday. Some memories will carry you for a long time. I am certain that yesterday's memories have some long legs..

I put up a couple of slide shows. One set of pictures takes you down the White Oak up the Intracoastal and out Bogue Inlet to ocean and back to Swansboro. The other show is from Swansboro back up the White Oak to Bluewater Cove. If you click on a picture you will get a larger version.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue Skies and Blue Water

It is nice to be back to normal weather here on the Crystal Coast. We have seen our high temperatures swing from 84F on October 10 to 52F on Oct 18 so seeing temperatures back in the seventies is a real treat. With a forecast that shows highs in the seventies for the foreseeable future, we can focus on being outside and enjoying the area once again. For me that means finding some time to get back on the water. Fall water can be very inviting as the above picture snapped today in Cape Carteret shows. There are few things that are more enjoyable than spending a fall day on the water with the warm Carolina sun keeping away any thoughts of frosty temperatures. While being on the water defines fall for me, there are many other signs of fall along the Southern Outer Banks.
Many would argue that the biggest change that fall brings is the influx of fishermen who go surf fishing on our beaches. I would agree that a beach full of four wheel drive trucks with rod carriers and fishermen is a good indication of fall. Seeing trucks on the beach only happens in the October through April time so finding them there the first time after summer is proof positive that fall is here.

Another sign of fall along the coast would be fresh local oysters in our restaurants. They are a fall tradition that goes back many years. While most of the oysters these days are consumed steamed or fried instead of raw, the presence of local oysters is definitely a good sign that fall is here.

It does not take much driving up the beach road to figure out another sure sign of fall. That would the annual sales at the beach stores. Fall is the time when many of the stores try to move their remaining merchandise at a substantial discount. If you like to do bargain hunting, fall on the coast is a good time to do it.

Halloween decorations, especially lots of pumpkins, start showing up in fall, but we have a very unique decoration that starts making its appearance in some stores as early as October. It is those wonderful Crab Pot Christmas trees that are so popular along the Crystal Coast. I think everyone who has ever visited us when the trees are on display has gone home with one of the trees.

While we do not get the tremendous burst of fall colors seen in the mountains of North Carolina, you will see some color here on the coast in the fall. Often the Virginia creeper vines in the trees will turn red, and we also have a few other trees that provide us with a dose of color.

Fall is also the time that our centipede yards start going dormant. They often turn brown and then red. That works out well since if we mow our yards fewer times that translates into more time for fishing. Just at we start focusing on fishing, the farmers start collecting their crops. Combines in the corn field are the first signs that the growing season is winding down. Usually the soybeans and then cotton are harvested next. My years of farming taught me that it is hard to be a farmer and a fisherman at the same time..

Of all the signs of fall that I enjoy, probably the one that means the most to me are the boats gathered around the bridge to Emerald Isle. It sometimes looks like the fishing fleet goes all the way to Swansboro and a good distance up Bogue Sound towards Morehead City. Only in the fall do you see the gathering of the boats to catch spots. While those boats in the Intracoastal are chasing spots, many other boats are after red drum, trout, bluefish, and flounder. Fall is fishing here on the coast, and being out on the water in a boat is one of the best ways to enjoy the season.

With all this great weather, I expect to be on the water the next couple of days. I will be one of the dozens of Sundance skiffs with Yamaha motors anchored someplace along our shores testing my luck with our local fish. If things go right, I might even have some very fresh fish for dinner Thursday night. Whether I catch fish or not, I plan to have a great day and reconnect with the water. I will see you out there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Already Missing the Ocean

Lots of people go to the beach for a vacation or a holiday. When those of us who live along the Crystal Coast head back to the beach, we are actually going home.

While we often enjoy the holidays at the beach, this year we headed off to our other home in the mountains of Virginia. The holidays often help us understand that the people in our lives are more important than anything else.

et when it is time to for everyone to head home, it is inevitable to start transitioning your thoughts from one place to another. Going home means getting back to your regular routine. When you have been gone several days, there is always some excitement about seeing what has changed. When the beach is home, and you head for home, it turns out to be a pretty special journey.

Thanksgiving for us this year was in Roanoke, Virginia which is a nice city along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Southwest Virginia. Our second home there is on the side of a mountain at something over fifteen hundred feet above sea level. The views are great, but I always feel a little isolated up on the mountain.

So as I think about heading home to the beach, one of the first things that comes to mind is that going for a walk will involve a whole lot less dedication that walking our hill in Roanoke. As we head for the beach, we gradually leave the Blue Ridge Mountains, drive across the Piedmont, and eventually hit the coastal plan near Interstate 95. We go from a very three dimensional world where being on a mountain lets you see for miles to a world where even hills are few and far between.

That turns out to be a relief for me. While I have walked our hill many times, it never got really easy, and in winter there were times when it was pretty treacherous. As we head to the beach I know we are leaving behind snow and ice which might trap us on our hill during the winter.

People often associate winds with the beach, but in our case we live tucked away a few miles inland, and we often miss the worst of the winds. That turns out to not be the case up on the mountain. During Thanksgiving we had winds for three days. There were gusts to thirty or thirty five miles per hour. Wind is something you get when you live on the top of a ridge in the mountains.

Heading towards the beach also means warmer temperatures and most likely less wind. We will be able to get back outside and enjoy a few walks. Of course we are leaving all the shopping that a city has to offer just as Christmas is about to roll around once again. That turns out to not be a huge issue. Much of our shopping has moved online over the years, and even as that has happened, Morehead City has become a much more well endowed shopping area. I am not one to worry about shopping very much anyway, so there is no remorse in leaving behind a few extra big box stores.

While our Thanksgiving meals focused on turkey and ham, now that we are once again headed home, I can start hoping for some seafood. The fruits of the sea are one of the great pleasures of having a home along the coast. Dropping by a fish market means you are likely going to enjoy some great sea food. It might just be time for some clam chowder.

Finally as we head back to the coast, we will be watching our family members spread out to their homes just as we drive back to check in with our coastal friends. I am looking forward to catching up with folks we see everyday on the coast. Carteret County is a warm and friendly place and that makes it an easy place to call home.

I also cannot wait to stand on my dock and look out towards the river. If the warm weather holds this week, I just might go for a boat ride. I hope we can get in a beach walk and maybe a little surf fishing. Of course I will have to slide all this in between my work.

Going home to the coast is just like going home anywhere except it seems better because we have all those wonderful things that make our area such a great spot to vacation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Fall Weather Rollercoaster

The standing weather joke here on the beaches is if you do not like the weather, hang around for another five minutes while it changes. While I would say that I am all for change when it is raining, I have to argue that we have plenty of great weather here on the Crystal Coast. While there are never guarantees on the weather, we do not see many days when it rains all day. We do see a fair number of days when we have to "endure" blue skies and nice temperatures. We tend to forget those when we run into a rainy spell. While you can never have enough great days like we had this Wednesday, I suspect that we all can use a rainy day now and then to catch up with our paper work. Of course if you are a dedicated fisherman, good weather is a relative term which depends on how well the fish are biting.
Last week even with working a few days, we managed three great afternoons on the water. There are not many places where water access, fish availability, and weather cooperate as well as they do here along the Crystal Coast.

If you can find a way off from work, you can be fishing somewhere in a matter of minutes. I had a couple of brook trout streams on my farm when I lived in Canada. Getting to the fish here is far easier than it was in Canada. I also lived in Roanoke, Virginia which has a trout stream running through the city. Fishing in Bogue Inlet is easier than that was.

While our weather does change a lot, our fishing waters are often close enough that we can fish, and if the weather starts looking questionable, it is only ten minutes to our home dock and safety.

Where most areas force you to drive for miles to get to fishing water, here in Carteret County no one is very far away from the water. If you are lucky enough to live in Cape Carteret or any of the many water access communities, getting your boat into the water is no big deal.

There also area a number of county residents who have managed to snare spots along the water where their boats are on lifts. If you really love to fish and want to do it at a moment's notice, there is no better way to do it. Since my skiff is right behind our house, it takes me less than ten minutes to load the skiff and do a check before we head out on the water.

It the weather is good, and I want to go fishing, fishing usually happens as long as I am not scheduled to work.

It is a pretty simple equation if you live down here, you do not spend hours on the road getting here. You also get the advantage of waiting for the good weather days to go fishing.

It turns out that with the drop in real estate prices, you can find a home in a water access subdivision for much less than you might imagine. If you have ever thought about having a second home where you could access the beaches and fish until your heart is content, now would be a good time to start looking.

I knew that I loved the area when we moved here, but I had no idea how comfortable I would feel living here and fishing the waters of Bogue Inlet and the White Oak. We almost always catch something, and even when we catch very little, we are fishing in one of the most beautiful areas on the east coast. Especially if you get one of those great weather days, it is a time you will probably never forget.

Every once in a while down here, you strike it rich fishing and have one of those once in lifetime fishing days.

As I am driving real estate clients around, I tell them that the only way that they can see the main street of the Crystal Coast is to get out on the Intracoastal Waterway. I can assure you that Cape Carteret and Cedar Point look very different from the water than they do from Highway 24. We are water communities with fishing at our fingertips.

The other thing that really impresses me about the area is that if you get tired of fishing in a boat or the weather is not right, you have the option of surf fishing or fishing from the pier.

I even fish from my kayak when I want to fish some marshy areas where it is hard to take the skiff. The nice thing about fishing here is that you can define your own success. To me the other day, it was catching just enough spots for a dinner with my wife. To a fellow from Kentucky that I met at Captain Sam's Shrimp Market, it was catching 291 spots from their boat this past Tuesday.

It you love to fish and want to be able fish more and do it in a safe area with a sustainable fishery, the Crystal Coast is a pretty good spot to consider.

Even with the fall roller coaster of weather, people usually get their quota of fishing in each year.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Our Secret Summer Season

While most of the country is looking at winter in their rear view mirror, here along the shores of Bogue Sound, we are still enjoying what can only be called summer in October. It happens to be one of those things that is a whole lot easier to catch if you live here instead of just come here as a regular visitor. Even the best weather forecasters have a hard time predicting it until all of the sudden we are enjoying temperatures in the mid to upper eighties. A good portion of the end of last week could be called summer weather. Many of us made the most of it, disappearing for whole afternoons to enjoy the warmth on the water. I know that I had a couple of great days of fishing and fun on the water. I missed Saturday, the last of this recent stretch of summer. Sometimes even those of us who deliberately go without a watch on our wrist get caught and have to work.
One of the secrets to our weather is that we live next to a massive amount of water which once it warms up is very reluctant to cool down. That warm water makes fall a real treat here on the Southern Outer Banks, especially for those of us who are residents.

The weather in October and November can be tricky. We cooled off this Sunday, and it was overcast all day today, but our temperatures are still in the sixties and seventies which is not very hard to take considering parts of the west never made it past twenty degrees Fahrenheit this weekend. Staying that cold is easy to do if you have two feet of snow on the ground like they do in the mountains of Montana.

For many of us, this great fall weather is why we live here. It is really almost a perfect situation living along the coast. North Carolina is such a varied state that it you want to look at some fall leaves and mountains, all you do is get in your car and drive six hours. There are plenty of colorful leaves to see and lots of fall festivals. This being the south even in the mountains the peak color of the fall leaves does not happen until sometime between the third week in October and the first week of November.

After a quick trip to the chill of the NC or VA mountains, you can come back to the coast, take your blue jeans off and put your shorts back on, and if you are lucky, enjoy some of that summer in October. There are many of us living on the coast who sneak off to the mountains on a regular basis. My theory is that it makes me appreciate the coast even more when I come back.

This is a time of year on the coast when there is so much happening that you just hope that you can keep these days of great weather coming. Just this weekend we had Saint Francis by the Sea Lobster Festival and the Swansboro Mullet Festival. If you looked a little farther away you would have noticed Mumfest in New Bern, but we have never been able to drag ourselves away from our local events.

On top of all the festivals, this is the season to fish and because of where we live fishing is in the air and is not optional. In spite of heavy surf I fished in the surf once earlier in the week and then managed to fish from the skiff for two afternoons when the weather really got nice. We were not alone, and we did catch fish. The fewest boats were counted early in the week when there were only around five on each side of the bridge. On Saturday when we crossed the bridge to Emerald Isle at noon, my wife counted forty boats just on one side of the bridge.

Everyone was having a good time on the water except the barge pilots who had to convince all the boats anchored in the Intracoastal to move out of their way.

In addition to boating, lots of people were walking on the beach, and yesterday we even saw a game of beach volleyball going on at the Western Regional Access.

So now you know the secret of the Crystal Coast. The reason we do not mind sharing the beaches in the summer is that we have kept the best season, fall, to ourselves. Our fall weather is one of the great reasons why so many people fall in love with the area and end up living here.

If you have caught the bug for living here, rest easy. It does not take long to become a local, especially in the fall when you cannot hide among the visitors. Even the most hardened city dweller usually becomes friendly after walking on one of our beaches a few times.

If you cannot join us as a local, come for a fall visit, you might get lucky and snag one of those summer in October or November weeks. If not, the fish will surely be biting.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Endless Sand, Ocean, and Sky

If you have passed by a television this week, you might have caught some of the PBS National Park series. Wilderness has been a big part of my life. Just as many Americans, I first experienced it in our National Parks.. I spent a lot of years after college chasing wilderness and enjoying living far from real civilization. Much of the show about National Parks is inevitably about the west. We are very fortunate in North Carolina to have our fair share of National Parks. I have camped from the Smokies to Ocracoke Island. There is not much that is nicer than falling asleep in a tent under a cloudless sky full of stars that you hardly knew existed. The exhaustion that comes from enjoying the beaches and trails of the parks makes sleep come easily and somehow burns the memories deeply into your soul. Yet my greatest pleasure is being able to taste the wilderness without facing the challenges.
The great thing about the Crystal Coast is that you do not have to work very hard to find yourself nearly out of sight of civilization. Yesterday as we went out Bogue Inlet and turned down towards Hammocks beach, it was not hard to think of a wilder time.

The beach near us had several pelicans and a few other sea birds but no humans. Once in a while we could see a boat in the distance, but as is sometimes the case, we were where no one else had decided to come.

That happens often on the Crystal Coast. It was that way this summer when my daughter found an island to herself in the Inlet.

The ability to spread out and enjoy the area without someone right on top of you is one of the great things about the Crystal Coast.

Last night after we returned to our dock, I went inside and convinced my wife to go for a short sunset cruise. We dropped the boat back in the water and in less than five mintes were back out in the White Oak watching the sun drop behind the clouds.

As far as I could tell we were the only boat on the river. It was dark enough that I could only see the outline of the trees on shore. As the sun went down, we had the world of the White Oak River to ourselves. I could easily imagine that the sunset looked very little different five hundred years earlier before white men set foot on these shores.

It is a special treat to get up in the morning and look out over trees, blue sky and water and know that where we live is about as wild as it can get and still be within an area which boasts four grocery stores and a Lowe's Home Improvement store.

One of the reasons we came here was that we wanted a place that would never be Myrtle Beach. I wanted to live within a short drive of Cape Lookout which preserves the Outer Banks as they were before men started building sand castles.

Having Croatan National Forest and the White Oak River covering my back is a benefit that I am just starting to appreciate. With my kayak, I can be in another world in less than five minutes of paddling. That is not a bad way to live.