Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ocracoke Inlet, Pamlico Sound, as Evacuation for Hurricane Irene is Called

I meant to post last night, but as soon as we finished fishing yesterday morning, we packed up and fled Ocracoke Island. Mandatory evacuation had been announced, and we didn't care for an Irene scene reminiscient of past traffic jams and horror stories of escapes from hurricanes. We got into Exmore at midnight, myself a little nervous that traffic out of Virginia Beach and Chincotegue, etc., might be a problem today, but it was a breeze. We're back in Bedminster, New Jersey, and may have trouble enough here Sunday. 

I phoned Captain O'Neal at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, and he told me the winds remained too heavy for some spots he had in mind, but were light enough to catch a few if we wanted to settle for that. Unhesitatingly, I agreed to go out. My wife, Patricia, came along, and our labrador retriever, Sadie, who behaved almost as well as last year, barking some this time due to unknown causes.

Crossing Ocracoke Inlet towards Portsmouth Island, Ryan spotted birds--terns--and cut back on the throttle as he turned to them, then very quickly had us trolling Clark spoons. In no time at all Matt was into the only Spanish mackerel of the day, about 18 inches. We trolled no more than another five minutes and powered off to Ryan's secret spot, of which he surely has hundreds.

"I can't get the boat positioned just right because the wind is blowing against the tide," Ryan said.

"Kind of puts it in equilibrium," I offered. I wasn't really troubled in the least. I honestly saw nothing that indicated we wouldn't put some fish in the boat, but it was clear to me that Ryan knows very well what is ideal.

Later, when we had some sheepshead, he told me, "Normally I could position the boat so we could put our lines directly off the rear." Perhaps he was a little concerned that my son's casts sometimes fell a little short of the subtle sluice of current with oyster shells and barnacles on the bottom. Niether of us wanted to tell him to cast farther. Let him be. He was clearly informed, caught plenty, and the largest. Ryan did tell me when one of my casts overshot the target. "You won't feel the bite with that much line out." Not another cast took as much line. Beyond the sluiceway a small, shallow, sand island created a pocket of almost dead water. Current flowed between two of these islands and swung left as it progressed into Ocracoke Inlet, out with the tide into the Atlantic. We fished about 16 feet deep along a sudden drop where shells had collected and current moved steadily, but the fish could situate themselves in deep pockets of relative calm along that drop. Ryan also told me that sheepshead feed on barnacles, and showed me the teeth of one them, "Just like human teeth," he said. "Some would kill to have a set like that." 

Ryan also told me about the other spots he had in mind, further back in Pamlico Sound. "I know some wrecks with gray trout on them. With the wind today the water would be way too rough."

"How large do they run?"

"They can be five pounds, more likely a pound or two." He paused a moment. "State only allows one kept per fisherman." 

"No!!!" I said. Ryan said, "Yeah. Commercial netters can take all they please."

"We recreational anglers are just messing around," I said.

"Yeah, that's it. The idea is that commercial fishermen feed the country."

To me it seems a case of all or nothing thinking. In the first place, if commercial fishermen can take all, what's the difference if a few recreational anglers are allowed, say, four instead of one? Negligible. But one group has to be praised--even if the thinking in this respect is implicit or unconscious--and another punished. The commercial fishermen in this case are the chosen heroes who feed the great United States of America, and the recreational anglers are the chosen villains, at least the ones to be suspicious of... since we're out to have a good time. A nation as embroiled in the Judeo-Christian tradition as ours will, at least on some unconscious level, suspect good times of sinfulness at least sometimes. But the commercial fishermen are felt to be self-sacrificial hard workers, supporting the people almost in Biblical fashion perhaps.   

As long as we were into fish, we were happy, and we were into fish. Certainly none of our considerations got us down in the least. The action was fairly steady. The sheepshead--eight total--ran three to perhaps over seven pounds. Given the fish's unusual dimensions, I couldn't quite guess the weight. At any rate, we measured Matt's largest at 21 inches after I offered my guess--21 inches--just before Ryan put it under the knife at the end of the outing. These are wide bodied, chunky, hard fighting, and beautiful gamefish which I can now attest to being a delicacy, having eaten some for dinner tonight. We also boated a black drum, our first, which I photographed Ryan holding with my son. Ryan has had some clients recently catch black drum as large as 15 pounds. Plenty of small seabass came over the gunnels and were released. All this action on sand fleas. It's obvious to me that this easy to get bait--just reach around in the sand in the surf wash--has great versatality. Pompano love them, and I once caught a small striper on a sand flea fished with a four and a half foot ultra-light in the surf.

If you're on the Outer Banks--you won't be this weekend--and make it down to Ocracoke where the original restlessness and solitude is preserved, the kind of restlessness that doesn't depend on loud adverstisements and neon lights, all that appeal and appeasement which ultimately dulls and diminishes rather than stirs the will to action, look up Captain Ryan O'Neal for some truly memorable fishing. His Tarheel skiff, powered by a 150 horsepower Honda, won't let you down because he runs it, and he plans to purchase a new skiff next year. Just Google Captain Ryan O'Neal and Tarheel Charters, Ocracoke, and take it from there or phone him at (252) 928-9966.

Driving up Route 13 from Exmore this morning we had windows down and our curiosity piqued as we came upon smoke--not smoke on the water, but smoke over the roadway. We didn't react in any fear or unease but just took it as it came. And for a moment my wife and I were transported to nirvana. We hadn't smelled leaves burning since our childhoods. It's illegal in New Jersey. 

"Damn politicians try to repress our primal joys," I said.

Let's all hope no one gets killed by this hurricane, and that property is spared--by good planning ahead, of course. But don't forget to enjoy it. A hurricane really is awesome.

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