Sunday, September 11, 2011

When Largemouth Bass Lurked in Currituck Sound, Collington Bay, and Southern Shores' Canals

I guess I had read Bassmaster magazine for at least a year before I learned about largemouths--super abundant--in Currituck Sound, North Carolina. The Outer Banks were my family's special vacation place; we had been coming since 1969. I fished from Kittyhawk Pier (now gone after a storm), eight years old, catching 22 white perch on the rare occasion of masses of them schooling in the ocean. They are anadromadous as are related striped bass. I fished the surf, caught a skate and lost a large pompano that took a sand flea. By the time I learned about the bass in freshwater Currituck, I was much improved at fishing, skilled at catching bass in New Jersey and amazed they existed in Currituck. I had expected to do nothing but serious saltwater angling the summer of 1976.

Instead, I hiked from our rental house near the beach outback towards the sound. I discovered bass in the canals behind properties on the sound side. They swirled for baitfish trapped at the end of one of the canals. Big boils erupted, impressing my memory forever. Two or three years later I caught a 39 inch gar--think it was a shortnose--on a #9 floating Rapala. One of my bass weighed about three and a half pounds. I also waded in the very shallow sound, catching a few bass on spinnerbaits. I don't remember how I found out, but Collington Bay behind Kill Devil Hills harbored loads of largemouths, and we caught them as large as three and a half pounds mostly on Ringworms, a 70's idea of trapping air to produce bubbles by plastic ring chambers around the worm's plastic body. We also caught crabs on those Ringworms; this far south of Currituck the water is brackish.

In 1978--I was 17--me and two friends (both of them approached 16) drove to the Outer Banks in my Ford Fairlane station wagon, which I had bought saving money from writing fishing articles for magazines and the Trenton Times, also mowing lawns. I was a member of B.A.S.S. chapter Mercer County Bass, and borrowed a 7.5 horsepower outboard from another member to use on my 12 foot cartop aluminum. At the time I owned an electric outboard. We fished Collington. My friend Jason Roberts lost a bass of at least four pounds. Later someone we met at the campground and I traveled north of Kitty Hawk way up highway 158 to launch into Currituck. We rode all the way across and viewed Corolla Lighthouse up close. We could have landed and wandered around a place that then was completely isolated except for an unimproved, one lane sand spit. We caught bass on spinnerbaits around duck blinds. Everywhere milfoil supported the ecology.

I guess it was 1984 when I learned somehow the milfoil had died and the bass vanished with it. A girlfriend and I spent 10 days camping down the Banks from north of Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke. We took a motel room in Ocracoke. I felt a vast loss when we camped at Collington, the water muddy and no bass anywhere. I don't know how many millions of bass existed in this ecosystem, but 50 bass a day catches were common and the acreage out there is enormous. Currituck reminds me of Lake Musconetong, another great fishery all but destroyed. Both of these waters are very shallow and once hosted enormous amounts of aquatic vegetation; anywhere you went was bass water, habitat everywhere.

Back on the Banks this past summer I wondered if any bass still exist at all, or if perhaps milfoil has returned. I haven't searched the web. (If anyone knows, please share.) In 1996 I did try Collington Bay. The water was heavily stained, no milfoil and no bass. It looked sick. And it seemed unnecessary for it to be sick, although I haven't learned of the cause of this great ecology's demise.

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