A Good Day Fishing

Last week I spent a few days with my father and uncle (and my uncle’s brother-in-law) fishing off Cape Lookout.

The end of a day

We leave the jetty off the southwest side of Lookout a little after four. To the west, the sun is dropping close to the horizon.

I’m at the helm of my dad’s boat, following Dale and Larry. We race across calm waters, parallel to the beach on the south end of Lookout, heading toward Shackleford Banks. The day before, this section was so rough, we turned around and sought safety behind the banks. As we pass into the Lookout Bight, we make a hard right into Barden’s Inlet. Quickly passing the split of land at the end of Lookout, we’re soon running along the backside of the island. We’re now heading parallel to our previous heading, but in the direction, with just a split of land separating us from where we were. 

The channel cuts a path resembling a giant question mark, as we maneuver between Lookout and Shackleford Banks.

We pass a lovely two mask schooner that has taken shelter behind the banks. The still water is only marred by the wake of our boats.

After passing the Old Coast Guard and Life Saving stations, we cut back toward the Lookout Lighthouse, which not only rises up into the sky but whose reflection follows us as we snake back north, keeping the red buoys on our right. Once we pass the lighthouse, the channel straightens as we head toward the east end of Harker’s Island. The sandbars have shifted and there are places we ignore the buoys. In one place, a sandbar has completely covered the old channel and we take a green buoy to the right. If we’d stayed in the marked channel, we’d been grounded. 

We take the northern channel at the split and curve around the west end of Harkers Island. The sun has now set behind us. As we make the turn into Eastmouth Bay, the pink sky reflects off the calm waters.  As we approach the channel into our dock, I push the throttle up to slow the boat down as I raise the motor enough to make it over the sand bar at the mouth of the dredged cut. We putt into the dock. It’s been a good day. Now there are fish to clean. 

The cooler contains Day and my fish. Larry and Dale’s are in the bucket.

Heading out early in the morning

We’d left that morning around 7 AM and watched the sun rise as we were running around Harker’s Island.

The temperature was below freezing, as evident by the ice on the docks. But unlike the day before, when the gales of earlier in the week had calmed to a stiff breeze of 20 miles an hour, this morning was calm. We didn’t feel the cold nearly as much as the previous day. We arrived at the rock jetty off Lookout, set anchor, and began to fish. A dozen or so boats were already anchored and had lines in the water by the time we arrived. As the day continued, even more would arrive. 

The fishing wasn’t great the first few hours. I seemed to lose jigs to the rocks, while just on the other side of the rocks, a dude with an orange coat, sitting on a swivel seat on the bow of his boat, caught fish after fish. Most were thrown back, but he kept a few. I pondered why they liked his grub and not mine. But then I got a bite. The light rod bent over and began to work the fish, but before we could get it to the net, he got off. Fifteen minutes later, my dad caught a speckled trout. There was one in the cooler.  

We were just about to head to the other side of the jetty, when Dad caught another while I lost another. So, we stayed and kept fishing. Larry and Dale had moved their boat to the other side and texted us to let us know a wildlife officer was over there checking fish and license. We assured him we only had “legal” fish. The officer only checked a half dozen boats, and then left, but he’d written a lot of tickets for fishing without licenses or having kept more fish than allowed. 

Finally, I did land a speckled trout that was just barely large enough to keep (speckled must be 14 inches long).  As the tide dropped, exposing the rocks and the shoreline approached out anchorage, we watched another guy fishing from the surf, on our side of the jetty catch fish after fish. I began to wonder what was wrong with our technique.

Catching fish

Then it happened. Dad caught a puppy drum. It was a good fight. I pulled my line in and helped him out the net.  While dad was putting the fish away and putting a new grub on his jig, I got a bite. It was another puppy drum. This one also took several minutes to get it into the boat. I’d get the fish almost to the boat and it would begin running, pulling line off the reel. As the line was only 8-pound test, you have to keep your drag fairly loose to keep the line from snapping. Dad waited until the fish tired and I got it to the boat, where he could help net it. It was another puppy drum, about 21 inches long. It went into the cooler, too. 

The limit of drum is one a piece, but for the next hour, we kept catching and releasing them. The fish ranged from 20 to 26 inches and they all gave a great fight. I’m not sure how many we caught, but each of us caught seven or eight fish. All the fish fought hard and took several minutes to get into the boat.

boats around the jetty which can only be partially seen by where the rocks are above water

As the noon hour approached, we were both getting hungry.  We finally took a break to have lunch (beans and weenies and crackers), even though the fish were still biting. Several other boats along with the guys on shore got into catching drum, so after lunch we moved to the other side of the jetty. We anchored next to Larry and Dale and began fishing. Pretty soon, we both caught a gray trout (we could only keep one, but we only caught one apiece). Then we caught a few more speckled trout. It seemed as if for every trout I got into the boat, I would lose one jig to the rocks. About half of the trout, we had to throw back as they were not of legal size. I also caught a bluefish. 

While we fished the jetty, out in deeper water shrimp thrawlers worked back and forth. You could hear the drone of their diesels and when pulled in their nets to cull their catch, the sound of gulls squawking overwhelmed the sounds of the waves breaking on the rock.

As the trawler culls their catch, the gulls fight for that which is thrown back

As the afternoon wore on, more. and more boats left for home. There were only a half dozen of so left when we decided to call it a day.

31 Replies to “A Good Day Fishing”

  1. Thank you for stopping by my nature blog. It was interesting to read about you and your life as I always do when I visit a new blog. I live in a suburb of Buffalo NY and have my whole life. I love nature and feel blessed to live where we do which has the suburb for my city husband and the pond and wildlife for me….I was just watching some flying squirrels come and pick up the nuts I leave out for them as our winters are long and cold….Michelle

  2. Jeff,
    My Dad taught me to catch ’em, clean ’em, and eat’ em. !
    I am so jealous of your trip, but so happy you got to do it and caught all of those fish !

    1. Libby, when I was younger, before the limits were lowered, we’d been cleaning fish all night. I remember once, back in the late 70s or early 80s, another guy and I was camping on Masonboro Island and caught 35 trout one evening! that was some good eating for a long time.

    1. A puppy drum is a fish that can grow quite large (generally when they are huge, they’re called “red drum”). When I was 11 or 12, my dad caught a huge one while fishing in the surf. It took an hour to get the fish in and it weighed nearly 50 pounds.

    1. It was good to be able to spend some time with him. My sister and I split the week, so that he could fish. It was the first time I’d seen him since my mother’s death in early October.

  3. The sandbars have shifted and there are places we ignore the buoys. In one place, a sandbar has completely covered the old channel…

    I saw a painting a while back of an old sailboat that had run aground on a sandbar. The boat was weather worn and leaning to one side. The weather in the painting was clear with blue skies with a few seagulls in the distance. It was a simply and somewhat crude piece of art but I found it enchanting.

    We finally took a break to have lunch (beans and weenies and crackers)…

    Beanie weenies are truly underappreciated cuisine!

    1. It’s always chilly when you start running a boat at 35 mph, especially when the temperature is at freezing. But the day turned out nice. The day before was really cold and we only caught a few small bluefish in the backwaters (it was way too rough to go out into the ocean).

  4. I’ve only been fishing in an ocean twice and both were memorable experiences. I think if I lived near a coast, I would have to invest in a boat to go quite often. I’ve always dreamt of living somewhere where I could daily go catch supper with a fishing pole.

  5. Wonderful photos and narrative! I’m a bit jealous…. we haven’t fished in probably two months. I’ll have to look up “puppy drum”.

    1. A puppy drum is also known as a red drum (often red drums is the name when they get really large). They’re also known as spotted bass. You could only keep them if they are between 18 and 27 inches long. Some will get to 40 or so inches, but they are not good to eat when they’re that large.

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