On a warm sunny Sunday in late November 1996, just before the Thanksgiving holiday, I was fishing a hole about one mile up from Bogue Inlet.
Bogue Inlet is a beautiful region of Bogue Banks, the east-west running barrier island at the most southern reaches of the Outer Banks.
It’s a nice hole; I’d say a six- to seven-man hole at best, no funny stuff, just an opening in the sandbar and closed on both sides like a horseshoe. It had been a productive hole throughout the summer with black drum, red drum and the like, Spanish and blues- a good hole. Now along with the rest, specks, speckled trout (officially spotted sea trout). It’s fall you know, almost Thanksgiving.
I’d been fishing there and up and down the beach most of the morning, plugging for trout with a MirrOlure, grubs- the usual.
Late in the morning, a family, actually two, in two 4X4 pickups drive up and join me. One of the men walks over and says. “How ya doin’?, I’m Mike, I work over at Bogue Field.”
Bogue Field, it’s the air base a few miles away, over on the mainland. Well, we exchange pleasantries; he explained how he was here with his wife and his friend and his friend’s wife, and of course his grandpa and how they come here a lot. We each boasted how this hole had produced drum and trout for the each of us, and so on. We then went on our ways; I plugged, they rigged, we spent the pleasantness of the afternoon fishing, occasionally communicating via nonverbal gestures.
One thing you must never do when surf casting is take your eyes off of the surf. Don’t get distracted, even for a moment, and never, never, never, ever turn your back on the ... CRASH ... “Man down” was the cry. Well Mike had done the unthinkable, turned his head or back or something. Anyway, he went from fishing to the fine art of swimming in waders in an instant - sand in his reel, 50-degree water trickling its way down to the toes of the waders.
The reaction was immediate. Fighting the surf and beach for control of his body, Mike finally emerged from the water unaided. In an attempt to cover his embarrassment, Mike instantly lashed a blue streak of profanity that should have, in a perfect world, cleared the sand from his reel and dried the cold salty water from his waders, and reestablished his rightful position in the universe. Well, it didn’t work.
Mike, dripping and cursing, while friends and family were hiding their smiles, retreated to the cover of the passenger side of his pickup, stripped in defeat to what of his undergarments had remained dry- not many I might add- and re-garbed himself in fresh, dry attire. He then rejoined the rest of us, his wife, his friends and of course Grandpa, to face the music as it were.
But this story is about Grandpa. Mike’s grandpa was a man of 82 years, and has been fishin’ these parts, Bogue Banks, for the better part of the 20th century. It’s fall, and Grandpa knows trout. So, he was here just like he’d been the year before, and the year before that, and so on Grandpa was dressed for trout, with his hip-hugging boots hooked at his waist, several layers of plaid flannel shirts and a cap that had fished with him for the better part of this century as well. Gramps had one, maybe two rods, one sand spike, his sand chair and a pile of cut shrimp: two, three maybe four pieces per shrimp, if they were big. He was ready for an afternoon of troutin.’
Once Grandpa baited his hook, he would place his rod over his right shoulder, walk slowly down the beach on the outgoing wave, measuring its retreat with the precision of the Acapulco cliff divers. He proceeded to cast the shrimp and its accompanying three ounces of lead with the snap of his wrist, turned his back to the now incoming wave, and with the earned confidence of his 82 years, placed his rod back over his right shoulder and retreated back up the sandy slope, cranking his reel in reverse. Once he reached his destination, he turned, and gently if not gracefully, lowered himself into his chair, placed his rod across his lap and assumed the troutin’ position.
Grandpa would, from time-to-time, when he chose, when it was right, slowly retrieve his line – crank, crank, back up the sandy slope, crank, crank, sinker in tow, crank, crank, crank, scratching a thin line in the sand – up to his feet. He would check the bait for damage and replace it if necessary, then carefully get up, walk back to water’s edge on the outgoing wave, cast, turn and retreat to his chair just as precisely as he had done before.
This went on much of the afternoon- me and my pluggin,’ Mike and the others chuckin’ lead, occasional black drum or such, when, almost unnoticed, Grandpa’s rod became alive.
Grandpa, just as before, started to crank, crank, crank, crank, crank; then again, slowly one crank then another, then another, and so on. Finally, someone, Mike’s wife I think, yelled, “Gramp’s got a fish.” Well maybe a pinfish, or drum or something, but by now Gramps had been crankin’ long enough that we all could see that it was a trout, beautifully silvered, black speckles, two maybe three pounds, no match for Grandpa. Somebody yelled, “Get the net!” (Get the net? I thought). Well, luckily Gramps ignored the commotion and kept a crankin.’
With Grandpa fully in control- he’d done this a thousand times before, you know- the fish now emerged from the surf, up onto the hard wet beach sand, up towards his chair.
With the efficiency and dedication of a flock of hungry gulls ready to poke out the fish’s eyes, the rest of the entourage descended upon the fish, plucked it off the hook, placed the trout in the cooler in the back of the pickup and each in turn patted Grandpa on the head in recognition of his triumph.
Well, Grandpa, without looking up, sighed oh so slightly in acknowledgment. He then re-baited his hook, walked himself back down the sandy slope measuring the retreating wave, just as precisely as he had done before. He cast his fresh piece of shrimp and 3-ounce pyramid sinker back into the hole, right along the west edge of the hole, turned, and placing his rod on his shoulder, back-cranking his reel, he returned to his chair, put his reel on his lap, looking seaward, continued troutin.’ You know, Grandpa KNOWS trout!
Richard Ehrenkaufer, who writes under the name “Dr. Bogus,” is a longtime columnist with the Tideland News and the Carteret County News-Times. His fishing reports can also be heard on WTKF-FM.