Working here in the store, I talk to a lot of customers on a day to day basis, and I hear a lot of stories of frustration. The ones about fishing all day and catching nothing, the one that broke off, terrible conditions at fault, the “should have been there the day before” syndrome, the list goes on and on and I’ve heard them all. Now through my fishing “career”, I’ve caught many different types fish, fresh and saltwater, and I can promise you, it has been absolutely FULL of these moments. There have been so many that I can’t possibly recall all of them. But, I would like to share with you my most recent fishing trip, where lots of time and effort finally paid off, and I reached one of the highlights in my angling career. Enjoy!
I woke up bright and early on Monday morning, the 8th of October…. Okay, I’m not going to lie, it was more like 10:30; I was on vacation after all! It was the last full day of my dad and I’s annual fishing trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
I am a dedicated pier fisherman, and I enjoy fishing from several of the pier’s on our coast for different species at different times of the year, but early October on the northern Outer Banks means only one thing to me. Red Drum. Big ones. Now let me go ahead and say that, while over the past 5 years, for 4 days each October, I dedicate myself to the confines of the end of a pier, throwing a heavy weight and a piece of bait on a long surf rod, trying to catch one of these large fish (between 40 and 50 inches is the norm). Over those 5 years, I would not be exaggerating if I told you that I have logged well over 100 hours trying to accomplish this, and up until Monday the 8th, I had yet to even hook one, much less put one on the deck. I’ve caught plenty of redfish, from under-slot-limit fish on up to 36 or 37 inches, but none over 40, and none from the end of a pier. It hasn’t been for lack of trying though.
Now here comes the aggravating part….. One particular situation from early in this journey comes to mind when I couldn’t quite cast far enough; longer casters were catching fish, short casters weren’t. There have been a couple times when as soon as I showed up, the bite quit, and when I got home 4 days later, I checked that day’s report and the bite started back up. Other times, it’s been the weather and water temperatures not being right, or good conditions and the bait fish not being there, so on and so forth. I’ve got the right tackle, I’m fishing the right places, put up with and fished through some less-than-desirable conditions (from too nice of weather to weather conditions where I think the pier was only staying open cause I was dumb enough to stay out there); I’m doing everything right, but as the phrase of frustration goes, “There’s always something”. None the less, my quest has brought me back to the same piers over and over, and I’ve kept coming back for more, despite my lack of success. Well as fortune would have it, the fish-god’s, Poseidon, the Kraken, or what-ever forces control the luck of pier and surf fishermen everywhere, were on my side this day.
As I said, it was 10:30, and I woke up, and the first thing I did was check the early morning fishing reports. A pier north of us, just the day before had caught and released 30 drum the previous day, and not surprisingly, a continuous north east wind and put the fish on fire, and they were chewing the end of the pier off with 50 of the beasts caught before 10. Now a hot drum bite means a crowded end of the pier, and from first-hand accounts, there were close to 50 rods resting on the end of that pier, and that is just something that I don’t want to deal with. With the conditions being as good as I’d ever seen (Wind direction was right, water temperature was right, bait and some current moving. It was perfect), I was confident, and pepped my step up and got on over to the pier I was fishing. When I got to the end, a fellow drum fisherman, who I have fished with over the past several years, promptly said “You’re late buddy. I caught a 48” fish at around 8:30, and another guy lost one at the net”. This was very promising, because for the past 3 days, we hadn’t seen any drum, just big butterfly rays. So, I rigged up my first rod, baited up with a fresh spot head (been in the cooler only 20 minutes, thanks to dad), and heaved it out against the 15 mph northeast winds. I got my second rod rigged up, baited up, made my cast, and immediately back-lashed my reel into one of those all too familar birds nest looking things you usually see on a dune. A backlash in this type of fishing means getting out a sharp knife, and start cutting (there’s no picking these out!). After a brief pause to man my rod while 2 drum were caught, I got my second rod under control, I re-rigged, re-baited, and successfully re-cast.
I leaned myself on the rail next to the rod I cast first, and stood there to wait. I didn’t wait long, and the bait-clicker on my reel started to slowly creep out, then accelerated to a blistering scream! Adrenaline kicked in and I picked up my rod, thumbed the spool, pumped the rod, turned the clicker off, and tightened the drag, all in same instant. Fish on!! He immediately ran probably 30 yards of line out, and I felt that distinct head shake that lets you know what ever you’ve hook has a head and a tail and is not a big ray. But I’m not entirely convinced yet. My past luck has consisted of sharks, and I wasn’t going to jump to conclusions before I saw it. The fish headed south, so I made my way to the south side of the pier, going over and under other lines and rods as needed, and fought the fish, unobstructed, on the south corner. All the while, I kept my eye on where the line entered the water a 100 yards or so out, looking for confirmation. A minute or so later, I saw that copper-bronze color I was looking for (queue angelic music), and my first red drum was coming to the pier. As I got the fish to the pier, a fellow angler lowered the large drop-net, I guided the fish in head-first, and a few seconds later, my first citation-sized red drum hit the pier deck. A beautiful 45.5” fish! After getting the measurements and a few quick photos, the fish was lowered to back to water in the net, and swam away, no worse for the wear.
As customary, I shook the hand of the guy who netted my fish and got re-baited. I threw another long cast, and as I tightened up on my line in preparation to prop it on the rail again, there was a very distinct tug on the rod and the drag started peeling out. I’m hooked up again!! Well, to fit the rest of an afternoon into a blog it won’t take you hours to read, I went to catch 3 more for a total of 5 for the day, and the pier total for a dozen or so guys was 42 fish. At the end of the day, I filled out my citation forms at the pier house, and I am now waiting for the certificates from the NCDMF.
So, if there is one thing that I have learned from this, one piece of advice that I can give to any fisherman who maybe struggling or striking out in their attempts to catch their fish of a lifetime, it is to not give up and never get discouraged. Try to learn something every time you go out. Pay your dues, put in the time and effort, and you absolutely will be rewarded.
Thats why they call it fishing!
~ Keith Scott