"Just a Taste" of the THE CRYSTAL COAST E-mail
Saturday, 25 March 2017 00:00

 

 

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 Possibilities! Left to right, you can fish the Gulfstream, surfcast the beach, drift the estuary or target salt marsh creeks.

 

I flew in to the Outer Banks region of North Carolina from my home in California. On our half-hour drive from the tiny airport to the Crystal Coast I experienced a bit of culture shock. These neighborhoods had no fences! Broad swaths of green lawn connect the well kept family houses. I hadn’t seen such green grass yards in my drought-stricken home state of California for many years. And, the space between the houses was so OPEN. Not sure what this might mean on a sociological level, but the implication I took was “These are good neighbors.” Many of the stately neighborhood houses are built in the Bahamian style, while others display a classic colonial architecture. Toto, we’re not in California anymore.

I have visited near this area before. The back-bay bridges, and low scrub pines on the dunes screening oceanfront homes were reassuringly familiar. I will also admit I was relieved to see four commercial-sized Carrier A/C’s outside our rental beach home. It definitely is NOT a “dry heat” in North Carolina. Humidity can run up to 99%, which means instant sweat. By my lights, air-conditioning is a ‘must’ on the East Coast of the US in summertime. This pad was more like a palace. They call them “Sand Castles” here. (Think four stories, six bedrooms, eight full baths, two kitchens, three big screens and a regulation pool table…..).

Crystal Coast towns of Beaufort and Morehead City take their history very seriously. Whereas most of the American West remained as frontier and undeveloped prior to the 1850’s, this part of the Eastern US coast has hosted European settlers since 1600. Originally selected for the protected inlet, the Crystal Coast area remains a thriving year-round community while catering to vacationers from around the world. The combination of down-home sensibilities coupled with four-star restaurants plus dozens of available activities makes this area a family vacation paradise.

 

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On our first full day, we visited the NORTH CAROLINA AQUARIUM AT PINE KNOLL SHORES  that features over 3000 specimens of local aquatic life. Premier amongst these are the federally protected sea turtles. Seven distinct species of sea turtle grace this area of which the loggerhead and green sea turtles are most likely to nest on the wide sandy beaches. Later that day, we took a water taxi out to CAPE LOOKOUT NATIONAL SEASHORE,  visiting the Lighthouse that has protected mariners from dangerous shoals for nearly 200 years.

On that short boat ride, we passed the Shackelford Banks, a series of grass-covered sand islands within the estuary. These scattered islets are home to a herd of beautiful wild horses. The mustangs have lived here over 400 years, and are thought to have swum ashore from a Spanish shipwreck in the 1600’s.

I was lucky enough to make contact with Bobby Brewer from Baldheaded Bobby Guide Service  in nearby Oriental. Bobby specializes in guiding backwater and inshore fishing. As we all know, the best way to fish inlets, estuaries, salt marshes and tidal creeks is by kayak, and Bobby’s mom didn’t raise no fools. Bobby just happens to have a few Ocean Kayak Big Game  kayaks for clients. The boats come fully set with rod holders, anchor stakes, paddles, PFD’s etc. Bobby also provides all rods reels gear and bait if needed.

 

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This time of summer, there are still some “old drum” (big redfish) feeding in the back creeks, as well as flounder in the creek mouths and estuary. The big prize for this time of year are the cobia. These big croakers (think weakfish, or white sea bass) are in the shallows. Like their cousins, cobia fight HARD, and might be the most delicious eating fish from the saltwater.

Indeed, this area can boast year-round fishing. The mighty Gulf Stream, a warm-water current that travels from the Caribbean up to the North Atlantic comes very close to land along this stretch of coast. This makes for warm water temps and a plethora of gamefish. Summertime fishing features offshore trophies including white and blue marlin, sailfish, bluefin or blackfin tuna, dolphin (AKA dorado, mahi-mahi ) and wahoo. Inshore one can catch ladyfish, flounder, Spanish mackerel and bluefish amongst other species. The treasured “Old Drum” also called Red Drum, Spotted Drum, Spot’s or Redfish can be targeted year-round in this area. Springtime targets the mighty cobia, which can grow to eighty pounds and be caught in shallow waters. Fall and winter fishing highlights striped bass, red drum and speckled trout along the inshore and estuaries.

Sadly, weather conditions were not ideal for our scheduled fishing foray. Storms were threatening and the barometric pressure continued to drop. But, Bobby was game, and so was I. We launched our Ocean Kayak Big Games into the Neuse River near New Bern, and followed the tide out to the salt marshes. Alternately using topwater popping corks, swimbaits and shrimp bait we tried for the red drum backed up into the marshy creeks. Frustrating. We could see the fish and get follows, but no bites. Eventually, I caught one small drum, and one decent flounder on the shrimp bait. Three or four more of either fish would have provided a pretty good dinner. As it was, I practiced catch and release. Let those fish grow up for future forays.

 

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As all dedicated anglers know, it’s never a wasted trip. We had a full day to enjoy the isolated beauty of the saltmarsh and were visited by a family of ospreys as well as a few of the fabled wild mustangs from nearby Shackelford Banks. My theory is the low-pressure conditions just put fish off the bite for the day. It happens to the best of us and to the rest of us. I really needed about four more fishing days in the area to capitalize on one of the most potentially prolific fishing locations in the US.

 

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That’s why I’m looking forward to getting back to the Crystal Coast and bugging Baldheaded Bobby within the next couple years. Pick any five or six days in a row, and I’m almost sure to get three or four good fishing days out of the deal. I also want to get offshore for big game kayak fishing with BB. With his powerboat, we can mothership a couple kayaks out to the deep-sea fishing areas. Add in some surfcasting at sunrise and sunset as a cherry on top. 

 

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