Monday, October 19, 2015

The Magical State of North Carolina

While Im a Coloradoan living in Virginia, I feel that North Carolina is my true home.  Amazing weather, waterways, people, and scenery keep me chomping at the bit to come "home" every chance I get.  So when tournaments come up, I do everything possible to make it down.   I feet like I'm meant to soak in all this wonderful state has to offer.  One of these events it the annual NCKFA Oak Island Classic. 

The Classic is unique in the fact that it comprises two separate tournaments (Inshore and Ocean) into one event.  Over a period of three days each October anglers congregate from the south and mid-atlantic regions and take over the sleepy town of Oak Island.  The islands inhabitants are all for the classic, to the point that when you walk into convenience stores, tackle shops, and restaurants, proprietors and employees ask about the days fishing, and offer up local intel.  It is truly a sight to see.  For me, my classic started at Midnight, a mere 7 hours prior to the beginning of the ocean division start.  A five hour drive was accompanied by lots of coffee and a level of anxious excitement.  Upon arriving to the 49th Street beach access, I had the pleasure of preparing with some of the best people the state had to offer.  Tim "NCPIERMAN", the Kingfish Legend  Capt. Jerry Dilsaver, perpetual event winners Big Jon Grady and Brian Klammer, Mike Eady and the one and only "C-breeze" Patterson were just a few of the people I shared the morning and coming days of the event with.  After a quick meeting and safety brief, we were off to fish and that is just what we did.

Photo Credit - NCKFA
Upon launching that first morning, my focus was set upon catching bait.  This focus was shattered by the shrills of my friends Tim and Mike.  They got on fish, and did it in quick form.

NCPIERMAN with his first Kayak Bull (and NC Citation)

Mike with a competitive 39" Red
My experiences did not mirror those of my friends on Day 1.  I was struggling, barely catching bait.  It wasn't until Mike shared some intel with me, and I was rewarded by the Drum Gods for recapturing and reviving a floating fish that was poorly released by a boat (and yes... the drum gods are real) that I got my first action of the day.  I dropped down, and after 2 hookups that seemed to manage long distance releases, I was in the zone.  I bought a 36" (fork length) drum in the yak, and was thankful to get on the board.

Fighting my only scorable fish of Day 1
Photo Credit - Mike Eady
Day 1 ended with Tim on the board at 41", Mike with 39", my 36", and about a half dozen others with fish ranging from 33" up to 43".  Klammer had a big drum and a good flounder, and Big Jon had a Big Drum and Spanish to take the lead.

Day 2 began much the same as the first, with the exception being that I was well rested.  On the beach, I made a point of getting on the water quickly to catch bait and have a better showing.  Well, it didn't take long for me.  Almost immediately Mike hooked up, and I quickly followed.  It ended up being nothing short of magical, with at least 20 Reds between 37"-40" for the morning.  While I have had a few days with better numbers, the quality of the fish were nowhere near what I experienced.  I was fishing the Ocean division, but with my showing day 1 and the added factor of a big fish calcutta, I opted to go for the latter.  This didn't fare well for standings but it didn't matter.

An 18 spot beauty!

1 of 2 NC Citations both at 40"
While I still had a few hours left to chase Kings, Spanish, Specks, and Flounder, I opted to do so.  Mike and I paddled out to the reef trolling spoons and plugs.  I ended up with nothing more than bluefish to show for my efforts.  While at the reef, nothing was going on so with an hour left to weigh-in, and a 20 minute paddle ahead, I trolled my way back in, hoping for a big hook up, but expecting nothing... and that's when it happened.  It seemed that I was immediately stopped in my tracks.  As I looked behind me, I see a king re-enter the water, and the spoon rod starts ripping line.  I am super excited, knowing this was the king I had spent years chasing.  But like all big fish stories, this ended poorly... resulting in a lost fish due to equipment failure.  I quickly throw on a king rig, and go back at it.  This time I drop a live croaker back and while Im feeding the line out, I get slammed!  Again, I loose the fish due to error.  With 30 minutes left on the water I paddle back in, having no lines out and my head down.  Then I realized that I have just experienced a day that many people could only dream about.  With that in the back of my mind, I was bound to end on a strong note.  No more than 30 yards of the beach, I dropped a bait back down for drum, and was rewarded with a solid 39".

While I did not catch enough to place in the Ocean division, I experienced something truly special.
  1. It was my best drum day (and up there with overall fishing days) ever.
  2. I got to share it with some amazing friends and anglers.
  3. I got to witness some firsts (first citations, first larger drum, and first drum ever)
  4. Amazing level of competition, but also camaraderie and teamwork.

David Adcox First Ever Redfish - 38"

At the Inshore Capt. Meeting that night, Seth Goodrich and I were feeling good about the following morning.  While I was in the parking lot, on cloud 9, I saw one of my sponsors and all around awesome people (Bryan Owen-Astral).  In talking with him, his usual tournament partner had to run back west, so the only logical option was to invite him to fish with us.  So glad I did, because I (and Seth) learned a lot from him.  After the meeting, I decided to set up camp at the launch for the next morning.  This is when I met my old friend Fred.

I offered Fred a beer...  Fred wanted me to go for a swim...  Fred didn't get his beer
The tournament morning came too soon, and started much like the others (being awoken by vehicles pulling up to the launch).  I slowly get moving and was thankful for the help of my teammates Seth and Bryan to kick into gear.  Enroute to our first spot, we were laughing, joking, and just having a great time.  Then the mood got serious.  As we pulled into the grass, Seth whispers "Reds... Tailing..."  Such a sight is not common in our neck of the woods.  Bryan sneaks into the grass and positions himself to fish a great location, and that was when tails popped up in his area.  As the two of them work the grass, there was lots of tension and hard fishing, but nothing came tight.

Bryan Owen awaiting another shot at a tailing red.
The water started dropping, and the reds made their way out of the grass.  In hindsight, we had the right baits for the grass... during the summer, but not in the fall.  As is, we worked deeper in the cut, making some stops for bait along the way.

Walking the Grassline, Searching for Bait
Photo Credit - Bryan Owen
After making our first attempt at bait, I managed my first fish towards the slam.

Followed shortly by my second...

And finally my third (well 4th actually, which was an upgrade)

And that was it.  A whopping 35.5" slam, which Im sure set a tournament record for smallest slam in recorded history.  About this time, we got in an area that was chocked full of bait, so all three of us got out of the kayaks to get something more enticing ready for the fishes to eat.  Bryan managed a rat red in the net, I managed to get a number of lacerations from oysters on my legs and hands, and Seth learned first hand why I wear my Astral footwear on the water (thanks Bryan for helping Seth out)!  The fishing stopped for us, but our time on the water kept going.  In our conversations, things like "Spirit Animals" came up.  I think that my spirit animal is actually a gator, much like my buddy Fred (onry, hard headed, water loving creatures).  

Normally, my showing inshore would have been an irritant on my day, but thanks to my fishing buddies and frankly the previous day to keep me happy as a clam (or an oyster).  While this placed an uneventful end to the 2015 Oak Island Classic, it did not end my time on the island.  Tim, Michael Allen, Jamie, and I went out to see if we could coax some more fish from the surf.  While Tim got a Red rather quickly, the fishing almost stopped until Jamie got a hell of a run on the Balloon Rig!

A Studly King (from just off the surf)
I spent a little bit of time trying to get a king after Jamie got his, but quickly got bored and went after drum.  Well, hours had gone by and the fishing frankly sucked until we found that magic spot.

The Magic Spot... or Three
Fishing picked up and Tim and I ended the day with a half dozen reds each between 38"-42".

One of my Sunday Redfish
Photo Credit - Tim Taramelli
And that last run of reds coupled with a huge release of water from the Cape Fear River ended my day.

When the River Meets the Ocean
All of this was amazing, but I still had one more day to go on my vacation.  My good friend Joe "da Wicked Pissah" offered his pad an hour north of OI, and after spending the last 4 days in the car, I quickly accepted.  A few beers, great food, and amazing company were on tap.  The following morning, we planned on fishing but heavy rain and thunderstorms kept us off the water.  As I was preparing to drive home, the heavens parted, and we had beautiful conditions.  One look at the radar to confirm what we just witnessed, and our minds were made up... its time to fish!

Joe "guided" me to a new part of the ICW I had never fished before, and I quickly hook up to some rat reds and belt buckle flounder.  Joe fared better than I, with some slot reds and flounder on the ole fall go to, the Jumbo Vudu Shrimp.

One of the Wicked Pissah's Well Fed Reds
This trip was the conclusion of an amazing five days in Coastal Carolina, but I didn't (and haven't) have enough.  So as re-aclimitizing to work after such a great vacation and the upcoming weekends forecast gave me the blues, I decided to do something about it.  After soliciting for fishing partners, Luther Cifers so politely obliged.  It was off to the Crystal Coast in search of Drum, Mackrell, and Mr. Fat Albert himself.  I felt confident in my drumming know how to get us some fish, but the Albies I had to ask around for.  While I got some general guidance to confirm my suspicions, the day was left up to mainly the knowledge I had gathered over the years.

As the 0400 wake up arrived, I was greeted by chilly temperatures and the unmotivating thought of a 4 hour drive.  Well, I got moving and met up with Luther mid-morning.  With very little knowledge of the area, I quickly found a beach access point.  After seeing the conditions and abundance of bait, we unloaded, got rigged, and were off.  Luther quickly hooked up to a stud of an albie, which was over the 30" fork length mark.

Luther with a Stud Albert
I was pumped now.  We got a target!  While I was trolling around looking for Mr. Al, Luther was busy collecting drum bait.  While my fishing was non existent, we met back up and worked the shore line searching for Luther's first bull.  Drifting baits past the breakers, through pods of bunker, and off ledges produced nothing and my confidence was shot.  I didn't even see anything that looked drummy, so I went out looking for albies.  About a mile off the beach, I saw a slick, and quickly I thought drum.  I bring one of my trolling lines in, and drop a bunker to the bottom.  Then it happened.  I thought I was going to have a flush mount pulled out of my kayak the hit was so violent.  While I am unsure what is going on, I grab the rod out of the rod holder and proceed to get pulled around at a very high speed.  After watching fishing shows where folks catch lots of tuna, I was sure I knew what was happening.  My confusion led to excitement as I had my first False Albacore pinwheeling under my yak!

28" Fork Length False Albacore
 As the day went on, the fishing was slow.  Still no drum near the mouth of an inlet, and no signs of the Albies.  As Luther and I paddle toward the launch, we see a beehive of birds working.  We both have baits behind us, and haul to the spot.  As we near, we see the water boiling with feeding albies on the surface.  Knowing it is a damn near futile effort to catch up with the school, I try anyways, and ended up putting myself in the right position.  At this point, I have one rod still in the water, and one casting to the school.  This is when the rod in the rod holder goes crazy.  I get the rod to hand, and this fish runs right to Luther.  As we are only feet apart, I am unable to stop the fish.  At one point my rod was in the water between our two kayaks, then it was over his yak damn near attached to his Black Pak.  He gets his lines cleared, and I manage to get away from him without cutting his lines, breaking a rod, or loosing the fish.  As my fight is about over, I see him hooked up.  DOUBLE BABY!!!

My 2nd of the day at 26" FL

Luther's 2nd, and complimentary fish to the double
As the sun is getting lower on the horizon, I see birds working again.  I get myself in position, but trolled baits are attracting Blues and Greys, and I am not seeing anything happening.  At that moment I think the day is over, I am super stoked with the outcome.  Then out of nowhere, I see a school of fish 20' off the bow of my kayak coming straight for me.  It would have been such an amazing shot with the faces of the fish pushing but not breaking the water, silversides going in every direction, and the golden glow of the sun shining down on them.  It would have been an amazing shot if I had the camera in my hand.  But I didn't...  I only had a rod so I worked to my strengths and put a 4" Ronz right in there faces.  Within a split second, I was hooked up for a third time.  The fish ran in the exact opposite direction I was going in and I went along for the ride.

Obligatory Tuna Shot 

This fish ended my day on the water, and was a fitting end to a 10 day period down south.  Record book days, new experiences, and fishing with some of the greatest anglers and industry professionals made for a truly magical experience.

North Carolina still has its spell on me, and rest assured, my next trip is already in the works!