Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar
Just Out of Reach
In hindsight, it wasnt how I envisioned spending the last three days of the 2003-2004 waterfowl season, especially since the reports I got when I returned to Chesapeake Country reflected a whole lot of action for geese and ducks.
But I had a fishing itch I just had to scratch, so I convinced myself itd be okay to beg out of the years last few hunts that in the past had rewarded me well. Along with Karl Roscher (whose idea it was, not so incidentally, to make the trek), we hitched up my boat, loaded the big rig and drove south, to the farthest reaches of the Outer Banks. The plan and, oh, what a sweet plan it was when we concocted it the previous week was to run out of Beaufort Inlet to fish for beastly ocean-run rockfish and, if we were lucky, giant bluefin tuna.
Man, did we tote some gear! The truck was filled with stand-up tuna rods, casting rods and all manner of tackle and lures. We convoyed navigation equipment, safety devices (including an inflatable life raft) and enough foul weather and cold-beating long johns to outfit a crew of long-liners.
We needed all that gear, but we never caught a fish. That saying about best laid plans must have been coined by some fisherman who was betrayed by the weather. Reality was that we spent an embarrassingly large part of the trip watching the Weather Channel or listening to NOAA marine forecasts, and sometimes both, hoping (or was it praying?) to catch a break. A strong westerly blow put the kibosh on our fishing.
But we endured. Any little weather window would do, and when one opened on Saturday we headed out into Bogue Sound, threading channel markers through the thin waters toward the open sea.
As I rounded the point and eased the catboat into the main shipping channel, flanked by Cape Lookout to my port, the true sea conditions revealed themselves. Steady four-footers rolled into the inlet and smashed against the rushing ebb of an outgoing tide. The occasional five- and six-footers joined the fray, and I gave them their due respect.
Tide versus wind created a swirling mess; confused seas, mariners call such conditions. At low speed, we inched toward the open ocean, pitching and rolling in waves as green water crashed over the bow. They were spaced so close together it was impossible to get a rhythm to handle.
After 15 minutes of this futility, I looked over at Karl, and asked with a chuckle, Well, what do you think?
What do I think? he snorted. I think we oughta turn around.
Are you sure? I deadpanned, then inched the boat forward until a brief lull in the breakers allowed me make the turn. If he had answered any other way, I would have done a 180-degree turn regardless. But hes a sound captain, and he has made enough runs through ocean inlets from Hatteras to Ocean City to know we were under-gunned in a 20-foot boat.
Its a healthy smack to your ego when the seas let you know whos the boss. And despite internal, and thankfully fleeting, thoughts of bravado that suggest you might have the juice to make the run out of one the Atlantics rough inlets, you know in your heart of hearts that youre wise to heed the warning and wait for another day.
Over the next few hours, in the relative calm of the part of the channel in the lee, we dragged big swimming plugs, like Manns and Yo-Zuris, in the faint hope of a striper strike. No such luck. The allure of the big water and bigger fish was so very close yet so far from our reach.
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