Chesapeake Outdoors
A Diamond in the Rough
By C.D. Dollar

Stretched over 70 miles along the Atlantic Seaboard, Cape Hatteras National Seashore combines natural and cultural resources to provide a wide variety of recreational opportunities. The dynamic islands of the Outer Banks provide habitat for many species of birds and winter homes for migrating waterfowl.

But it was the angling challenge in the waters off its shores that led me to drag my 20-foot skiff, VooDoo Cat, down there.

Once called the Graveyard of the Atlantic because of its treacherous currents and shoals, Cape Hatteras has a great history of shipwrecks, lighthouse and the U.S. Lifesaving Service. We had no intention of adding to that storied history, but a National Geographic map that charted more than 500 shipwrecks was a bit daunting. By some estimates, more than 1,000 ships have suffered the wrath of Cape Hatteras.

Because lighthouses proved incapable of lighting the far sides of the notorious Diamond Shoals, a lightship was put into service in 1824, but violent storms damaged the ship many times before it was finally destroyed. A new lightship was put in place in 1897, but yet another storm drove the ship ashore in 1899. During the Great War in 1918, a German submarine sank the lightship Diamond Shoals and passing ships often rammed it. Finally, in 1967, a light tower was put in place 13 miles offshore from Cape Hatteras, and in 1979, it was automated and the crew was removed.

As we slid past the breakers at Hatteras Inlet to make the 12-mile run to Diamond Shoals, it was hard to imagine a prettier day. On the advice of Bobby Carson, a former Annapolitan who now runs charters out of Hatteras, we went fishing for red drum up to 30 pounds in the froth of Diamond Shoals. For the past several years along Hatteras, there have been good runs of big red drum in mid-October, followed by an exceptional the striper run late in November.

The run was easy, but once on the Shoals the surf thrashed against the shallow bar like geysers, and the seas were confused, churning like an out-of-control washing machine. It took a bit of practice and nerve to get close enough to where the birds were working to cast. Bobby's words of caution ("watch your back for that rogue eight-foot wave") replayed in my head as we cast into the white foam. Several small bluefish were our bounty, so we moved to the north side of the shoals.

A few more bluefish, and as soon as I contemplated switching the five-ounce Hopkins spoon to another lure, a thunderous strike reverberated through my rod. The amazing thing was that Mimsy had hooked up almost simultaneously, and the screeching reel's played like dueling banjos.

Big bluefish, I thought, but after several hard runs, the shiny metallic skin broke the surface and showed itself as some type of tuna, which later we identified as a little tunny. In tandem, we fought the fish, and Mimsy got hers to the boat first, but then came the sickening realization that the net and gaff weren't on the boat. That lapse allowed her fish to slip the hook, and briefly it hung in the current in suspended exhaustion before swimming away.

Luckily, the beast was still on my line. It made several runs around the stern, then under the engines, and I thought it would break off. Clear of the lower units, it had energy for one more run before coming to heel at the transom. Completely whipped, the fish glistened like sheet metal in the emerald ocean.

Without proper landing tools, my only option was to hand the rod off, reach into the water, grab the fish at the tail and just behind the gill plate and hoist it over the transom as if I were a generic Poseidon. Of course he was probably smart enough to bring a net.

And that is a true fish story.

| Issue 44 |

Volume VII Number 44
November 4-10, 1999
New Bay Times

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