... streaming ... ...
I live 6 hours from the nearest saltwater and had never fished any before. My brother lives at the coast and sent me a message a few months ago with a picture of a boat and a mahi (harkersislandflyfishing.com) and said "we should do this sometime". I said "yeah, find out when's a good time to go and let's do it". Fast forward (through several months of reading, gearing up and practicing casting) to last Wednesday and I was on Harker's Island right after the sun went down, ready to get on that boat Thursday am.
We camped in the beds of our trucks at this spot, and the only words from the local sheriff were "I love flounder season, good luck, I wish I had more time to fish".
We were on the water by 0700 and Capt. Dan was giving us options for the day and warning us about what could be a long ride home given the wind and rough water. Encouraged by some nice mahi that he'd landed the previous day we set our sights on them (about 20 miles offshore) and decided we might warm up on anything interesting we happened upon en route.
About 15 minutes into the trip we came upon some Spanish Mackerel pushing baitfish (Silversides?) and leaping into the air. I had never seen baitfish spray out of the water before... incredible! The Capt. worked to position us for a shot at the mackerel... The speed at which all of this was happening was unlike any other kind of fishing I'd experienced before. One second the baitfish and mackerel were at 2 o'clock, 20 feet from the boat and the next they were at 6 o'clock and 40 feet away. We had 6 wt rods in hand but mine was a loaner (a very nice Sage combo) and I struggled to get the hang of the new rod/line while dealing with the intensity and pace of the fishing and the rocking of the boat. My brother hooked up with a couple of smaller mackerel and we were having a blast. I was delighted just watching the fish flying everywhere but my adrenaline really got going when I had my fly in with the baitfish... what a feeling!
Soon thereafter we were approaching the open ocean and just as we were rounding the last point of land we spotted some more mackerel jumping and decided to have a go at them. We were fairly close to the island and could've been casting from the shore as well... There was a steep drop-off and the mackerel seemed to like cornering the baitfish up against it. I started to get the hang of the 6wt and the pace of this kind of fishing and had my fly in with the baitfish and heading in the right direction a couple of times. I didn't manage to hook any but I was loving the challenge and the visual nature of this style of fishing. After what felt like 20 minutes we moved on, heading offshore towards the mahi and whatever else lay ahead. The ocean was rolling and I started to feel a little sick, despite having taken Dramamine before we left and wearing an acupressure "Seaband" on each wrist.
About 4 miles offshore we came to an artificial reef and there were fish jumping everywhere... The Captain said that according to his monitor there were thousands of fish, all around us. My brother began casting and I watched him play and land a nice fish, but I was now feeling quite sick and by the time he hooked up with the next fish I was puking my morning coffee overboard. Time began to lose meaning as the feeling of sea-sickness blocked out most other senses. Another fish or two were hooked and I endured another round of puking before we collectively decided to head for home. My brother and the Captain were both incredibly gracious and understanding. It was a long ride back to land and it took the better part of the afternoon to feel somewhat normal again. Many, many daydreams of chasing saltwater species were left in serious doubt at this point.
Given our early return, we had enough time to catch the ferry over to Cape Lookout and we planned to camp and fish there for a couple of days. I was a little hesitant to get back on a boat but it was a short ride over inshore water and by mid-afternoon we were on the island and heading for the same point that we'd seen the mackerel crashing in the morning.
Cape Lookout is an amazing place. There are no beach houses or businesses and there are miles and miles of shoreline, both surf-side and inshore. The beach is wide and you can drive and camp on it. We passed a few camper rigs with giant surf rods, about one every couple miles, until we came to the end of the beach, or at least the end of where vehicles are allowed. The wind was up, which was good for keeping mosquitoes away but not great for fly casting.
Feeling a little better and optimistic about the evening, we geared up and set out on foot for the other side of the island. We walked along the shoreline for about 90 minutes while the sun was getting lower over the water. At one point we crossed some dunes and followed the inshore beach until we came to a somewhat protected flat that led out to a deeper inlet. Spanish Mackerel and the baitfish were jumping everywhere, within range of down-wind casting. The mackerel were jumping horizontally and crashing onto the fleeing bait. There were other fish that appeared to be shooting straight out of the water, vertically, spinning and flipping before splashing back into the water. I waded out into the flat, maybe 100 feet from shore, and within easy distance of plenty of activity. My brother continued on, about 100 yards further, around the edge of the flat to the point that we'd been at in the morning. We could see each other across the water but I couldn't tell how he was fairing. Feeling much more comfortable casting my own gear and despite the wind, I once again I had my fly (a #4 olive/white Clouser) in with fleeing baitfish on several occasions. I had a couple of quick strikes but did not land any mackerel before the sun went down. I did hook and land a fish that I did not recognize, which we later determined to be a lizard fish. My brother had a similar story; a few exciting opportunities, some strikes and one lizard fish in the net:
In all it was an incredible evening; fish were everywhere and even if we weren't catching many of them, we had our chances and we were witness to (and part of) something magical. We walked a long four miles of beach back to the truck, had a cold beer, ate a quick bite and went to sleep under the moon and stars, humbled and in awe.
The next morning, after a small, strong, black coffee, we drove up the beach to try our luck on the far side of the island.
The wind was still up and there were fewer folks fishing the surf from shore. We waded an inshore flat lined with marsh grasses and full of conch and crabs (and images of reds) but after an hour or two the sun was getting high, we were getting hungry and the fish (if there were any) weren't interested in our flies, so we walked back to the truck and grilled up a couple of the previous day's mackerel for tacos.
On the way from the flats to the truck we passed a guy who said he visits that spot to camp "all the time" and had "never caught a single fish" on that part of the island. Good to know!
We started making our way back to the other end of the island and since the wind was still blowing we decided to explore another inshore area that an NPS staffer had mentioned may hold fish.
I should mention that the water was warm (over 80) and wading in a soft-bottomed flat was quite pleasant, especially with legs still a bit tight from our eight mile odyssey the previous night. There were egrets nearby and a small (juvenile Tricolored?) heron didn't seem to mind sharing the flat with us. We fished for a while but neither of us, nor the heron, had much luck. We decided to reserve what strength we had for another trek to the previous night's flats and shorelines... This time via an alternate route.
As the afternoon stretched on, we again gathered our tackle, a few snacks and some water and started out on the long walk to our spot, hoping to shave a mile or so off the distance. This route had us following a narrow, shell-lined shoreline and wading (deeper than we expected) through a couple of tide pool channels. Being a late-summer Friday evening there were a few boats anchored in the shallows and folks out having a good time. Despite our (my) longing gazes, none offered us a cocktail, let alone a ride to our destination across the bay. We did see some promising jumps and baitfish "sprays", took a few casts, and briefly debated whether to fish this area before sucking it up and continuing our hike to the promised land (sea?).
...stay tuned, more to come...