Out and About in North Carolina's Woods and Waters

In a recent post, I commented that some of my most poignant memories of Christmas and New Year holidays gone by had nothing to do with eggnog, mistletoe or midnight fireworks. The ones that I remember most vividly involved what an old friend of mine used to call a S.E.E. – a Significant Emotional Experience. By his definition, that was the kind of thing that, if you survived it, was part of your conscious being for the rest of your life. I had a S.E.E. on January 2nd one year that I can still recollect in minute detail a long time later. Ironically there are probably some strangers in a northern state who could say the same thing.

It all began with a conversation I had with a friend on New Year’s Day. He called to wish me a happy holiday and to say he’d heard that big striped bass were showing up on the west side of Cape Lookout shoals. That was big news. Those world-class game fish often make an appearance on the eastern side of the shoals in mid-winter but that area can get awfully rough when a cold northeast wind comes ripping down the coast – too rough for my seventeen-foot skiff. The west side of the shoals, however, are protected from those gusts by the east-west orientation of the cape and, as a result, the seas on the lee side can be glassy calm and clear as gin.

Given that the conditions seemed favorable, I informed my teenage son that there was nothing to do but head Downeast and do our part to help make the world safe from such piscatorial predators. In other words, time to go fishing. If we ended up with the makings for a fish stew in the process, that would be a plus and a suitable reward for our efforts.

Leaving home before light, we put in at the Harkers Island Fishing Center and proceeded out Barden’s Inlet and down Core Banks toward the shoals. We then spent the best part of the day trolling and casting every striper-tempting lure I had in my tackle box. As sometimes happens, however, even with expert anglers, we got skunked except for a couple of dogfish that apparently had suicidal tendencies.

Late that afternoon we finally conceded defeat and headed back in. Along the way I decided a stop at the Cape Lookout rock jetty was called for in case a few speckled trout were hanging around. My son lowered the anchor and, as I moved toward the bow, my feet somehow got tangled up with one another. Before I knew what was happening, I was overboard. In the next few moments, I learned a couple of things. One was it’s hard as heck to climb back into a boat in the ocean when you’re wearing heavy, waterlogged clothing and knee boots. Another was it’s an awfully long, cold boat ride from Barden’s Inlet to the other end of Harker’s Island in mid-winter when you’re soaking wet.

When we finally reached the ramp, the marina was closed and there was nobody in the parking lot. I had learned from my duck hunting experience years before to always carry a change of clothes (in my size) in the back of my vehicle. Since no one was around and knowing I had to get something dry on pretty quickly, I started stripping down. Just as I reached the naked-as-a-jaybird stage, a car pulled into the parking lot. I eased over farther behind my Jeep so I wouldn’t be exposed but the driver came directly toward me. I stayed scrunched down and tried to sidle farther toward the rear of my vehicle. The car kept coming, though, and finally I had nowhere else to hide. As it pulled alongside, I noticed it held two middle-aged couples. The man driving had his window down, apparently intending to ask me something. Instead, he just said “uh, uh, uh” and sped off. As he did, I noticed the car had a New Jersey license tag.

I told my son, based on the reaction of the folks in the car, you’d think they’d never seen a naked man in a parking lot in January before. On the way home, we contemplated what kind of stories they would have to tell when they got back to Jersey. I could just imagine it, “Gees, I’m not kidd’n youse guys, they run around naked down there in the winter time!”

Whatever they thought, it was a moment that is etched in my memory forever. Someday, if I happen to end up in old folks home with dementia, I may stop in my tracks and start chuckling. Those around me would never believe what I might be recollecting. The same thing may happen to our visitors from up north who happened by a deserted parking lot on Harkers Island at the wrong – or right – time. For them, it may also be a S.E.E.

Every striped bass, regardless of size, is a trophy catch. Many that are caught off our barrier island beaches are much larger than the one shown here. They may be 60 lb. or more – enough to tempt an angler to take an unexpected dip if he’s not careful.

Outdoor Notes

Clean-up Help is Requested

Coastal Carolina Riverwatch, a non-profit group whose goal is to protect and enhance the health of our coastal waters, is asking the public to spend their Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, designated a National Day of Service, cleaning up their watery community. Riverwatch board and staff are encouraging individuals and groups to do cleanups to collect litter and marine debris. While organizers encourage solo cleanups at any locations, the following are areas know to always need to have litter collected:

  • Gallants Channel Bridge, Beaufort
  • The Circle, Atlantic Beach
  • Pollocks Point, Sneads Ferry
  • Nelva Albury Park, Surf Cityi
  • Marina Cafe Boat Launch, Jacksonville
  • any waterways near where you live and frequently boat

Anglers Asked to Report Cold-stunned Trout

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) is asking anglers to report any cold-stunned spotted sea trout (speckled trout) they may see in our state’s coastal waters in coming weeks. During the winter, speckled trout often move to relatively shallow creeks and rivers, where they can be vulnerable to cold-stun events. Cold-stun has the potential to occur when there is a sudden drop in temperature or during prolonged periods of cold weather and may make fish so sluggish they can be harvested by hand, fall prey to predators or just die. Studies suggest that cold-stun events can have a significant negative impact on speckled trout populations.

No cold-stun events have been reported thus far this winter, but could occur anytime the weather conditions allow for it. Speckled trout cold-stun events can be reported at any time to the N.C. Marine Patrol at 1-800-682-2632 or during regular business hours to Tracey Bauer at 252-808-8159 or Tracey.Bauer@ncdenr.gov. When reporting a cold-stun event, please provide the specific location where affected fish were seen and when (date and time), as well as your contact information. If a cold-stun event occurs, the NCDMF may close certain areas to the harvest of speckled trout. That action allows fish that survive the cold-stun event the chance to spawn in the spring before the harvest season reopens.

Wildlife Commission Seeks Comments on Proposed Rule Changes

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has opened the public comment period for proposed changes to agency regulations related to wildlife management, inland fisheries and game lands for the 2021-2022 seasons. The comment period will be open through Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Comments may be submitted online, emailed to regulations@ncwildlife.org (must include name, phone number and mailing address) or mailed to: Rule-Making Coordinator, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, 1701 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1700. The public can also provide comments at one of the public hearings the Commission will conduct in January. For more information, including the schedule for the upcoming public hearings, visit ncwildlife.org/proposed-regulations.

Hunting Seasons

Raccoon, opossum, rabbit, grouse, bobcat, gray squirrel: through Feb. 28

Fox squirrel: through Jan. 31

Common snipe: through Feb. 27

Ducks: through Jan. 30

Tundra Swan (by permit only): through Jan. 30

Light Geese (incl. Snow Geese & Ross’s Geese): through Feb. 13

Sea ducks: check the NCWRC Regulations Digest

Woodcock: through Jan. 30

Quail: through Feb. 28

Grouse: through Feb. 28

Dove: through Jan. 30

Getting Started cover - 1

Hunting with a retriever, whether for mourning doves, ducks, geese or any other game bird, is not a competition between hunters or dogs. It’s quiet moments spent scratching a close friend’s ears while he rests his head on your leg and you both scan the horizon for approaching birds. It’s the sudden, intense thrill when a flock of doves appears as if by magic, dipping and swerving as they sail over a picked corn field. It’s the involuntary crouch you assume when the “twee-twee” of widgeon sounds directly over your duck blind and your dog peers upward to locate the source of the noise. It’s the incredible sense of satisfaction and love you feel when a dog you trained plows through a river’s chop to retrieve a wing-tipped mallard that fell beyond the farthest decoys, or returns after a long search carrying a dove you feared might be lost in thick cover.

The competition in hunting is between hunters and the game they pursue, and well-trained retrievers are their staunchest allies. Many hunters would no more think of going hunting without their Chesapeake, Golden Retriever, Lab, Boykin or other fetching dog than they would without their favorite shotgun. The role those dogs play in the process depends to a great extent on how they’ve been trained and that is the purpose of “Getting Started.” It’s designed to facilitate a hunter in preparing a young retriever for the field or, if he wishes, for formal hunt tests such as those sanctioned by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The latter are not competitions per se but rather measurements of a dog’s ability at various points and an indication of where he and his master are in their training.

“Getting Started” is dedicated to those retrievers – Beau, Duke, Murphy, Kipper, Moses and scores of others – and to the men and women who love them. It was based on notes made by John Weller, one of the nation’s top retriever trainers, over decades of producing quality retrievers, including national champions. It utilizes a format that takes a trainer through hypothetical but realistic scenarios and explains how to train for different behaviors in various situations. It is, in its essence, a work book that will help a hunter and his favorite hunting partner get the most out of their days in the field.

A limited number of copies of “Getting Started” are available from the author for $9.95 (incl. shipping and handling). Send a check or money order to 3045 Red Fox Rd., New Bern, NC  28562. The author can also be contacted by email at edwall@embarqmail.com or by phone at 252-671-3207.

Book Cover - 1

Cane poles and coffee cans full of red worms; early morning in a hunting camp with gentle rain drumming on the tin roof; a bird dog, floating ghost-like through a stand of long leaf pines; tales and saddle sores, missteps and milestones you love to recall. Those and other topics comprise “When the Bobber Jiggles,” a new collection of tales and reflections of life in the outdoors by award-winning author, Ed Wall.

Reading “When the Bobber Jiggles” is akin to sitting by a campfire with an old friend recollecting how things used to be and ought to be. And, on occasion, stretching the veracity of a story to the breaking point. “Hunting With Henry,” “Bear Hunting’s ‘Other’ Challenges,” “Old Fishermen May Be an Endangered Species” – these are a few of the chapters that make up the 142-page, soft-bound book. They will take the reader back to places close to his heart in some instances and tickle his funny bone in others. Whether he is a hunter, fisherman, boater, camper, or just someone who enjoys messing around in the back forty or on a secluded waterway, there are situations to which he can relate.

Published by River City Publishers, “When the Bobber Jiggles” is written in a format that allows the reader to enjoy a chapter or two, put it aside, then pick it back up and not miss a beat. He will undoubtedly want to go back and revisit some short stories and reflections. Copies (personalized if requested) are available for $12.95 (plus $3 shipping and handling if mailed) from the author at 3045 Red Fox Rd., New Bern, NCĀ  28562. Ed Wall can be contacted for more information or special orders at 252-671-3207 or by email at edwall@embarqmail.com.

 

Ed Wall has a Master of Arts degree from East Carolina University with a specialty in Recreational Geography. His Master’s thesis was a study of licensed, commercial shooting preserves in eastern North Carolina. That topic was selected because it would satisfy the university’s requirements and also allow the author to spend a lot of time messing around with bird dogs and quail hunters, two groups for which he has great affection.

For thirty years, Ed taught Science while coaching football, track and cross country at the high school level. During that same time, he was writing for various outdoor publications, beginning as a gun dog columnist with the Carolina Adventure magazine. Ed is a member of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association (SEOPA) and produced the weekly outdoor page for Freedom Press, Halifax Media and Gatehouse newspapers in eastern North Carolina for 23 years. Other periodical credits include Wildlife in North Carolina, Southern Sporting Journal, Fur-Fish-Game, Field Trial Magazine, Fly Fisherman, North Carolina Sportsman, American Field and Ducks Unlimited Quarterly. He is the author of “Getting Started: A Workbook for Started Retrievers,” published by Atlantic Publishing Co. in 1998 and “When the Bobber Jiggles – Tales and Reflections of Life in the Outdoors.” Recognitions include SEOPA Excellence in Craft awards in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Married with two children (one a Wildlife Commission technician, the other a dolphin/sea lion trainer), Ed is a native of Johnston County, NC and a long-time resident of New Bern, NC. He is a product of eastern North Carolina’s tobacco fields, back roads, black water streams and pork barbecue. When not writing or playing golf (very poorly), he can generally be found hunting, fishing, boating or romping with his dogs. Visitors to this site are invited to come along as Ed explores the backwoods and byways of the southeast and occasionally other areas. The express purpose of many trips will be to bag a whitetail deer, trick a tom turkey, catch a mess of bluegills or do battle with a bragging-size red drum. In some cases, though, it will simply be to consider the merits of a really neat sunset, remember an old friend who shared his love of the outdoors, or maybe spin a tale or two. Come on aboard. Stow your gear, grab something refreshing out of the cooler and let’s head downstream.

Ed Wall - 2014

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