Out and About in North Carolina's Woods and Waters

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Celebrating Fathers – and Others Who Cared

At about this time every year my thoughts turn to recollections of days spent with my now-deceased father. I think about warm summer mornings on the bank of a Johnston County farm pond or in the shade of a river birch along one of the small creeks in that neck of the woods. They are mental snapshots that feature cane poles, tin cans full of red worms and quiet banter between a young boy and a man who I seem to be turning into more and more each day. Those were magical moments, times that meant more than my dad ever realized; times that, to a great extent, defined the kind of person I would become years later.

Unfortunately, those fishing trips with my father were not as frequent as I would have liked. With minimal formal education and a family to support, his first priority was work. He enjoyed fishing, hunting, camping and other outdoor pursuits but those things had to take second place to what was required to pay the bills. As a consequence, Dad wasn’t always available when his ever-eager son wanted to go fishing.

In retrospect, I realize now that my younger years were blessed in so many ways. For one thing, there were always other adults who were willing to take me under their wings and spend time with me enjoying the out-of-doors, especially fishing.

One of the first I remember was my maternal grandmother. Most folks called her Ms. Myrtle. To me, she was just Granny. To nearly everyone who knew her, she was an accomplished angler with few equals. I heard more than one person comment that her skills were such that “she could catch fish in a mud puddle.” Most important, as far as I was concerned, was the fact that she didn’t hesitate to let a knock-kneed young’un, hardly big enough to hold a pole, tag along on trips to her special fishing spots. There she demonstrated immense patience (for a woman not known to suffer fools gracefully) while teaching the young boy how to bait a hook, cast a line, know when he had a bite and the other stuff that go along with angling for bass, bream or catfish.

Those weren’t Granny’s only quarry; she would catch whatever was available and her agenda included frequent forays each fall to Topsail Island when the spots and bluefish were running. The highlight of my young life may have been the first time I was allowed by my parents to accompany her and three of her fishing buddies on one of those trips. It was three or four days of sheer bliss – sitting on a weathered ocean pier, watching the waves roll toward shore and gulls soar overhead while waiting for the tip of a fiberglass rod to twitch and signal yet another bite. It was a “real” rod, not just a cane pole and the fish were exotic saltwater species like the ones I sometimes saw in the fish markets. And the fishermen around me were Granny and her friends, who were equally enthusiastic about fishing and spoiling their young protege rotten. If I never make it to Heaven, at least I know what it must be like.

Not all my fishing mentors were relatives. Others had no familial obligation to spend time and share their expertise with me; they just did it. Our next door neighbor was one of those. Southern kids used to be taught to refer to adults as Mr. or Mrs. and their first name so to me, he was Mr. Lisbon (last name, Jones). He was a busy man with a family of his own and a demanding job but somehow managed to find time to take me fishing when Dad couldn’t.

Mr. Lisbon took me shad fishing for the first time. There are two very distinct challenges when angling for that species. One is the fact that casting the small, lead-head “shad darts” requires the use of a lightweight spinning or spin-cast outfit; a cane pole just wouldn’t get it done. Another is the fact that, when fishing for shad, you have to work your lures close to the bottom, which means frequent hang-ups. Mr. Lisbon dealt with both of those aggravations, as well as the others that a preteen just seems to carry along with him, with patience and tact. And, we caught fish. I don’t remember a cooler-full but I do recollect being mesmerized by the battle a “tiny tarpon” can put up on light tackle, and feeling like a real fisherman when I brought one to the net. I also recollect Mr. Lisbon beaming with pride at my accomplishment.

My outdoor mentors didn’t disappear as I got older. In my late 20s, I met John Thompson, a retired architect who, at that time was in his mid-sixties. John never had any children of his own and the one grandfather I knew had little time for kids. Maybe it was destiny that we would meet and sort of adopt one another.

Whether it was karma or just chance, we formed a deep bond and, for the next 20 years, spent a lot of time fishing, boating and just enjoying each other’s company. John was an avid angler, a skilled naturalist and an outstanding birder. I vividly remember us floating in my small skiff down the White Oak River where it meanders through Croatan National Forest in Jones County. The intended purpose of our outing was to catch some of the fat redbreast sunfish and bluegills that inhabit that rich, dark stream. However, we got so enthralled with the prothonotary warblers, finches and other songbirds flitting through the surrounding forest and chirping from the limbs overhead that we sometimes forgot to cast. John knew each bird by its appearance and its call, and could give the Latin name for most of them.

In addition, he was able to identify the wildflowers that were splashes of brilliant color in the dark green forest that bordered the stream. A few weeks after our outing on the White Oak, John and I were at his cabin on Harkers Island when he said he had something to give me. He pulled out a couple of beautiful watercolors, one of a Carolina Lily, the other of a Swamp Rose-Mallow. They were two of the wildflowers we had seen on our river trip. John had gone home and painted them from memory.

My old friend, John Thompson, is gone now. So are Granny, Mr. Lisbon and others who shared their time, their lives and their love with a little boy and a young man when it meant so very much. Every time I look at John’s paintings that now hang in our family’s living room, I think of all of them, including Dad.

all rights JIM GALLOP

Outdoor Notes

New Kayak Launch Opens

According to a release from Sound Rivers, a conservation organization dedicated to protecting and improving our state’s waterways, a new kayak/canoe launch has been opened at Mason’s Landing on Tranter’s Creek, a short distance upstream from Washington, N.C. The site, which features an ADA accessible dock, provides a separate space for launching paddle craft, away from a nearby powerboat ramp. The facility is the second of three kayak/canoe launches being built to increase access to the Tar-Pamlico Water Trail. The first of those was opened on Runyon Creek at Havens Garden in Washington; the third will be located on the Tar River at Port Terminal in Greenville.

Migratory Game Bird Seasons Approved

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission recently approved season dates, bag limits and other regulations for the 2021-22 waterfowl, webless migratory game bird (including doves) and extended falconry season. Among the changes is one where duck season dates are now established within two duck hunting zones, Coastal and Inland with Interstate 95 forming the boundary between the two. Up to three season segments are allowed within each zone and daily bag limits will be the same in both.

The season dates for mourning doves and white-winged doves will be Sept. 4 – Oct. 2; Nov. 6-27 and Dec. 9 – Jan. 31 in both zones. The open season exclusively for teal will be Sept. 11-29 (east of U.S. 17 only.) The early season for Canada Geese will be Sept. 1-30 statewide. However, there will be special rules regarding extended shooting hours, unplugged guns and electronic calls for hunting geese west of U.S. 17. The regular season for Canada Geese in the Resident Population Hunt Zone will be Oct. 21-30; Nov. 6-29 and Dec. 18 – Feb. 12.

The open season for ducks, mergansers and coots in the Inland Duck Zone will be Oct. 21-23; Nov. 6-27 and Dec. 18 – Jan. 31. The season for black and mottled ducks will be closed until Nov. 20. The total bag limit for ducks will remain at six with no more than 3 wood ducks, 2 mallards with no more than 1 hen mallard, 2 redheads, 2 canvasbacks and 1 pintail. The bag limit for scaup will be one of those birds daily from Oct. 21 – Jan. 7, and two scaup daily from Jan. 8-31. Additional bag limits and other regulations are available online at http://www.ncwildlife.org.

Anglers Reminded of Special Bluefish Regulations

Saltwater fishermen should make note that there new regulations regarding the harvest of one our state’s most popular game fish – bluefish. There is no minimum length requirement for that species but the recreational bag limit is now 3 bluefish of any size per person per day if fishing from shore or on a private boat. Anglers on for-hire vessels may each possess up to 5 bluefish per day.

Record Bear Harvest

Results from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s (NCWRC’s) 2020 annual bear harvest summary show that hunters statewide recorded the highest harvest on record at 3,748 bears – an 8% increase compared to the previous season. Record breaking harvest totals were recorded in the Coastal and Piedmont Bear Management Units, 2,238 and 81 respectively.

“The increase in harvest likely reflects the ‘COVID effect’ that several states, including North Carolina, have experienced,” stated Colleen Olfenbuttel, black bear and furbearer biologist with the Wildlife Commission. “During 2020, many North Carolinians reconnected with the outdoors, including participating in regulated hunting. We set a record for the number of bear e-stamps issued – 88,411 – which was also an 8% increase.”

Bear hunting seasons are highly regulated and play a key role in managing local bear populations, resolving agricultural damage, providing wild game meat to communities and families, and helping to reinforce bears’ natural fear of people. The reestablishment of black bears in areas of the state where their numbers had declined over the years is testament to the success of the NCWRC’s management efforts and the cooperation of sportsmen.

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“When the Bobber Jiggles”

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 $9.95 (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.

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Out n’ About

When Ed Wall was earning a Master of Arts degree from East Carolina University, 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, Gatehouse and Gannett Media 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 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 aboard, stow your gear and let’s head downstream.

Ed Wall - 2014

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