Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wanchese slippers

Now that we are past Thanksgiving it is time to get ready for the annual striper fishing trip to the Outer Banks. We'll need, of course, basic survival gear - half a dozen rib eye steaks, potatoes, onions, mushrooms, beer, chips, Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey and, for breakfast out on the water, Jack's secret Bloody Mary mix. It could be cold and wet, so I'll wear foul weather gear and my Wanchese slippers (above). That name came from Viv, the very fine mate on the Sinbad out of Oregon Inlet Fishing Center (Viv is a real pioneer, one of the first female mates in the fleet, she has some interesting stories to tell). The white rubber boots are ubiquitous in the nearby fishing village of Wanchese ( I don't think they wear them with their pajamas - but then again I could be wrong).
Ocean stripers start arriving in the shoals off of Oregon Inlet late November. Six of us have been heading down there for a Sunday morning 1/2 day trip for years (nobody can remember how long we've been doing it). But it has always been fun. We head down the afternoon before the trip, stay on the oceanfront and grill steaks and act like teenagers. Some times we catch a few fish, sometimes we limit out and sometimes we get skunked. But hey, it is a nice way to spend a weekend.
The stripers hang around the shoals (the lighter area in the satellite photo below, water just a few feet deep) just outside of the always rough Oregon Inlet (I've heard it called "the washing machine" out there). Charter captains will edge their boats up near the shoals to cast the bait - free-lined live eels - right up in the surf. You wait for the waves and current to carry the bait to the edge of the shoal and hopefully there will be a nice fish waiting to grab it. The first charter captain we used, a guy named Cato, would bring us sometimes a bit too close to the shoals. "Hang on!" he would shout and the waves dropped his 40+ foot deadrise right on top of the sand.
The photo below was from back in the hey days of winter stripers in the Outer Banks. We were out with Cato that year. We had been skunked the year before and this trip wasn't looking any better. It was barely dawn when Cato came down from the boat's tower to tell us we were the unluckiest bunch of s.o.b.'s he had ever fished with, we should head in right then and he would take half the fee for fuel costs and get us off the boat (I'm not kidding, he was screaming at us - I don't think he wanted us to ruin his reputation). But as he was yelling he glanced past the stern at a seagull that dipped its wing over the water, a sign that baitfish were schooling. Within two hours we had sixteen stripers on board, total weight (we found out the hard way when we paid by the pound to have them cleaned) was 399 pounds.
The fishery for some reason has since moved north to Cape Henry at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Some say the winters have been too mild, but for whatever reason the big schools of fish stay up north of the outer banks. A few stripers, usually big ones, still show up at Oregon Inlet, hopefully we'll find them this year. It is not like it was four or five years ago when the fish were thick and demand was so great you had to book the charter a year ahead of time. But we still head down to the Outer Banks for the overnight trip - fishing (and catching) is fun but I sure do enjoy the evening before grilling steaks on the beach and relaxing in an oceanfront condo.

In the meantime I kept on with the boat work by ordering some Interlux Brightside "Sea Green" paint from Jamestown Distributors - $26.99/qt. (ouch, but even with shipping it was cheaper than West Marine's price tag).


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