I have been fishing for trout here along the Bogue Banks and Emerald Isle for about 30 years. It’s a long-standing tradition in North Carolina, and in most of those years, the inshore trout migration peaks in mid- to late November, around Thanksgiving.
One of those years, in 1996, while trout fishing here on the Emerald Isle, I met a multi-generational family doing the same thing. This is their story, and in particular, Grandpa’s story! Interestingly, I wrote a draft of this story on Christmas Day 1996.
Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!
On a warm, sunny Sunday in late November, just before the Thanksgiving holiday, I was fishing a hole about a mile from Bogue Inlet.
Bogue Inlet is a beautiful area of the Bogue Banks, an east-west barrier island in the southernmost Outer Banks of North Carolina. It’s a nice hole, I’d say six or seven guys at best, no funny stuff, just a hole in the sandbar, closed on both sides like a horseshoe.
It’s been a productive hole all summer with black drum, red drum and the like, in Spanish and blues, and it’s a good hole. Now, along with the rest, there were specks, trout, and officially trout. It’s fall, you know, it’s almost Thanksgiving. I was fishing up and down the beach there most of the morning, catching trout with the usual MirrOlures, and grubs.
Late in the morning, a family, actually two families, came in two 4×4 pickup trucks and joined me. One of the guys walks up and says “How are you? I’m Mike. I work at Bogue Field.”
Bug Field, it’s the air base a few miles away, on the mainland. Well, we exchange pleasantries. He explained how he was here with his wife, his friend, his friend’s wife, and of course his grandfather and how they come here often. Then we each bragged that this hole had produced a drum and a trout for each of us, and so on. Then we went on our way. I hooked up, they hooked up, and we spent a fun afternoon fishing occasionally and communicating through nonverbal gestures.
The one thing you should never do when you’re surfing is taking your eyes off the waves. Do not be distracted, not even for a moment, and never, ever, ever turn your back on… **Crush** “The man is down,” was the cry. Well, Mike did the unthinkable, turned his head or his back or something. However, he went from fishing to wading in an instant. Sand is in his reel, and 50-degree water is coursing its way into the waders’ toes.
The reaction was immediate, as he fought the waves and the shore to take control of his body, and Mike finally emerged from the water without assistance. In an attempt to cover his embarrassment, Mike immediately let out a blue streak of profanity that should, in a perfect world, have cleared the sand from his reel, drained the cold salt water from his waders, and re-established his rightful place in the universe.
Well, it didn’t work out. Mike, dripping and cursing, friends and family hiding their smiles, retreated to the hood of the passenger side of his pickup truck, stripped down in defeat to what remained dry of his underwear, not much else I might add, and put his new, dry clothes back on. Now he rejoined the rest of us – his wife, his friends and of course his grandfather, to face the music as it were.
But this story is about the grandfather. Mike’s grandfather was an 82-year-old man who fished these parts, Bog Banks, for much of the 20th century. It’s autumn, and Grandpa knows trout. So, it was here just as it was the year before, and the year before that, and so on. Grandpa was dressed for a trout with his hip-hugging boots hanging on his waist, several layers of plaid flannel shirts and a hat that had been with him for the better part of this century as well.
Gramps had one rod, or maybe two, one sand screw, one sand chair, and a pile of 2, 3, or maybe 4 shrimp pieces for each shrimp if it was large. He was ready to spend the afternoon trotting. As soon as Grandpa had set his hook, he put his rod over his right shoulder, walked slowly down the beach on the outgoing wave, and measured its retreat with the precision of Acapulco cliff divers.
He proceeded to toss the shrimp and its accompanying 3 ounces of lead with a flick of his wrist, turned his back to the oncoming wave with the confidence of 82 years, then swung his rod back over his right shoulder and backed up again. A sand slope, moving its reel in the opposite direction. Once he reached his destination, he turned and lowered himself gently, if not gracefully, into his chair, placed his cane on his lap and assumed a trot position.
Grandpa would, from time to time when he chose, when it was right, slowly retrieve his line, crank crank, back up the sandy slope, crank crank, sinker in tow, crank crank, scratching a thin line in the sand, up to his feet. He checked the bait for damage and replaced it if necessary, then carefully, if not gracefully, rose, walked back to the water’s edge on the outgoing wave, cast, turned, and then retreated to his chair just as he had done before.
This continued for much of the afternoon while Mike, myself and the others drove the occasional black drum or similar when Grandpa’s rod came alive almost unnoticed. Grandpa began, as before, to turn the crank, crank crank, then again, slowly one crank, then another, then another, and so on.
Finally, someone, Mike’s wife I think, shouted, “Grump’s got a fish!” Well, maybe a pinfish, or a drum or something, but by now, the gram had been circling long enough for us all to see it was a trout. Beautifully silvery black spots, 2 maybe 3 lbs, no match for Grandpa. Someone, maybe Mike’s wife or someone, shouted, “Get the net!” (Get the internet? I thought). Well, thankfully, Gramp ignored the commotion and kept rolling.
With Grandpa in complete control, he had done this a thousand times before, and you know, the fish now emerged from the waves, into the hard, wet sand of the beach towards his chair. When a flock of hungry seagulls were ready to efficiently and dedicatedly peck out the fish’s eyes, the rest of the entourage descended upon the fish, plucked it from the hook, placed the trout in the cooler in the back of the pickup truck, and then each in turn patted Grandpa on the head in recognition of his victory.
Well, Grandpa, without looking up, sighed slightly in acknowledgment. Then he re-fished his rod, walked himself down the sandbank, and measured the retreating wave just as he had done before. He tossed the fresh shrimp and the 3-ounce pyramid sinker back into the hole, along the western edge of the hole, then turned around, put his rod over his shoulder, swung his reel on his back and returned to his chair, resting the reel on his lap, looking out to sea, tame.
You know, Grandpa knows trout!
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