May 9, 2011

Oceanside Anglers of Hatteras win Ocracoke surf fishing tournament again

By CONNIE LEINBACH

There was a whole lot of serious fun at the 28th Annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament, which concluded Friday, May 6.

The Oceanside Anglers team of Hatteras was the overall winner with 12 fish caught and 110 points.  This team won last year, and this year’s win gave one of the team members, Newt Sharber, the most wins – four -- of any individual in the tournament.

Sixty-eight teams competed in four sessions May 5 and 6.

It was this reporter’s first time attending a surf fishing tournament of any kind.

I rode with tournament co-chairman Woody Billings for two of the four sessions as he traveled the beach checking on the 69 teams vying for the biggest and most fish.

A popular tournament, and the first one of the season, the OISFT allows only 70 teams to participate and has many teams on a waiting list to get in. 

Each team has six members and may have one alternate, for a total of more than 450 fishermen and women participating at assigned stations along 13 miles of the beach. 

The (serious) humor of the teams is evident in their names: the Fish Lips, the Pheasant Pluckers, the Stormy Gales, Reality Strikes, Team ECB Profishionals, the OBX-Rays, to name a few.

Some even have their own slogans, such as the Ocrajokers, from Ohio, whose motto on the back of their black sweatshirts is “Fresh bait; tight lines.”

“Size Matters,” is a slogan on the judges’ T-shirts.

Many teams have their own color-coordinated or team shirts or sweatshirts. Many have been in the tournament since it began in 1983 as an event to bring tourists to the island in the off-season.
“Now it’s a tradition,” Woody said.

Woody has been the volunteer tournament director for 18 of the tournament’s 28 years.

“I like the office,” he said about the beach. “And I get paid in satisfaction.”

The beach was packed as Woody’s truck made its way among the teams and checked in with the 17 pairs of judges.

All fish caught are released. So, the judges have to be vigilant and be ready to dash to a team to measure fish as they’re hauled out of the water.

We were lucky to witness two of the three largest fish that were caught.

The first one was Thursday afternoon when Emery Pajer, of the Ocrajokers from Ohio, reeled in a 35-inch bluefish. Pajer’s fish was the largest in the tournament and the largest among the male competitors.

On Friday afternoon, rookie fisherwoman Vera Attaway of Ocracoke, a member of a local women’s team, the Misfit Mermaids, reeled in a 33 ½-inch bluefish.  Participating in the tournament was the first time Attaway had ever fished.

She held onto that lead, besting a 33 ¼-inch blue caught later in the day by Virginia Perlot of the Showstoppers.

We got there after Virginia released it, but she was interviewed by Dave and Bill of Ocracoke community radio station WOVV 90.1 FM, who traveled up and down the beach both days capturing the action as it occurred.

As we rode along, Woody related the latest size news to the judges and some of the teams.

“He’s the right man in the right place,” noted Joe Hardman, a tournament board member, who rode with Woody, along with Jennifer Kidwell, event photographer, and Terry Billings, Woody’s wife. “He knows everyone on the beach,” Joe added.

Woody likes to put his “beach music” on his CD player as he drives along.

“It’s also a tradition,” he said about the bands he listens to, such as The Embers and the Chairmen of the Board.

“These are bands from around Myrtle Beach and the southern North Carolina beaches,” Woody said.  “You danced ‘The Shag’ to them.” 

Whatever that was.

We make it a point to stop at The Pubettes location—the Howard’s Pub team. Howard’s Pub and Raw Bar and East Carolina Bank are the two major sponsors of the tournament, and the teams were stationed right beside each other on Friday.

Apparently, Howard’s has the best food spread of the teams, with a table-cloth covered banquet table holding chips, dip, crudités, fruit and wine.

Thursday was sunny with little wind and a calm sea. Despite the beautiful weather, the fishing was not very productive with many catching dogfish and skates.

The poor fishing was evident in the overall numbers.  Team Daiwa of Nags Head, the second-place overall winner, caught 10 fish for 84 points.  The Ocracoke Internationals, overall third-place winners, caught six fish for 69 points.

Total fish caught this year was 175 for 1,058 points. Last year, the catch was 668 total fish caught.

Friday, while it was sunny, the wind was much stronger, making fishing more challenging.

“The last few years, the fishing has not been that great,” Woody said. “It’s springtime and the water is still cold. Fishing in the fall is generally better.”

Wind didn’t matter to the anglers, many of whom waded out into the water to cast their lines farther out. Others were content to plant their poles in the sand and take a seat.

Women’s team the Outcasters from Nags Head never sit down, said Ginger Wojciechowski, who had the most fish caught (four) of the women anglers.

John McGee, of the winning Oceanside Anglers, had the most fish caught (five) among the males.

By late Friday afternoon, one women’s team had discarded their bras (retaining their shirts) and flew them from a fishing pole.

Everyone wondered what happened to The Fish Lips, a woman’s team from Nags Head that is arguably the most colorful of the women teams.

“Our SUV for the beach broke down,” said Rae Eley, one of the members.

Nonetheless, the team members had remained on the island, and four of the six attended the Friday night banquet, dressed up in black outfits with sparkly aprons and black hats with red trim. They proceeded to give red lip stickers to everyone attending.

“We just love this event,” noted Rae, who’s also on the board of directors.

They love to make a splash.  “One year, we arrived in a limo,” she said.

The Fish Lips had a final ranking of 59.

“I don’t know why,” team member Mary Simpson said. “We never got onto the beach.”

Woody explained that all of the teams who scored zero, such as Fish Lips, were randomly placed on the ranking board after the teams who did have scores.  Twelve teams had zero and one team no score because they were not able to attend the tournament.
The Rod Runners of Frisco included mother-daughter team of Bev Harding, 81, and her daughter Kim Wines, from Maryland.

“We’re not doing too well, but we’re having fun,” Bev said, adding that she’s been “surf fishing forever.”

“We work hard to have fun,” added Sue Garrett of Hatteras. “It’s a mini-vacation one island down.”

Of the female teams, the Misfit Mermaids and the Showstoppers tied for first place, each with one fish caught and 49 points. The Showstoppers captured first place in a coin toss, making the Mermaids second.

The Fishin’ Pelicans of Hatteras placed third with three fish caught and 25 points.

Session winners were Cape Hatteras Anglers (first session), the Ocrajokers (second session), Oceanside Anglers (third session), and Team Daiwa (fourth session).

Cash and goods sponsors included East Carolina Bank, Howard’s Pub, Budweiser, Daiwa, Scot Rogers of Rogers Southeast Associates, Inc., Sea Striker, Dick Henry, Igloo, Pepsi Cola, Dan Vinent with Pure Fishing, Anglers Fish-n-Mate, Hopkins Lures, Lamiglas Fishing Rods, and Ocracoke Community Center.

Trophy sponsors included Tradewinds Bait and Tackle, Gaffer’s Sports Pub, Howard’s Pub, Harborside Motel, Pony Island Motel, Variety Store, Ocracoke Island Realty, Smacnally’s, Mickey’s Sales & Service, Midgett Realty, Ocracoke Harbor Inn, Coastal Impressions, Jewelry by Gail, and Gray’s Family Department Store.

A 16-member volunteer board of directors organizes the event each year.

Proceeds of about $5,000 from the tournament (after expenses) are divided among four Ocracoke non-profits -- the Volunteer Fire Department, the Ocracoke Youth Center, Ocracoke Child Care, and the Sigma Willis Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Ocracoke School.

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