55th annual Cape Hatteras Anglers Club tournament was ‘a logistical nightmare’
By JORDAN TOMBERLIN
long time ago, some guy that history remembers as “Murphy” came up with
this law that most of us remember as going something like this:
“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
Last week, Nov. 7
-10, the 55th annual Cape Hatteras Anglers Club surf-fishing
tournament—the largest tournament of its kind in the world—did its part
to prove Mr. Murphy right.
“This whole thing has been a
logistical nightmare,” said Larry Hardham, president of the Anglers
Club. It was Friday afternoon. The final session of fishing had ended
and the club was gearing up for that evening’s awards banquet.
chuckled a little as he admitted how tough this year’s tournament had
been, no doubt relieved that the event was almost over and his sense of
humor was mercifully still intact.
Of course, that was a few
hours before an unanticipated power outage—which stretched from
Tidewater Virginia to Hatteras village—unceremoniously interrupted the
In the end, 97 of the
120 teams that had signed up to participate braved the elements and
overcame the obstacles to fish in this year’s tournament, landing a
total of 153 fish over the course of two days.
But it certainly wasn’t easy—for anyone.
few teams turned around and went home after waiting for more than eight
hours in the ferry line on Wednesday afternoon and evening.
For those who did make it, the fishing didn’t turn out to be that great.
of the loss of usable beach, the stations, usually one-tenth-of-a-mile
wide, were reduced to about 380 feet, with no stations at Ramp 55 in
Hatteras, one of the most popular south-facing beaches.
addition, several stations had to be moved because of ocean overwash
and inaccessibility, and an entire session had to be canceled during
Thursday afternoon’s high tide that had the ocean lapping at the base
of the dunes. It was something that Hardham said had never
happened in his 14 years as club president.
Things were tricky for the judges, too.
25 of the confirmed 28 sets of judges were able to make it down this
year, which made for a tricky situation. Normally, each judge has four
teams per session, with the assignments being randomly generated by a
computer program. But this year, because of the number of empty slots
from teams and judges that couldn’t make it, some judges had six teams,
while others had only two.
To top it off, a full-beach turtle
nest closure between ramps 45 and 49 meant that it could take judges up
to 30 minutes to travel between the stations on either side of the
closure, since they would have to loop around it via the highway.
was an unusual situation all around,” Hardham said of the adjustments
that had to be made this year. “I hope it never happens again.”
the problems began a week or so before, when unholy Superstorm Sandy
barreled past the Outer Banks on its way to the northeast.
the majority of the tournament’s teams and judges come from out of
town—and since transportation to and from the island was
uncertain—tournament directors had to decide whether this year’s event
would take place at all.
On the Thursday following the storm,
Hardham attended the public meeting that was held in Avon, where it was
announced that the Stumpy Point ferry would be making upwards of 10
runs per day, with priority given only to vehicles carrying essential
commodities and materials. Working
on that information, the club contacted all 120 teams that were
eligible to fish in this year’s tournament and everyone who had
committed to judging. They told them the situation and asked whether
any of them would—or could, given that many of them hail from some of
the hardest-hit areas of the East Coast—come out to fish if they went
ahead with tournament.
According to director Sue Glass, they
initially got positive confirmation from about 80 teams, and by the
time everyone had responded to messages and e-mails, that number
increased to about 93 teams and all but a handful of judges.
In light of that kind of participation, they decided to go ahead with the tournament.
It’s helpful to remember that this tournament is kind of a big deal.
the largest surf-fishing tournament in the world, and it’s been going
on for over 50 years. More than $20,000 in cash and prizes are at
stake, and there are teams that have been waiting for over a decade
trying to get in.
It’s kind of like the New York City Marathon of surf-fishing tournaments.
But that wasn’t the only factor that went into the club’s decision to host the tournament.
Hardham explained, one of the main reasons this tournament was started
was to bring visitors to the island, boosting its economy during the
historically slow “shoulder” season.
Especially in the wake of
Sandy, when many businesses could really use a late-season push,
Hardham said the club “felt an obligation to honor that commitment.”
They knew it would be a challenge, but they were prepared to make the
best of it.
That was before news of a northeaster that
followed on the heels of Sandy and before it was announced that
Hatteras Island residents would have weekday priority on the ferry.
was quick to say that he thought the county was absolutely right in
granting weekday priority to residents, and that he in no way begrudged
However, that didn’t change the fact that,
with tournament registration on Wednesday, it made an already
precarious travel situation all the more daunting for tournament
The club alerted all teams of the new
regulations and advised them to come early to avoid lines. They also asked them to consider using the
Swan Quarter, Cedar Island, and Ocracoke ferry routes, and they left
registration open all night on Wednesday to avoid cutting anyone who
might be stuck in line out of the tournament.
Backlash, though, was imminent.
the midst of all this came the news on Wednesday evening that, because
of storm-related wind and tide, Ramp 27 was flooded, which meant that
the 12 stations the club had set up there had to be moved.
Few things cause more stress in a surf-fishing tournament—for directors, anglers and judges—than having to move stations.
meant that all the work Hardham and the other tournament directors had
done the previous weekend—determining which beaches were usable,
figuring out how they could organize the stations to ensure that each
team had a morning and an afternoon session on both a south-facing and
east-facing beach, and writing out directions so that teams and judges
knew exactly where to fish and how to get there—had to be redone.
And then came what was perhaps the most contentious point of the whole tournament—the canceled session on Thursday afternoon. Five
stations had already been moved Thursday morning at Ramp 23, and by 11
a.m., rising tide was threatening the accessibility of the stations at
Ramp 49, with high tide still four hours away.
were increasingly concerned that the teams fishing in those stations
would be stranded, and that judges wouldn’t be able to get out there—or
wouldn’t want to risk going out there. There wasn’t really any way to
move those stations by the second session, and ultimately, nowhere to
put them that would ensure fairness to all teams involved.
the second session was a tough decision for tournament directors—and
one that was not well received by many of the anglers who lost their
second chance to fish a south-facing beach, which is where the majority
of the scoreable fish were caught this year.
“I understand how these people feel,” Hardham said, “and I regret that they are not happy. We hope they all come back.”
back-up generators provided electricity to the clubhouse during Friday
night’s random power outage, Hardham and the other tournament directors
handed out the prizes to the winning teams.
And this year, to
further efforts to boost local businesses and give winners, more choice
in what they won, the prize packages included gift certificates to
local stores and tackle shops worth several thousands of dollars.
were awarded for first-, second-, and third-place overall, as well as
to the winners of each session. There were additional prizes for the
men and women who caught the largest red drum, the largest bluefish,
and the largest fish other than a red drum or bluefish.
place went to team Blue Shoe from Greensboro, N.C., second place went to
the Tri-Village Anglers from Ahoskie, N.C., and third place went to
Kinnakeet’s Luring Ladies from Avon, N.C.
Singing the Blues,
from Virginia Beach won the first session, with four fish and 33
points. Backlash from Maidens, Va., won the third session with two fish
and 16 points, and Queen Mackeral from Nags Head won the fourth
session with three fish and 19 points.
The prizes for largest
red drum went to Meg Lesocky from the Reel Women team, who caught a 19
¾-inch drum, and to Fred Jelinek from the Raleigh Saltwater
Sportfishing team, for his 21 ¼-inch drum.
Summer Bracher, from The Stormy Gales, won the prize for largest bluefish caught by a female with her 11 ¼-inch bluefish.
contest for largest bluefish caught by a male ended in a 5-way tie
between L.T. Eure with the F-Team, Bill Gorham with Ridge Anglers,
Justin Grizzard with Ridge Anglers, Bill Hall with SCABS, and Eddie
Ochs with Sandfiddlers, all of whom caught an 11-inch bluefish.
prizes for largest fish other than a red drum or bluefish went to Susan
McClanahan of the Kinky Leaders for her 17-inch sea mullet, and to
Larry Easterwood of Blue Shoe for his 20 ½-inch speckled trout.
to all this year’s winners, and to everyone involved. May next
year bring fairer weather and tighter lines.