May 6, 2013

Anglers battle relentless wind in Ocracoke Surf Fishing Tournament

After battling strong winds over two days, the Raleigh Saltwater Sport Fishing Club won the 30th annual Ocracoke Island Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament.

One of the team members, John Bryant, also caught the largest fish with a 32 -inch bluefish.

The Raleigh group had 56 points, nudging out second place winners, Team Advanced Fishing of Rodanthe, which had 51 points.

The Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen of Dagsboro, Del., were third with 40 points.

The OISFT is an invitation-only event where 70 teams of fishing men and women compete in four sessions over two days.  This year’s fishing days were Thursday and Friday, May 2 and 3.

Many of the teams have colorful names, such as “Twisted Blues Sisters,” “Stormy Gales,”  “Ocrajokers” and “Fish Lips.”  Following the fishing, the tournament hosts a pig picking dinner Friday night, catered by the Carolina Boys of Williamston, and open to all.

Most of the fish were caught Friday morning. There was a lot of sea grass on the lines on Thursday. And by Friday afternoon when the wind picked up to about 30 mph, some of the teams had packed up and others were fishing standing sideways with their backs to the wind or hunkered down around their vehicles to shield themselves from the wind and blowing sand.

“Maybe a punch in the face would have been over faster,” Cheryl Johnson of the Virginia Beach Sandwitches noted afterwards about the relentless wind. Out of the women, Johnson caught the most fish – a total of eight.

In such a high wind and rough surf, Johnson had a particular technique she used for her success.

“I go out to where I think I’m gonna drown, then I cast,” Johnson said while enjoying a beer, courtesy of one of the tournament sponsors, Budweiser, in the relative calm of the Community Center ramp where the results are posted daily for the tournament.

“The sand was blowing so much you couldn’t open your mouth,” added Steve Wray of the Virginia Beach Anglers, who won the most fish among men with nine.   Johnson has a good mentor in Wray as she happens to be the mate on his charter boat.

The Sandwitches were happy to be a part of the tournament since it had taken them 23 years to get back into it.

Team captain Caroline Robinson explained that her mother had started the team decades ago as a counter to their men-folk who had their own fishing team.

“Back in the day, wives weren’t allowed on the teams,” she said.  But the Sandwitches got into the OISFT its first year in 1983.

When her mother died, the team lost the spot and folded, but reorganized in 1999. Four years ago, after a chance meeting with Bobby Halstead on the Hatteras Beach who told them a spot in the tournament had opened up, they rejoined.  They are now among 20 women’s teams in this much-anticipated event.

Brian Warren of Ocracoke uses the same technique as Johnson with his team, Raisin’ Rods. He wades out into the breaking surf as far as his wife, Sarah, also on his team, lets him.

“The northeast wind just killed everybody,” Warren said.  “And the rip current.”

The team is one of the few husband-wife teams in the tournament.

Stocky Midgett of Hatteras village who has been in the tournament the longest of anyone, said that in Friday’s wind, “You had to hook ‘em.”

He personally didn’t catch any fish, but stuck it out.

“It’s a great tournament,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

First-time tournament fisherwoman Lena Donlon of Ocrcoke cast her lines with Ocracoke’s Misfit Mermaids.

“I caught one as big as my hand,” she said, which did not count. Jennifer Esham, the team captain, caught a 17-inch bluefish, Donlon said.

Only fish 11 inches and longer count for points.  All fish caught during the tournament are released.

“There were more fish than a lot of years, but fewer points because the fish were smaller,” noted Woody Billings, one of the two chairmen of the tournament. The other is Richard Perkins of Kitty Hawk. Friday morning was the best of the four sessions, Billings said. 

Total fish caught were 305 and the total points were 792.

This event is also a fundraiser for the island. Billings, who also is the head judge, said that after expenses, the tournament distributed about $10,000 to island charities from last year’s event.

The top female team was Sam & Omie’s Different Drummers with 18 points. Second-place winners were the Nags Head Outcasters with 16 points, and third place went to the Island Girls with 12 points.

Suzanne Anderson with the Pheasant Pluckers got the largest fish honors among women with an 18 -inch black drum.

Session winners were:  First session, Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen, 27 points; second session, Surfside Anglers, 21 points; third session, Raleigh Saltwater Sport Fishing Club, 54 points; fourth session, Ridge Anglers, 6 points.

Total fish caught per session were as follows:  First session, 98 fish, 199 points; second session, 41 fish, 100 points; third session, 160 fish, 464 points; fourth session, 6 fish, 29 points.


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