August 7, 2013

Hatteras Fishing Piers:
Keeping the tradition alive
By IAN BISANTZ


Fishing is one of the main reasons that visitors come to the Outer Banks, and for years now, fishing piers here on Hatteras Island, and along the entire East Coast, have figured into the culture of beach vacations for anglers and for families.

The piers that extend out into the ocean make it easier for anglers without boats to get to the fish.  The piers offer tackle rental for the beginners and sell bait, along with food and drinks and such things as hats and T-shirts.  They are a social gathering place for fishermen, a place where they can tell their fish stories and exchange tips with others from around the country. They are also a great place to introduce youngsters to fishing.

In addition, many like to go sightseeing on the piers.  For a small fee, you can stroll along the pier, watch a sunrise or sunset, smell the salt air, and be entertained by watching the anglers in action.

The piers have also been the sites of marriage proposals, weddings, and even memorial services.

Folks just love piers. Many locals fish at them regularly, and visitors return year after year.

However, pier owners have long fought a battle with hurricanes and northeasters that have taken their toll on any number of East Coast piers, including those on Hatteras Island.

In the last two years, Hatteras piers have taken a beating from both hurricanes Irene and Sandy, causing the owners to deal with costly repairs and closures.

The Cape Hatteras Fishing Pier in Frisco is in really poor shape – with only part of it standing.  It has been closed for several years now, and its future is uncertain at this point.

The two remaining piers on Hatteras – the Rodanthe Pier and The Avon Pier – have been damaged in both storms, but both are now repaired, at least partially, and are open and welcoming anglers and sightseers.

Here is an update on Hatteras Island’s two remaining piers.

RODANTHE PIER

It was just before Hurricane Sandy that Terry Plumblee and his partners bought the Rodanthe Pier, hoping to repair it from the damage caused by Hurricane Irene and other storms.

They had made progress when last October along came Superstorm Sandy to deliver another blow to the wooden structure.

However, Plumblee says he and his partners were determined to restore the pier and make it a “centerpiece of the community.”

The main goals of reconstruction were remodeling the inside, cleaning the area up, and organizing the pier. Plumblee wanted the inside to be open, bright, and organized in order to cheer it up and erase a sense of clutter. The Rodanthe Pier crew also wanted to rebuild the end of the pier to its original octagon shape and extend it back into the Atlantic as far as it had been a decade ago.

With so many piers destroyed along the East Coast in Sandy, the Rodanthe Pier would have to wait for its reconstruction. Until then, Plumblee and crew worked on the interior of the pier house, making the area more customer-friendly. They opened up a game room and made the inside more comfortable and pleasant. They built a new parking lot accessible to all vehicles as well.

The Rodanthe Pier opened around Easter and has been maintaining a regular schedule of operation from 6 a.m. until midnight every day since. After construction had finished, just last month, the pier was 50 feet longer than its prior Hurricane Sandy length and back to the original octagon-shaped pier end. The owners also added new lights and raised the end of the pier four feet in hopes of avoiding future storm-related damage.

Plumblee says that this season on the pier started slow, but now that the pier is finally fully repaired, business is increasing.

He adds that, “ Other than a pier, we want to be a tackle shop and convenience store that offers services for not only the pier fisherman but for the public as well.”

There are many reasons that anglers decide to become dedicated pier fisherman. Recently one of them, Ben Hulcher, a regular at Rodanthe Pier, explained why.

Hulcher said the main reason he got into pier fishing was to pursue king mackerel. In the late summer and fall when the kings to start to push in closer to the beach, he really likes to get after them from up high where he can see the schools of bait. The angler also really loves seeing a king take a bluefish bait on top of the water and hearing his line scream off the reel.

Even though the pier is on the road to recovery and the fishermen are starting to come back, the new owners and staff are looking to push forward and achieve more of their goal of continuing to improve – not only for the fishermen but for other members of the public and beachgoers. Extending the pier is a possibility down the road.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that the pier is regaining its reputation as a gathering place in the community.

AVON PIER

Heading south on Highway 12 as you enter the village of Avon, it is hard to miss the Avon Pier. With its gigantic lettering across the front of the building, the Avon Pier has been a community staple since 1962.

Like other piers, Avon Pier faces harsh conditions year in and year out. Hurricane Sandy and several northeasters last fall and winter ripped the “T”-shaped end off the pier, cutting off 50 feet of the pier’s length. Though heavily damaged, the Avon Pier crew worked to get it in operational shape and running with as short a closure time as possible.

Avon Pier opened up two weeks later than the usual Easter start time, but the staff has seen good numbers of fishermen and tourists in and out of the pier. Pier manager Keith Matthews says he is glad they took the time to open later and make sure everything was up and running smoothly, just one of many tough decisions. Moreover, a decision that had to be made was whether or not to begin reconstruction of the damaged end of the pier.

While many fishermen enjoy the “T”-shaped pier end for pursuing larger fish, such as cobia, king mackerel, and red drum, management made the decision that reconstruction of the end of the pier would have to wait. Matthews hopes that waiting to begin the reconstruction till after the harsh hurricane months will give Avon Pier a leg up in its full recovery. He says that the Avon Pier crew understands that many fall anglers rely on piers for fishing, but are adamant on waiting until hurricane season is over.

One of the local fishermen, Erik Raubaugh, talked recently about how he got his start on pier fishing and why Avon was a go-to pier for not only him but his family as well.

“Pier fishing was always good for me because it gave me the chance to get out beyond the breakers and cast to cruising cobia or even have the chance at a bigger drum in the fall -- not to mention Avon Pier was an easy place to take the family fishing as well. My daughters love to wet a line now and again,” Raubaugh said.

 He adds that he understands the tough decision management had to make about the T-shaped pier end. It’s best, he thinks, to ensure that the pier can continue on for years to come.

For the past two years, the Avon Pier has hosted the July 4 fireworks show, sponsored by the Avon Property Owners Association with funding from the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau and donations from local businesses.

Matthews said that pier management understands that if the fireworks could not be set off at the end of the pier, the pyrotechnic shows would probably cease on the island.  The National Park Service once allowed fireworks on the beach at Hatteras village and Ocracoke, but that is unlikely to resume.

The pier folks, he said, want to keep the fireworks tradition alive, even with all the work and effort involved.

Avon and Rodanthe Piers truly are the community centerpieces that have brought everyone together, tourists and locals alike. These piers are a large part of what happens on Hatteras Island and how people celebrate, fish, relax, and come together.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Hatteras Island fishing piers are usually open from just before Easter until after Thanksgiving.

Rodanthe Pier is located at 24251 Atlantic Drive in Rodanthe and is open from 6 a.m. to midnight every day of the week. The pier house and pier are both fully operational and will continue to be throughout November. If you have any other questions or if you are interested in the pier, check out the website http://www.rodanthepierllc.com/#! . Don’t forget to check them out on Facebook as well or give them a call at 252-987-0030

The Avon Pier is located at 41001 Highway 12 in Avon and is open from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. If you have any questions or comments, you can call 252-995-5480 or check out the website at http://www.avonfishingpier.com. The pier also has as Facebook page.


comments powered by Disqus