August 19, 2016

Outer Banks Angling: On a fishing trip with a legend

By ROB ALDERMAN


When I first moved to the Outer Banks and worked on the Rodanthe Pier, I remember that the top anglers -- the ones who were considered the best -- each had their own top anglers or captains that they would talk about like legends.

I was lucky enough to run with some top red drum anglers and learn from them. They would talk of others who they learned from or fished with and who amazed them.

One of the many names I heard over and over again on the end of a pier, standing in the sand, or from other boat captains was Norman Miller.

Captain Norman Miller is one of those legends -- well known and highly respected among the drum fishermen and all fishermen in general. Norman is considered one of the nation’s top red drum taggers and has tagged over 10,000 drum in his time.

I’ve been fortunate in my time on the Outer Banks. I’ve fished with many a great captain seeking many species of fish and I had a ton of fun with each and every one of them.

I can also say that when I recently had a chance to fish with Norman on his boat, Rascal,  I was very excited to finally spend some time with a man I had heard so much about.

My stepson, Braxton, who is in the Coast Guard and currently stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico, recently came home on leave for a visit. My wife wanted to spend a little family time on Ocracoke. I saw this as a prime opportunity to suggest a trip with Captain Miller.

I am lucky that my entire family loves the drug of the tug, so pitching the idea to go fishing was easy.

I could hardly sleep the night prior to the trip.

It’s a bit early for serious drum hunting out of Ocracoke right now, although stumbling on a school is possible. After a discussion with Norman,  I told him I wanted to go wreck fishing. I felt this could be highly productive, as the wrecks and artificial reefs out of Ocracoke get less pressure, as their fleet is smaller.

We met Norman at the Rascal after the family and I enjoyed a good, quick breakfast at Pony Island Restaurant. We were all stoked and ready to go.

Norman fired up his 1981, 30-foot Sisu boat and began getting a few things ready.

This boat does not have a flat screen TV, air-conditioning, a microwave, a refrigerator or a couch. This is a bare knuckles vessel—one like I have fished on many times before. However, the boat was still spacious and had a good ride.

After about 15 minutes,  Norman undid the lines and we were off and out of Silver Lake.

We had no sooner wrapped the corner from Silver Lake when Norman knocked the boat into neutral and started handing out rods. They were equipped with hand-tied bottom rigs and baited with squid. It was going to be our job to catch our own live bait for the day’s fishing.

Norman knew right where to be and we started bailing small spot and croaker immediately. Norman continued to work on rigs, while Braxton and I helped  remove fish for the others and fish for ourselves. Braxton and I love to fish and we wanted to do as much as possible.

It didn’t take long before the Norman said that we had plenty of live bait and we headed off to the reefs and wrecks.

On our first stop, the fishing was hot. Norman baited a rod for my step-daughter, Maddy, and dropped it down to the bottom, which was roughly 100 feet. Within 30 seconds, there was a bite and a fish was on.

Unfortunately, that fish and Maddy’s next fish broke off on the structure we were fishing over, but she landed the third fish, a gag grouper.

The trick with groupers and such is that you have to be fast when the bite happens, so you can get them up and away from the wreck, before the fish retracts back into the structure and cuts you off.

Braxton and I were busy getting other rods baited, while Norman helped Maddy.

Braxton fed a live bait out with no weight on it and let the fish free swim. It wasn’t long before his rod was screaming. This fish fought hard and ate a ton of drag. I thought for sure it was an amberjack, but I was wrong.

After a hefty battle,  the fish surfaced, and to my surprise, it was an African pompano. In all my fishing exploits,  I had never seen one caught on hook and line. While filming an episode of the Outer Banks Angler, some friends and I went spear fishing for them. I saw a lot of African pompano that day -- and never one since.

I know they get caught traditionally, but in all my wreck fishing and butterfly jigging trips I had never seen one.

Braxton was so happy to have caught a new species, and the entire family was super happy for him.

For the next hour we caught everything from amberjacks (AJs) to grouper to red snapper. Amberjacks are a powerhouse and these were big fish. Everyone had a blast wrestling these fish.

Throughout the fishing, Norman held excellent conversations with each of us. He traded stories with Braxton about fishing in San Juan and the Florida Keys, where Braxton had also been stationed.

Norman was shocked to hear that as a sophomore in high school, Maddy was already eyeballing the Coast Guard Academy. Yes, we have two water rats and they want to be on it non-stop.

Norman and I traded stories about drum fishing and all the mutual friends we have. And, his stories about drum are incredible.

We moved onto the next spot where we hammered more of the same. We even managed two, release citation-sized amberjacks on this spot.

These are fish over 50 inches and if you don’t know—a 50-inch AJ makes rods, reels and anglers beg for mercy. AJs locally are referred to as “ reef donkeys” because of their incredible power.

We fished at this spot for a while, before we moved onto our final spot. We still managed more grouper, red snapper and AJs. The red snapper are closed to harvest, so it hurt to turn loose these amazingly beautiful and tasty fish, but it is what it is.

We fished until we ran out of bait. Not that any one in the group had the strength to reel any longer.

Our full day trip was over and we headed back to Silver Lake. Captain Norman helped to clean our catch and we said our goodbyes.

The kids talked about their catches and the trip for the next two days.

I was thoroughly impressed by Captain Norman Miller. He is truly one of the many legendary fishermen on the Outer Banks and I highly recommend fishing with him.

Go fishing and play hard..


(Rob Alderman has lived on the Outer Banks for more than 16 years and has worked in the recreational fishing industry the entire time. A former variety fishing TV show host, beach fishing guide, tackle shop and pier employee, Rob currently owns and operates Outer Banks Kayak Fishing. He is on the Pro-Staff of Bending Branches LLC, Wilderness Systems Kayaks, Release Reels, Yakattack and is an ambassador for Ugly Stik. You can follow his adventures at www.FishMilitia.com or OuterBanksKayakFishing.com.)

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