The Adventure Begins
After strategically packing a two-door Jeep Wrangler with fishing gear for me and my fishing buddy, Kathryne (Kat) Buckley, we began our trek to Hatteras-Ocracoke Ferry, an hour-and-a-half journey. Directed to Lane 8, we watched as cars, panel trucks, motorcycles, and RVs disembarked and embarked. While waiting our turn, we enjoy friendly banter with fellow anglers headed in the same direction.
Having left Southern Shores at 10:00 a.m., we arrived at the Pony Island Motel on Ocracoke at 5:00 p.m. After airing down, we made a beeline to the kick-off gathering at Howard’s Pub, complete with live music from The Ray McAllister Band. In short order, we met a parade of characters, including Gary, a hilarious gentleman in charge of Friday night’s pig roast. By 10:00 p.m., it was lights out; our alarm was set for 6:00 a.m. We needed to hit the ground running for the morning session. Our assigned station, #71.
The Stormy Gales, founded by Shirley Lutz 38 years ago, is one of 73 teams of anglers in this tournament, including 19 women’s teams. Each team can have up to six members. Doing the math, that’s a potential of 450 anglers. Stiff competition, for sure. Many have decades of experience fishing this tournament, as well as the other three major events – “Little” Hatteras in September, Nags Head in October, and “Big” Hatteras in November. I’m a relative newbie, having participated in my first tournament last November, in Hatteras, organized by the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club, and chronicled in my Island Free Press article titled Island Fishing: Getting Hooked on Surf Fishing (Feb. 6, 2023).
On Day One, with the sun shining bright, we have a full roster – Shirley Lutz, Linda Moore, Paula Masters, Ruth Thornton, and Kat Buckley. Kat is a newbie, and as our youngest member has attained “baby girl” status. Despite never having surf-fished, Kat really stepped up. If not working to perfect her cast, she was helping in myriad ways. Could not have asked for a better fishing partner. She even remembered to prompt me to shift into four-wheel-drive, as we approached the beach access ramp. Having never independently navigated large swaths of sand, I white-knuckled the drive to our first station.
It’s All Business
We wasted no time setting up. Buckets filled, pole holders strategically placed, and hooks baited . . . bring it on! The horn sounded at 8:00 a.m., and all six lines are quickly in the water. For bait, Kat and I used fresh sea mullet and shrimp, on a two-hook drop rig, with circle hooks. In short order, Ruth landed a skate. Unfortunately, they don’t count. Soon thereafter, I reeled in a small sand perch. Also doesn’t count. These are encouraging signs, but a dry spell ensued. As I surveyed angler action up and down the beach, all is quiet. That’s when I decided to grab my rod with a PowerBait® artificial lure, with a sizable hook. Such a lightweight lure took all of my energy to cast far enough to have any chance of catching a fish. Cast after cast, nothing.
Two-and-a half-hours into the first session, I’m not giving up. As I’m reeling in slowly, it happens! Very close to shore, a sudden hit! It’s fish-on! As I reel in, he repeatedly broke the water. My rod is bent in half, under the weight. Shirley and Linda are close by, but looking the other way. I didn’t know if I should alert them, as I’m trying to maintain my focus and taut line. I finally said, “Hey, guys!” I hear, “Probably another skate,” though I was certain that was not the case. I anxiously drew the big boy to shore; he clearly had no interest in entertaining us this morning. Once safely landed, excitement was building . . . in me, and around me. It’s a red drum, not to be confused with its younger relative, the puppy drum.
As I’m removing the lure, I’m hearing, “Don’t kill him! The judges won’t score a dead fish.” I was confident that wasn’t happening. The next order of business, filling our bucket with enough water to hold him. I gently placed him inside, as Shirley called the judge. Within one minute, two judges arrive, but one had trouble wrangling the fish out of the bucket. Once secured, he’s placed on the wooden measuring board. 24 inches! I ask the judge if he had to return the fish to the sea. He gave me permission to do so. As I approached the water, I thought of my husband back at home, and how he loves catch-and-release. I channeled him as I stood waiting for the next wave, and then lowered the fish and released my grip.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
The afternoon session was far less eventful. Nonetheless, we fished with determination, wading to far-off sandbars, certain that bluefish, Spanish mackerel, and drum were in search of a meal. Rather quickly, I realized that Kat and I were unprepared for traversing the slough (pronounced slew). Our teammates had waders. Kat and I did not. Lesson learned. While the water was warm, the air was chilly. But we stuck it out, to no avail. Our adjacent fellow anglers suffered much the same fate. Surely, on a distant station, fish were being caught. Word traveled quickly, and I was told that a larger fish than mine, a 27+ inch bluefish, would likely win the largest fish for a woman angler. I was still tickled pink that I even caught a fish, so no worries there.
There’s Always Tomorrow
We all gathered back at the motel and draped our drenched clothes across the porch railing. Not a good look, but effective. Now it’s time to “hang out & brag,” according to the tournament pamphlet. I was down for that, telling Paula’s husband, Dave Masters, president of the Nags Head Surf Fishing Club, about my catch. Not only did I get a fist bump, but he was also a good listener. While I wanted to attribute my catch to “luck,” I felt that strategy played a part. Switching from bottom fishing, which was not garnering any results, to a lure, produced a scorable fish. I just hoped and prayed that Day Two would deliver a bounty of fish for our team, especially Kat, who traveled from Pennsylvania. To bring us good fortune, she read Saint Andrew’s prayer. Saint Andrew is the patron saint of fishermen. I had high hopes.
Let the Party Begin
Day Two turned out to be much the same as Day One, minus the red drum. We were completely skunked in the morning and afternoon sessions. Looking on the bright side, we still had the pig roast at the Community Center to look forward to, and free beer. Before heading over, Kat and I took a quick spin through the harbor area, with beautiful docked boats, bustling eateries, mingling tourists, and slow-moving golf carts. We loved the laid-back pace and quaint nature of this hidden gem.
Parked back at the motel, Kat and I walked a short distance to the Community Center. Jammed with anglers and locals alike, this “pig pickin” was open to everyone on the island. As we were served generous helpings of coleslaw, black-eyed beans, and more, Gary dispensed boiled potatoes, and kisses on the cheek. Kudos to him and his team for pulling this meal off, with a smile.
While enjoying our dinner, we watched as anglers gathered around the scoreboard. I was afraid to look; Kat perused the tallies. From what she saw, The Stormy Gales won Third Place Women, and 18th place overall. I was still cautiously optimistic, as we entered the Community Center. After purchasing T-shirts and raffle tickets, we took our seats. (We were one member short. Linda was in Raleigh, attending her granddaughter’s college graduation.) The evening’s MC, Buster Nunemaker, skillfully interspersed raffle drawings with trophy winners. This well-organized system kept everyone happy, including my teammates; three of five won raffles!
Then, I heard, “Third Place Women, the Stormy Gales.” To applause, we gathered at the photography bench, with plaques in hand. I held Linda’s, wondering if we could Photoshop her in later. As we returned to our seats, the fun wasn’t over. All team winners received giveaways, including a cooler, rod and reel, pole holder, and fishing lures. Kat dubbed this bounty of winnings Fishing Christmas, which still makes me laugh. Indeed, she now has her own rod, and possibly the inspiration for future adventures by land, sea, or pier.
Looking back, after two days of rest, I recall how someone told me my catch was a once-in-tournament fluke. In hindsight, I should have said, “No, a once-in-a-lifetime drum.” I am aware that landing another big fish during a tournament could take years, but that’s all the more reason to keep at it.
Thank You, OISFT!
I marvel at the effort that went into organizing this surf fishing tournament, with hundreds of anglers . . . and cars. So, a heartfelt thank you to the skilled OISFT board, volunteers, and local businesses that so generously donated goods and services. The glorious weather, the camaraderie between teams, and the shared joy of surf fishing made the 38th annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament a rousing success. The 39th annual OISFT (May 1, 2 & 3) is marked on my calendar. See y’all n 2024!
2023 OISFT Winners
1st Overall – Merchantville Fishing Club
2nd Overall – Nags Head Surf Fishing Club
3rd Overall – Island Life Reality Fishing Team
1st Women’s – Twisted Blues Sisters
2nd Women’s – Hatteraskals
3rd Women’s – The Stormy Gales
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Denine Phillips is a retired technical writer with many published works. Ms. Phillips is also the author of two books, Don’t Give Up on That Dog, a popular photo journal that chronicles the many lessons learned while raising a German Shepherd Dog, and Through the Magic Shed, A Grand Adventure Lies Ahead, an educational, read-aloud book that transports youngsters to 10 of America’s most iconic landmarks. Write to her at email@example.com.