The 14th annual North Carolina Beach Buggy Association (NCBBA) Red Drum Tournament was held on October 25-28, and the popular surf fishing tournament had a record-breaking year for both attendance and the number of red drum caught over three days of fishing.
The tournament has actually been around for decades – (most recently, it was the Frank and Fran’s Red Drum Tournament until 2009) – and when the event first started, it had around 120 participants, according to NCBBA’s Mike Regan.
But 2023 broke all prior records, with a total of 455 anglers.
“It has really grown in popularity, mostly because it’s primarily an individual tournament, and anglers can fish anywhere instead of at assigned beaches,” said Regan. “And it really is a great time for everyone – We had a family come from in Michigan, and the mom said, ‘This is all about family time and having fun.’”
During the tournament, anglers fished from ORV Ramps 23, 32, 38, 43, and old Ramp 45, and during the 60 hours of wide-open fishing, more than 120 red drum were caught and safely released, which was also a new record for the yearly tournament.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever caught more than 100 red drum [in the tournament before] – usually we’re around 70 red drum total or so,” said Regan. “But the winning drum was caught 45 minutes after the tournament started, and that continued until the tournament ended on Saturday morning.”
This year’s tournament attracted anglers from all over the country, who enjoyed days of prime fall weather and exceptional fishing conditions all along the Hatteras Island shoreline. There were attendees from 17 states in 2023, as well as a new tournament participant from England.
“The man from England said, ‘There’s nothing like this anywhere in Europe,’” said Regan. “He had a fantastic time and will be coming back again.”
With record-breaking attendance and a record number of fish caught, there were inherently a number of joyful stories stemming from the tournament, but arguably one of the best was the fish tale of Henry Lee Bowman, who made the trip to Hatteras Island from Florida with his grandfather.
Early in the tournament, while fishing next to Jason King – another tournament angler who admired Henry’s determination – Henry was told by Jason that if he caught a drum, Jason would give him his rod.
Henry not only caught a drum, but he also ended up winning both First and Second places in the Youth Division Category with two 31” Red Drum. (He also won the Youth Longest Bluefish Category.)
“It was reportedly heard that Henry asked, ‘Where is that guy?’ [when he won],” said Regan.
As usual, the multiple days of fishing culminated with an awards banquet, which was held at the Klub Koru event space in Avon in order to accommodate the large crowd.
Dare County Commissioner Danny Couch addressed the anglers during the closing banquet and awards ceremony, where he noted how much the local fishing industry had contributed to the Outer Banks economy.
“Hatteras Island’s resort economy was built on the backs of fishermen, their families, and all fishing families since the inception of the seashore in 1953,” said Couch in a later interview. “They’ve been with us from the start, and are bigger and stronger than ever.”
“Our schools, our charitable organizations, our churches – island life across the board has benefited greatly from surf and sport fishing in the spring and fall,” he added. “Their propensity and willingness to give back is nothing short of phenomenal.”
In that vein, the NCBBA Tournament broke another record in 2023, as more than $20,000 was raised in funds to support the organization’s annual scholarship program, as well as other community initiatives.
“This was a record year for us, in many ways,” said Regan.
There were numerous partners and sponsors who contributed to making the event a success. The National Park Service worked closely with NCBBA to provide guidance on boundaries and still-active turtle nests, while the 98 volunteers – including 48 judges – helped make the tournament possible to begin with. “The people who volunteer, and the judges, are critical for our tournament,” said Regan. “With fewer judges, there is less space to fish.”
From start to finish, the 2023 tournament was an undeniable success, and organizers are already looking ahead to another record-breaking year come October 2024.
“The weather absolutely contributed to the fun everyone had this year, and there was consistent red drum throughout the tournament,” said Regan. “This was a great year [for the tournament] all around.”
The winners and overall scoreboard for the tournament are listed below. For more information on the NCBBA, visit their website at https://www.ncbba.org/.
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