With four Outer Banks surf fishing tournaments under my belt in just 12 months, I can say with certainty that this sport is not for the faint of heart. Don’t get me wrong, it’s exciting, and I have no intention of stopping until the wheels fall off. But last week’s event on Cape Hatteras National Seashore was the ultimate endurance test. Mother Nature had no intention of making this test easy.
Our team, The Stormy Gales, is captained by Shirley Lutz, an expert angler and 38-year participant in the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club (CHAC) Annual Surf Fishing Invitational. Over those three-plus decades, Shirley and her team have been grateful for the sponsorship and support from Black Pelican Restaurant, previously known as Barrier Island Station. She’s done them proud, with many winning seasons.
Shirley knows the ropes; I watch, listen and learn. She has taught me lessons that run the gamut. In rod/reel types, she prefers her 9’ rod with Shimano 345 Baitrunner spinning reel. For catching bigger fish, her 10’ rod with 445 Baitrunner is a go-to. For bottom rigs, double-drop, drum, and bluefish must be on hand. Use circle hooks, especially with Baitrunners; there’s no need to “set” the hook. Your tacklebox should also contain Hatteras Doodle Bugs; I had to Google that one. Preferred bait – bloodworm, cob mullet, shrimp, and squid. How to tie knots may come later, but I did learn how to weave a hook’s line through a Double Drop Rig shaft to shorten its length. This reduces the tangled mess that often emerges from the ocean floor.
Getting Down to Business
I arrived at our Frisco rental house in time to join Shirley at the Captain’s Meeting. The most important task is station assignments. That process is simple. Shirley picked a numbered metal coin out of a bucket. That number is entered into a computer, which generates a sheet with Session numbers for each day. Those numbers are cross-referenced against a list of beach access ramps.
Next, a welcoming committee comprised of tournament director David Scarborough, president Ervin Gaskins, and Dave Hallac, superintendent of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, gave brief speeches. The crowd, as I’m sure is always the case, is reminded that all vehicles must air down.
A short Q&A session followed. One concern was the direction to turn off a ramp, right or left.
Having now participated in two CHAC tournaments, I’m more concerned with finding the ramp itself. I can then figure out which way to go, based on the station numbers. If Station 25 is the destination, and you see Station 17 on your left and 16 on your right, you turn left. But as I type these words, only those with binoculars could read the numbers. Anyway, you have a 50-50 shot of getting it right. If not, turn around.
Session 1 – South Beach Bound
With my tackle box and rods ready to roll, we headed to Old Ramp 45 for Session 1 on Thursday morning. The horn blasted at 8:00 a.m. sharp, and 700-plus anglers across Cape Hatteras National Seashore cast their lines into the sea. With northeasterly winds gusting up to 30 mph and temps in the 40s, the conditions were brutal. I kept reminding myself what they say in Alaska: There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
Within the first half hour, a woman on an adjacent team caught something large, given the struggle she was having as she reeled. Indeed, it was a large red drum, (also referred to as puppy drum and redfish), but as she was bringing him up through the wash, he suddenly dropped off her line. She attempted to capture the loose, slippery fish, only to come up empty-handed . . . and very wet. I felt so sorry for her, as a gentleman extended a hand to help lift her out of the warm water, into the cold air.
Soon after watching that drum get away, Shirley got a hit, (using a circle hook and bloodworm). It was fish on! We watched in anticipation, as she successfully landed a scorable red drum. The judge arrived quickly and measured the fish at 22 inches for 16 points.
After a quick photo-op, she returns the big guy to the sea. We hooted and hollered. It’s not uncommon in tournament fishing for adjacent teams to also support the competition. Indeed, there’s a comradery among anglers. Kitty Squire, CHAC executive secretary concurs. She said, “The fishing community roots for each other.” Indeed, the club’s purpose is to not only advocate for the conservation and preservation of fish and marine life but to also promote “friendly and harmonious relationships between all anglers.”
Shortly after Shirley’s impressive catch, our teammate Linda Moore landed a sea mullet (also called whiting) for one point; smaller #4 and #6 hooks do the trick with mullet. Now, all I could do was hope and pray that I could contribute to the effort. I soon got my chance, with what was easily the largest fish I’d ever hooked. Confident that it was a drum, I moved with him down the beach, reeling in sync with the waves. Soon enough, I see a ginormous red drum at the water’s edge. I wait a second for the next wave to help bring him in, keeping tension on the line. Within seconds of seeing his tailfin black spot, he shook the hook and vanished. The only thing that lessened my anguish was when Linda said, “You did everything right.” In hindsight, a circle hook may have changed the outcome. Hindsight is 20/20. At 11:30 a.m., the horn sounds again. Session 1 is over.
Interesting fact: The black spot on a red drum’s tail acts as a fake set of eyes, to confuse predators. In short, the predator thinks they are swimming in the wrong direction.
Session 2 – North Beach Bound
After the morning’s excitement and 17 points on the record, we had high hopes for the afternoon session off Ramp 35. At 1:30 p.m. the horn sounds, and lines are in the water. Three hours later, the horn sounds again. From horn to horn, we did not land a single fish; we were officially skunked. From the looks of the other nearby teams, we were not alone. Day one is over.
Session 3 – North Beach Déjà Vu
While I thought the first morning’s weather was bad, the wind and high surf continued on Day 2, off Ramp 23. Knowing strong currents would be an issue, I stopped at Frank & Fran’s Bait and Tackle to pick up two Sputnik weights. The four prongs on Sputniks are designed to embed in the sand, holding your bait in place. That’s in theory. My 8–ounce Sputnik didn’t hold, so the three of us rotated our positions. Each of our rigs was quickly swept to the right. We had to reel in our line before our station’s end marker. We would then move to the inside edge of the left station marker and cast again. It was an unspoken dance we performed, to keep from tangling our lines.
As the hours passed, catching fish didn’t seem in the cards. Just when I was thinking all was lost, bam! For me, not knowing what’s on the other end of the line is such fun. It was a black drum, the largest I’ve ever caught. He was easily removed from the hook, so no harm. I quickly measured him on my cooler lid. At 15” he just made the minimum size requirement. The judges confirmed 15” and I returned a very cooperative fish to the sea. We added five points to our record.
Session 4 – South Beach Serenity
The good news is that we’re back to Old Ramp 45, and the warmer, calmer South Beach. The bad news . . . it was low tide. The contrast between the surf this morning and this afternoon was stark. Early morning, waves on the North Beach looked straight out of the movie “The Perfect Storm.” The ocean now looked much like a lake, with gently lapping waves. Our 4-ounce weights held nicely, so we would bait our second rod while the other line was in the water.
Not much action, though, until a run of sea mullet passed through. I caught a 12” mullet (2 points), Linda then caught another (2 points), and Shirley, the angler she is, landed a 15” (5 points). As we’re approaching 4:30 p.m., the end of the tournament, I loaded up my two hooks with bloodworms, thinking I’d haul in a big, high-point fish. Within one minute of casting, I got a huge hit. I began to reel and immediately sensed that something was wrong. There was no tension on the line, at all. My entire rig was gone. A bluefish was the likely culprit.
Such is the sport of surf fishing, hit and miss. We came away with six fish for 31 points total, giving us 5th position among the 16 women’s teams and 45th overall, out of 118 teams. Not too shabby, considering we had only half a team – three anglers versus six. Last year, we came in 98th. (See end of article for full list of winners.) The glass was definitely half full, and we still had hope that Shirley’s catch would win the Largest Red Drum – Women’s category.
To get an inside track on final standings, I texted Dave Masters, president of the Nags Head Surf Fishing Club. I subbed on his team, Sandbar Anglers, last month (link to the story is below). Dave was at CHAC tournament headquarters with his wife, Paula. She landed a 21” black drum, which would later win her the Largest Fish, (other than red drum or bluefish). Another impressive catch and release! Also impressive: A total of 1,393 fish were caught during the two-day tournament, for a total of 4,167 points!
As we sat at our kitchen table having dinner, we learned that Shirley missed the Largest Red Drum by a mere 1-1/2 inches. Susan McClanahan–Kinky Leaders–won the coveted prize. Congratulations to Paula, Susan, and the many other winners of the 65th Annual Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament, hosted by the Cape Hatteras Anglers Club. Also, a heartfelt thank you to all the 100+ volunteers and numerous sponsors who made this event possible.
Next stop, the 39th Annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament in May, 2024.
- First Place Women: Virginia Beach Anglers Club Ladies – 47 Fish for 86 points
- Second Place Women: North Carolina Sea Hags – 30 Fish for 54 Points
- Third Place Women: Hatteraskals – 9 Fish for 40 Points
- First Place Overall and First Place Men: Fish Hogg Eastern Shore VA Anglers – 56 Fish for 167 Points
- Second Place Men: Ninja Surfcasters – 48 Fish for 160 Points
- Third Place Men: Matey’s Marauders – 27 Fish for 148 Points
- Men – 30” Red Drum – Anthony Whitehurst, Scabs
- Women – 23-1/2” Red Drum – Susan McClanahan, Kinky Leaders
- Men – 22” Bluefish – Marty Bull, Fish Hoggs
- Women – 20” Bluefish – Susan McClanahan, Kinky Leaders
Largest Fish (Other than Red Drum or Bluefish)
- Men (Tied)
- 22″ Black Drum – Travis Kane, Island Life Realty
- 22″ Black Drum – Russell Willborough, VA Beach Anglers
- Women – 20” Black Drum – Paula Masters, Sandbar Anglers
For those who would like to read about my Hatteras, Ocracoke, and Nags Head Surf Fishing Tournament adventures, please click on the links below.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Denine Phillips is a retired technical writer with many published works. Ms. Phillips is also the author of two books, , a popular photo journal that chronicles the many lessons learned while raising a German Shepherd Dog, and , an educational, read-aloud book that transports youngsters to 10 of America’s most iconic landmarks. Write to her at .
Credit: Original content published here.