by Donna Byrd
I learned something new yesterday. Did you know that fish migrate like birds? Who knew? Well, apparently a lot of people!
Someone told me that autumn was the best time of the year for fishing in coastal North Carolina, so I drove over to the SeaView Fishing Pier on North Topsail Beach yesterday to see if it was true and boy oh boy, did I get an education! There are poles and there are polls. But I’ll get to that later!
Pulling into the parking lot at the pier and its adjoining motel, I was surprised to find that it was full of cars and trucks. I had been to the pier in the summer months and it was never this crowded! Luckily for me, a car was pulling out and I slipped into its space before someone else beat me to it.
Contemplating what I was about to do, I sat a few minutes in my car. I wanted to write a blog on fall fishing on Topsail Island but to do that, I was going to have to talk to fishermen and women about one of their greatest passions: fishing. I knew so very little about fishing, I felt nervous. Talking about something I knew so little about, put me in the “learner’s seat.” My game plan was this: I’d just be myself, ask a simple question like, “Are you catching anything today?” and let their passion speak for itself! There was nothing to be nervous about!
I entered the gift, bait, and tackle shop and the place was bustling! I waited for Earl, the guy behind the counter to finish his phone call so that I could speak with him and pay him the $1.00 required to just walk on the pier. “Earl, is it always this busy in October?” “Yeah,” he said. “From about September through November it’s real busy.”
I had to keep him talking, just to learn a bit more. “Is it because there are more fish this time of year? I mean, are there times when there aren’t fish out there to catch?” All of a sudden, I felt as if I’d asked a silly question and added, “Of course there are fish out there all the time! It’s the ocean!”
“Oh no,” Earl answered. “They’re not always out there! Fish are like birds! They migrate in the spring and fall. In the autumn, they swim down to warmer waters to avoid winter’s cold and in the spring, they migrate to cooler northern waters to get away from the warm, bath water like temperatures of the summer ocean currents.”
“So, now the fish are migrating down south and the guys on the pier are using that opportunity to reel them in?” “Sure,” Earl agreed. “When it’s hot outside the fish stay offshore where it’s cooler. Now that the hot weather has broken, they’re swimming closer to shore and the fish from up north are passing through, headed south. That’s why it’s the best time for fishin’.”
“Are they biting today?” I wondered. “Are there better days even when they’re migrating?” I asked. I thought that sounded like a reasonable question. “Not so good today,” Earl shook his head. “It was good here last week after the storm, all the way up to Sunday. The hurricane was good for the fish. Brought them in to us. Stayed like ’til the wind changed on Sunday night. It’s been slow since.” The phone rang and Earl picked it up. I put my dollar down on the counter and pointed to the back door. I was going on the pier to see what all those people who came in the trucks and cars out in the parking lot were doing.
The SeaView Fishing Pier, North Carolina’s longest pier, was crowded. All of the folks were standing on the left (or northeast) side of the planks. The fish were traveling south so I assumed they were positioning themselves to catch the fish as they swam by. I stopped at the first couple I saw and asked if were they having any luck. The two were from Lenoir, North Carolina, Jimmy and Sharon Bryant. He was retired from the Marines and they had been making October fishing trips to Topsail for four years. They’d been out fishing all morning and had a few mullets, spots, black drums and pompanos. Jimmy said, “A few got away. I think some dolphins took them.” Wow! Talk about a big fish tale! The story of the big fish was not about the one that got away, but the one that ate the others!
I strolled on down the pier and met Willis Griffin, from Topsail. He fishes the pier almost every day. Now that’s passion for you! I asked him if the wind’s direction made a difference in how many fish he caught. He said, “Yeah, I guess. But I fish every day, no matter what. Doesn’t really matter.” I liked his attitude. The laid-back fisherman!
May West Cain and her husband Tommy, from Sampson County, were practically newlyweds. They had been married since July but come to Topsail two or three times a month for fishing. They said they were still on a honeymoon. They had a few mullets.
Ronnie Hargrove from Hendersonville, NC comes every fall but that day had caught only one pompano. Nhiem Garcia and Bobby Hagwood, from Raleigh, had been out on the pier since 5:00 a.m. She proudly showed me her large bluefish, a hefty albacore and a few Spanish mackerel. She was cleaning the fish as she caught them. I was impressed!
I met several folks from Rose Hill, NC that come every fall and a group of ladies from Salisbury, NC who rent a house on the beach every October. They looked like they knew how to handle a rod and reel!
I was almost at the end of the pier talking to a few fishing aficionados from Jacksonville and Norwood, NC. One of them came every August and stayed through November, just to fish. I was laughing and talking with them, when the three guys at the very end of the pier started looking back at me shouting, “Trump! Trump!” I walked over to them and said, you’re catching fish called “trump?” “No,” one of them said. “I’m voting for Trump! Aren’t you taking a poll?”
I looked down at my notebook that I’d been taking notes in and starting shaking my head. “No. I’m doing a blog on fall fishing on Topsail Island and I’m asking a few folks some questions. The guy looked disappointed and said, “I thought you were taking a poll about who I was voting for…for president! I’ve never been asked to be in a poll before!” It was then that I realized he was speaking of another passion: politics. I looked around to see if anyone else was listening. I smiled, but said quietly, “This afternoon I was trying to get away from politics. I thought nobody on the pier would be talking politics right now! This pretty blue sky, the nice, warm weather, a fishing rod in your hand. Who wants to think about politics? If we start talking politics now, as hot as that topic is, we’re likely to start a brawl right here on this pier!”
The guys just started laughing again. I could tell they were old friends who knew how to have a good time. “Anyway,” I said, “Is it good fishing etiquette to talk politics while you’re waiting for fish to bite? I thought most people were fed up with politics right now.” “Well,” he considered. “I would gladly talk politics if it meant I was taking part in a poll.”
“Ok, I’ll pretend this is a political poll, so as not to disappoint you.” I went to each of them and asked, “If you were voting for the president of the United States today, who would you vote for?” Each one of them told me, “Trump.”
If I would have done a political poll on the pier that day with the all of the fishermen, I don’t know who would’ve won, Clinton or Trump. I guess fall fishing on Topsail Island, this close to a presidential election would bring out more passions than I had bargained for. However, the fish were the true winners of the poles that day. Most of them managed to stay away from the pier, the poles, and the politics!