Text and photos by Connie Leinbach
Serious fun could be the catch words for the annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament here last Thursday and Friday.
More than 420 anglers in 71 teams came to Ocracoke to test their skills in capturing the top trophy in this event in its 32nd year.
“Hard work and camaraderie,” said Ann Green of the women’s team the Showstoppers during the Friday night awards event. The team was the top women’s team, winners of the third session and fourth overall in the tournament.
Virginia Perlot of the team also won the most fish award with three fish, and another team member Karen Busciglio, caught the largest fish for women with an 18 ¾ inch bluefish.
“Keep the lines in the water,” Green continued about their efforts. “Try different baits and rigs. We’re very serious, but we have a lot of fun.”
The Delaware Mobile Surf Fishermen were the tournament winners with 89 points. It was their first championship, and they also won the second session.
The North Carolina Beach Buggy Association of Nags Head was second with 60 points as well as fourth session winner, and Team Advanced Fishing of Rodanthe was third with 51 points.
The tournament is catch-and-release, and all fish caught are measured by the 30 volunteer judges stationed on the beach during the four fishing sessions over two days. Fish that reach or exceed the minimum length are awarded points.
Teams draw for stations in each session and line the beach from around Ramp 67 to Southpoint.
Bill Smith of the NC Beach Buggy Association caught the largest fish in the men’s category and overall with a 30 ¼ inch drum caught in the last session Friday afternoon when the wind picked up and very few teams were catching anything.
“I’m trying to figure out what rig to put on next because nothing’s working,” said Rich Hedinberg of the Merchantville (NJ) Fishing Club as he took a break from the wind Friday afternoon.
His team, however, was the first-place winner for the first session Thursday morning with 19 points.
Jimmy Bowen, co-owner of Jason’s Restaurant and a member of the Pony Island Anglers, said that’s because Merchantville were in the #1 station, which is at Southpoint.
“That’s the honey hole for fishing on the island,” Bowen said as he studied the results board Friday evening during the pig pickin’ dinner provided by the Carolina Boys. “Everyone who is in that spot catches fish.”
The Carolina Boys have been supplying the tournament with barbeque pork and sausages since the event began, said Woody Billings, event co-chairman and head judge.
The Fish Lips, a colorful women’s team from Nags Head, order all the merchandise and awards and decorate the Community Center. And while they don’t always get out on the beach and fish, they dress in a theme every year for the party. This year, they arrived at the party attired as nuns.
“We wanted to do something different this year,” said Rae Eley of the team and who also is a tournament board member.
Despite Friday afternoon’s wind, Billings was happy with this year’s tournament.
“If that wind had been down there would have been better fishing,” Billings said about the rain forecast for Friday afternoon. “But the weather held and we had great support from the community and our sponsors,” he said.
Friday’s wind reflected in the low number of fish caught, which was 40 for that session. Friday morning, 113 fish were caught with 69 Thursday morning and 81 Thursday afternoon.
Second-place women’s team was the Fish Tales with 20 points, and third place was Sam & Omie’s Different Drummers with 19 points.
Stan Steely of Team Advanced Fishing had the most fish caught among the men with 10 fish.
Total fish caught were 303 for 1,035 points. Last year, 399 fish were caught for 1,394 points.
After expenses, proceeds of the tournament are donated to Ocracoke charities. Last year’s tournament yielded $7,500 in local donations to Ocracoke Child Care, the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department, Ocracats, Ocracoke Youth Center, Ocracoke School: Sigma Willis Memorial Scholarship, Ocracoke Girl and Boy Scouts, Ocracoke Athletic Booster Club, Ocracoke United Methodist Church and Ocracoke Assembly of God.