Text and photos by Connie Leinbach
Blustery, stormy weather may have dampened the angling for the 34th Annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament but it did nothing to quell the camaraderie.
The 72 teams competing for the most and biggest fish faced challenging weather this year on Friday and Saturday, and it was reflected in the overall number of fish caught—77, way down from 451 last year.
“We’ve fished in a lot worse,” said Peggy Byrd, team captain of the Queen Mackerals, a women’s team from Kitty Hawk and Nags head, who were the top competitors among the women’s teams with 41 points.
The Hooligans Marauders, a team composed of men from around the region and islander Scott McNally, won overall and the men’s division with 96 points.
This tournament is a catch-and-release, and fish caught must be at least 11 inches long to receive a score. Teams, fishing in four sessions over two days, receive points for the fish sizes and numbers of fish caught within the length limits.
In four sessions over two days, the teams fish in different spots along the beach from the Lifeguard Beach to Southpoint. After expenses, proceeds from sponsorships, program ads, merchandise and raffle ticket sales are donated to various Ocracoke nonprofits.
Of all the teams, 34 caught score-able fish this year and 38 teams chalked up zeros.
The Marauders caught five score-able fish this year, the most any team caught, with McNally landing two of those.
On Thursday, all teams fought high winds and McNally caught a 26-inch puppy drum in the afternoon session.
“That’s the first drum I’ve caught on the beach in years,” he said as the judges made an official measurement. He’s been on the team for 17 years.
Bubby Boos, a member of the local team Castaways, was fishing for the first time in the tournament, but was not having much luck even though he said that drum like the rough surf.
“I caught a bag,” he said.
Barbara Jemison, a member of The Pubettes, the Howard’s Pub team, said on Thursday that their team was in a good spot but strikes were not forthcoming.
“It’s a great spot, deep and rough,” she said. “It’s drum water, but nada.”
One theory going around about the lack of fish was too many vehicles on the beach.
“I think all of these cars make vibrations that the fish hear and it scares them off,” said Melinda Sutton of the Tiderunners as she attached a “beach bomb” weight to her line. This weight has metal spikes to help it grab the bottom.
“I call it a Sputnik,” said team captain Candace Cobb, who also used one of these weights.
But Rex O’Neal, of the local O’croakers, said it was the easterly wind that hampered the results.
“You can’t pen cattle in an easterly wind,” he said.
Back in the last century, cattle roamed the island and locals would corral them for butchering.
“In this wind, you don’t even try,” O’Neal said. “But we’re not faring bad sitting here having a beverage.”
Camaraderie is the main thing.
“If we catch fish or not, we’re having fun,” said Charles Dickinson, another member of the Ocracroakers.
Though Friday morning dawned stormy and rainy, a number of teams chose not fish, but those that did fish had better luck than the day before.
“They’re catching ‘em like crazy,” said Woody Billings, tournament co-director, between sessions on Friday. Billings rides up and down the beach each session checking on the action. “The anglers are dictating it.”
A highly-coveted tournament, most teams have participated since the year after the first tournament in 1983 where a handful of local teams competed.
There are at least 20 teams on the waiting list, said Pattie Plyler, a board member who helps organize the event.
The Blue Beetles of Williamston, who placed third overall this year with 92 points, joined the tournament after that first year when it was opened to other teams.
“It was a little breezy and damp,” said John Leggett of the Blue Beetles about the two days as he watched the awards ceremony Friday night in the Community Center.
Teammate Scott Uzzell, a new team member, caught the biggest fish among the men with at 34 1/2-inch drum.
Leggett’s great aunt, Sarah Manning, founded the team decades ago and gave it its name after her car, a blue Suburban. She used to fish in the tournament while in a wheelchair.
“She had a fishing rod in one hand and a beer in the other,” Leggett said. “She loved it down here.”
Following the fishing action, stories are swapped while the Carolina Boys dish out their pig pickin’ dinner to which all are invited.
Hank Edwards, whose father was the original Carolina Boy, said his group of 11 cooked four whole hogs, 150 pounds of potatoes, 12 gallons of cole slaw and 38 pounds of black-eyed peas.
Jamie Jackson of the Ocracoke Internationals noted that his team scored zero.
“That’s why they call it ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching!’” he said.
Other results are as follows:
The Bud Light Six Packs won second place overall with 96 points.
Ashley Bahn of the Queen Mackerals won the largest fish honors with in a tie-breaker coin toss with Jean Flannigan of the Outcasters. Both caught 27 1/2-inch drums.
The Outcasters were second overall in the women’s division with 35 points, followed by third-place winners Island Girls with 29 points.
Ross Hawkins of the Crooked Hooks won the Most Fish among the men with three fish and Nancy Gianotti of the Island Girls won for the women with two fish.
Session winners were the Drag Setters, Thursday morning; The Outcasters, Thursday afternoon; The Bud Light Six Packs, Friday morning, and the Blue Beetles, Friday afternoon.