One of more than 70 fishing teams in the annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament that is canceled for this year. Photo: C. Leinbach

By Peter Vankevich

Not that it was unexpected, but it’s sad, nevertheless. Woody Billings announced on Tuesday that the 37th Annual Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament (OISFT) scheduled to kick off April 29 is officially canceled.

Billings cited many reasons –those affecting us all — coming from the COVID-19 pandemic for which Gov. Roy Cooper issued a state of emergency March 10.

“Not only do we not want to worry about the health of all people involved, there is the local aspect of bringing over 500 people to the Island and risking every one’s health,” Billings wrote on the OIFST Facebook page.  “We are going through a very tough time in America, and Ocracoke especially, because we on Ocracoke are dealing with two 100-year events in a period of less than seven months. Please keep Ocracoke in your prayers, We need them more than ever.” 

Ocracoke is currently closed to visitors and off-island residents who are not making critical repairs to their properties, and is uncertain as to whether it will be reopened by the surf fishing tourney’s scheduled dates of April 29 to May 1.

This is the first cancellation in its 36-year history. “We had a partial, though, in 2004 when a tropical storm struck, that shut down the second day,” Billings said this morning

Billings is head judge and, along with Richard Perkins, is co-chair of this popular catch-and-release tournament.

Woody Billings, left, announces tournament winners at the 2019 event. He is aided by Pattie Johnson Plyler and two of the Fish Lips. Photo: C. Leinbach

Last year, a tournament record was set with 70 of the 72 teams catching a total of 865 scoreable fish, the most ever for a total score of 2,319 points during the two-day competition.

As anyone with even the remotest familiarity with fishing, knows there are good days and bad ones. In 2017, only 79 fish were caught as the anglers battled high winds and pulled in more seaweed than fish.

Teams are spread along the southern part of Ocracoke’s world-famous beach.

Ask folks what OISFT stands for and many will say Ocracoke Island Surf Fishing Tournament and they would be wrong. The “I” is for invitational and there is a long waiting list to get in. Teams, many into second and even third generations, come back year after year, including anglers from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia.

Colorful and creative team names and dress are part of the fun: Fish-A-Ritas, Beach Drummers, Misfit Mermaids, Pheasant Pluckers and The Pubettes of Ocracoke are some of the teams.

Many of the teams have their own logos. Photo: C. Leinbach

Even if the event is invitational, the awards party and free barbecue meals on early Friday evening are open to the public and everyone shares in the camaraderie and “better luck next year” commiserations.

The OISFT will be sorely missed by the Ocracoke community this spring. In addition to the fun and bringing folks to the island, the proceeds are donated to Ocracoke nonprofits and for scholarships to some of Ocracoke School’s graduating seniors.


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