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Text and photos by Michael Lydick
It’s 10:30 at night, and I’m standing up to my waist in the high tide of the tip of South Point. Directly offshore to my left is a violent thunderstorm, whose clouds tower miles upwards into the night sky. Its lightning spawns and spreads across the eastern sky, illuminating the half dozen sullen men to my left whose bait and lines lie adjacent to my own. We silently stand in yellow-white lightening light, praying to our respective gods that our lines go tight.
It is the spring Red Drum run.
I’ve made the pilgrimage to this place for eight years. Once in the fall when these magnificent fish travel south; back in the spring when they return to spawn at the bases of rivers feeding into the Pamlico Sound.
What was once a casual curiosity has become a fundamental faith of sorts for me, driving the six and a half hours east to the Mecca of these migrating monsters.
I blame the photos. Yellowed historic prints of locals standing next to drum as tall as them. Photos from Facebook. Smiling people with citation-sized fish (40 plus inches.)
Studying them, I’m struck with jealousy and angst. I want to know what they all knew. Stand where they stood and see the swirls in the surf above my own hook.
I am learning. I interrogate Alan Sutton, Kristin Chatham and Ken DeBarth at Tradewinds Tackle, quickly gleaning what I can. I try to make sense of it when Alan tells me to “fish where there are no people.” I nod and pretend to understand.
I do know new things. The differences between triangle, satellite and frog’s tongue sinkers; how to tie my shock leader to my monofilament with a modified Albright knot.
I know to keep my hands free from soapy scents. What Alan means when he says, “fishy people catch fish.” There is so much to learn. It’s hard.
I go out at low tide and study the shoreline. I have a napkin scribble sketch from Alan, as I scan left and right and out eastwards into the bars and breaker for structure. I’m starting to see “it.” Not like the people in the photos, yet. It’s coming, though.
I stalk the drum up and down the beach at Ramps 63, 65, 70 and 72. I’ve put hopeful lines into each of their waters.
I’m rewarded with a spiny dog fish, a large skate, and a small shark, and hours of quiet meditation and inside conversations. It was my 50th birthday last week.
I return to the Point on my last night. I take my 12-foot Penn Battalion rod and walk out into the same lightning water I was baptized in on night one.
Out on the bar, up to my ankles, my calves, my thighs, my hips. The birds are grey, sky diving 100 yards out in the frothy chop, and I see “it.” Know.
I heave my oily cut mullet out to the boiling water. My rod bows over, and my drag is pulling out and a smile spreads unconstrained left to right across my face. A tight line. He is strong and angry.
And he is beautiful. Not quite a citation, but he’s very heavy in my tired arms.
Covered in Jurassic scales the size of nickels, golden and spotted with a bright blue tail, here in the holy waters of this church, I take my photo and give him back to the sea.
As he leaves, I warn him I am learning and will be waiting in the fall when he returns, each of us a little wiser.