By Michael Lydick
5:36 a.m., Seattle time. I’m sitting three feet from the guide, who is staring intently at the digital silhouettes of King Salmon dancing 30 feet below our small boat. I’m staring at the tip of my pole, whose barbless hook is covered with pink roe below us in the glacial lake’s black depths. The migrating fish find solace in the deeper cool waters here as they travel north up the Columbia River to spawn.
At least 50 other boats filled with anglers float above them on the surface. Fish and fishermen together at the appointed time. As the half-full October moon falls below the Olympic Mountains, I see my breath crisply rise.
I see the sky exploding — oranges, purples and pinks to the east.
I see my pole tip bounce ever so softly down to the giants below and I whip the pole up and reel. “REEL, REEL, REEL!” yells the guide and we pray and our hearts race as the net descends and captures and raises the dripping fish, dropping it into my waiting arms.
8:50 p.m., Ocracoke time. My Xterra is 25 feet from the Atlantic Ocean. Now 3,000 miles to the east of Seattle, under full hunter’s moon.
A mile behind me, the Red Drum are schooling on the reef in the sound, gorging on the thick black schools of mullet that saturate the waters and the waves before me. The bulls — massive 40- and 50-inch fish — have been spawning in the sound and are about to turn from South Point into the ocean.
Hundreds of fishermen gather with me along the shore in their own trucks. Making the same quiet bargains with God. Praying for a bent pole and a good hook set.
Above me, Venus and Jupiter shine through the bright sky down to the illuminated sand. I am empty, focused entirely on the Penn Prevail 12-foot rod in my hands. Some 80 yards out, a live finger mullet is bound to my hook just behind its dorsal fin.
Bump. Bump. Bump. BUMP, BUMP, BUMP.
I reel, reel, reel, watching the drag pull out from the Penn Squall reel.
I rise from my chair, reeling, reeling; tip up tension; keep tension reel down; pull up; don’t jerk it; let the fish get tired and come when it’s ready. When it’s ready, tip up, reel down!
Headlamp on as I reel and thousands of mullet dance in the waves around the fish as I pull him over the bar into the surf.
The mullets shine like diamonds, reflecting the moonlight and the flashlight and the starlight as I pull my prize onto dry sand.
It is fall and I am here, and it is a perfect moment.
It is a deep and special thing, this autumnal homecoming.
To meet up with these monsters out in — and in front of — the deep dark waters. I am a part of it all. A tradition that transcends the masters of my modernity.
In the dead of winter, under the summer sun, I am dreaming of cast nets and migrating mullet and moons. Cold fronts and warm waders. Ready to return, with no desire to leave.
Mike Lydick is an avid fisherman and occasional contributor to the Ocracoke Observer.