Off the Porch: Do you still have the fire in your belly?

Nov. 30, 2012 @ 05:13 PM

It’s a tough thing to leave a warm bed and go out into harsh conditions. My watch reported a time of 10:20 p.m. and it was time for me to go out and fish. I’d been sleeping since 7 p.m. and now it was time to fish. My decision was based on what had happened about 12 hours earlier, and I really thought this might be the best fishing conditions of the trip. I was on South Core Banks Island, an uninhabited, non-electrified island off the little towns of Davis, Ottway, and Betty, North Carolina.
Ten hours earlier, on a rising tide, I’d landed a 46” red drum. The tide was so low that I had to wait for a big wave to wash him across the outer bar, some 30 yards out. As far as I know, he was the largest fish caught on the island last week and I wanted another one. My decision to rise and fish at almost midnight was based on the low tide. Due to recent wind conditions, there wasn’t much drum water and it was mostly accessible to me, with my limited casting distance, at low tide.
I rose and turned on the stove to heat the frigid camper to dress. Donning moleskin pants, an undershirt, a shirt, a sweater, and a fleece, I then put on my waders over tall wool socks. I topped off the outfit with a slicker to keep the wind out, pulled a gaiter around my neck and ventured out. Clipping a sinker and sticking a chunk of mullet on the hook, I walked out of the lee of the truck into the wind.
It was only 32 degrees but the wind was blowing between 15 and 20 knots. This is good for drum because it generates current and brings in big water, but, as I get older, I get more cold natured. I made my cast and by the time I got back to the lee of the truck, my bare hands were numb with cold.
There was a time when I’d have never thought twice of this level of discomfort. I was once a duck hunter and duck hunting can be brutally uncomfortable. As I sat in the lee of the truck, I thought of nights on another point, the one at Hatteras, in December, not November, fishing for stripers. I remembered standing in ankle deep water with other guys for about three hours during high tide, and catching a few ocean run stripers. It was really cold then, colder than now, but I just didn’t mind.
It really is about whether or not you’re willing to endure that makes the difference. The great T. E. Lawrence, the real Lawrence of Arabia, was renowned for his ability to endure pain and discomfort. As a demonstration of this, he would hold his finger over a candle to demonstrate his toughness to sheiks he was trying to unify in the wilds of Iraq and Iran during World War I. Later, he was asked how he could do this and, didn’t it hurt. His response was, “It’s not about whether or not it hurts, it’s about whether or not, you mind.”
About 15 minutes into my first cycle of fresh bait and a cast, I checked my line with my light. It was down the beach at a considerable angle. My first thought was, this is good since it indicates current, which brings big drum into the beach. I began to retrieve the line for a fresh bait and the next cast when I realized why the line was so close to shore; grass.
Under certain fishing conditions, the current brings grass, sticks and other jetsam up on the beach. This is great for shell hunters and bad for anglers. I had a peck bucket of grass on my sinker and hook, effectively burying it and making catching a fish impossible since he couldn’t find the bait in the brush pile.
When I was younger, this would have been disappointing. I’d have been irritated by the difficulty and probably, I’d have fished on, just leaving the line out for a few minutes before bringing it in and cleaning off the trash. Tonight, I was relieved. I had a good excuse to go back to a warm camper and go back to sleep.
A few minutes later, I snuggled against my wife, Cherie, under blankets and thought of the way I’ve changed. I realized that, now that I’m older, I no longer have the fire in my belly that propelled me to the Point of Hatteras on those cold December nights or out to those duck spots in the predawn chill of January.
Fishing or hunting in uncomfortable conditions was just part of the game; sometimes, it was part of the fun to endure discomfort and joke about it. I was young then and I had the drive to push myself to the limit. I remembered the conversations with the grey old men who abstained from what I was doing, but told me stories of their times hunting and fishing in tough conditions. I realized, as I lay in a warm camper bed, that I am now one of those grey old men.
I reconciled myself by remembering the icy rides to duck holes at 2 a.m. I remembered the day Joe Clodfelter and I deer hunted when the high for the day was 19 degrees. I thought of a day in January, just below Pea Island, wading across to the outer bar to catch stripers with a five knot current and twenty knot north winds. I thought of shooting the National Rifle Championships in 1988 when they stopped the matches several times to bring heat stroke victims out of the pits. I decided that maybe, I’ve paid my dues, I’ve caught my big fish in tough conditions, shot my hard earned ducks, and won my medals, drenched in sweat in a leather shooting coat.
I rolled over and stretched out under the blankets. OK, so maybe the fire in my belly is now just glowing coals. At one time it burned hot and I cooked up a full lifetime of memories with that heat. Let the younger guys blaze and make their own memories and, someday, they’ll lay sleep while the younger guys fish.
On Sunday, Cherie and I drove 14 miles up the beach to the Ranger Camp. We discarded our trash, bought some ice, and took showers in the bathhouse. There were four young guys there and we talked of fishing. I remembered seeing them, fishing on the other side of the point from me that morning. They asked how I was doing and I mentioned the big drum. “Was that you? We heard a guy had caught a monster drum. Man, we were watching you cast. Did you take casting lessons? You throw that thing a mile.” They were impressed and asked what bait I used, how I decided to fish there, and finished with questions about tackle and casting.
I tried to appear modest. Inside, I felt like I’d just won a medal. These young guys were wishing they’d done what I had done. Maybe, I’m not washed up, yet. Maybe I still have what it takes along with the wisdom to know when to stay under the blankets.

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High Point Builders support veterans
High Point Area Builders Association announced  this week they will be the Tower Sponsor for the upcoming  Enduring Gratitude Veteran’s Event on Feb. 2, 2013. Joe Nottoli, outgoing president of the association said, "We are proud we have the opportunity to give back to those who have served and have given so much of themselves to us all. We consider this a great privilege." The event will bring 60 veterans to Beaver Pond Sporting Club for a memorable day outdoors as an expression of gratitude for veteran’s sacrifices in defending our country’s freedoms. They will shoot clay targets and other shooting events, participate in a pheasant hunt, enjoy fishing the lake, and have a great lunch with drawings and door prizes. Enduring Gratitude is a 501c3 non-profit organization set up to provide outdoor opportunities to veterans at no cost. You can get involved by going to enduringgratitude.org. You or your group can sponsor a veteran for an event for $300. Event sponsorships are still available as well.