Category Archives: commercial fishing, boat, pamilco sound, gillnetting

New Inlet

One of the first places I explored on Hatteras Island was New Inlet on Pea Island. The old remnant bridge that’s still there, was built after the storm of ’33 cut an inlet from sound to sea. As a result, traffic was interrupted on the sand road, so the state began construction of a bridge to span the troubled spot. The new inlet filled back in on it’s own, and the state halted construction before it was completed.

I used to walk out precariously on that deteriorating, unfinished bridge to catch hard crabs on baited strings. It wasn’t uncommon to come home with a few dozen nice ones. Since then, New Inlet has always brought me a feeling of wonder and tranquility.

I wasn’t the first one to get enjoyment there. Long before, there were fish camps where locals could hunt and fish for sustenance. It must have been a beautiful, bountiful outpost.

skiffOne of the first photographs that I made at New Inlet was taken in 1979 as I was testing a brand new 400mm Novoflex lens for the first time. I parked my truck on the shoulder of highway 12, stood in the bed and made 4 handheld, identical exposures to see how the lens worked. The shot later became a somewhat iconic image as the cover of Hatteras Journal, written by Jan DeBlieu.

bridgeI took a similar shot in 1982. John Herbert’s sail skiff, once again, served as a crucial element in the composition.

St. ClairBy January of 1985, the fish camp once owned by St. Clair Midgett had dropped from it’s foundation into the water. Later that same year, when Hurricane Gloria blasted through, it took what was left, completely away.

fish campIn May of 1985, I shot this smaller camp just northwest of St. Clair’s. It too was taken out by Gloria.

 

Oregon Inlet

We hear a lot about Oregon Inlet, and the bridge spanning it. Nowadays you can hardly talk about one without mentioning the other. It’s nothing new and has been an issue for a long time.

When I first came here, driving over that beautifully curved bridge across the inlet was an awesome experience, the vistas remarkable. It was sort of an environmental work of art that served a purpose, getting to and from Hatteras Island. I would eventually learn that it was a bit more than that.

trawlers

In April of 1977, while driving to Nags Head, I watched 4 trawlers coming in through the well-marked channel. There was no traffic and I had just gone over the peak of the bridge. I stopped overlooking Bodie Island spit, got out and took one shot with a 400mm lens on a fairly new Nikon F2.

aerial

In January of 1985, we had a severe cold snap. Temperatures were low enough to freeze portions of the Pamlico Sound. I was so impressed that I hired a pilot to take me up and shoot the ice flows from above. We ascended to 7,000 feet, and the view was spectacular.

bailey boy

December of that same year, I was shooting a story on commercial fishing for Outer Banks Magazine. Arrangements were made for me to spend 3 days on a trawler from Wanchese, where Captain Terry Saunders welcomed me aboard the Richard Wayne”. There were 2 days of fair weather, but when a northeaster set in on the third day, the boats decided to come in early. Crossing the bar at the mouth of the inlet was rough, and Captain Stevie Daniels maneuvered “Bailey Boy”  through, right behind us.

station

I flew during a northeaster in 1989 and made shots along Hatteras Island. There was no jetty in place at the inlet yet, and the Coast Guard Station was beginning to wash away. At the time, they were abandoning the station and moving to a newly built facility on the north side, next to the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center.

bridge

No recollections of Oregon Inlet would be complete without mentioning the October 1990 incident of a dredge taking out 400 feet of Bonner Bridge. I made this shot that December riding the ferry across the inlet when repairs were being made.

aerial '05

On an overcast September day in 2005, I went airborne with a videographer shooting a documentary on rising sea level. The section of the bridge that was taken out in 1990 is noticeable as a darker shade of gray in the pavement.

Irene

Hurricane Irene radically reshaped Oregon Inlet in 2011.

The only inlet on the east coast facing northeast, Oregon Inlet was originally formed in 1846. Since then, it has migrated over 2 miles south. Watching the area change and shift over the years continues to be fascinating. It’s a display of man’s engineering prowess in the face of some of nature’s most powerful forces. It’s also very expensive.

 

 

Soft Shell Guru

Some of my most gratifying work as a photographer has been freelance jobs for the North Carolina Sea Grant publication, Coastwatch. My work first appeared there in 1981, when it was a fledgling newsletter of just a few pages.

Living on Cape Hatteras, I shared many common interests with Sea Grant, and they began to give me some assignments. Each job was intriguing and put me in touch with some fascinating people.

One of these was Murray Bridges, a commercial crabber. Based in Colington, Bridges not only caught crabs, but he was and still is, best known for his business of producing soft shell crabs. He started Endurance Seafood in the 70’s as a family operated venture, and today at 79 years of age continues to do so. His pioneering contributions to the local soft shell crab industry are legendary.

I met Murray in May, 2001 for a Coastwatch story. He was very friendly, engaging and loved his work. These are a few of my shots using a Nikon F100 with Fujichrome slide film.

There were well over 100 tanks connected with plumbing, all for the purpose of molting crabs.

The crabs have to be attended 24 hours a day.

Peelers await to shed their shells.

Murray picked up a nice buster for me.

A pile of empty shells was evidence of past shedding.

Once packed in wet eel grass, they’re cooled and ready for shipment.

In season, they move them out by the thousands every day.

I enjoyed my visit, and went home with 4 dozen soft crabs.

Fishing with BJ

When I moved to the island decades ago, some of the first people I met were transplants from Michigan. Tim and Karen Merritt were a young married couple that had relocated to Salvo a couple of years prior to my arrival. Along with them was Tim’s long time friend, Brian Huff. They grew up with each other. Better known as BJ, he was different than many of my newfound friends in that he didn’t surf. He loved walking the beach, enjoying the place, its people, and he truly loved fishing. We became close friends.

1972 was a good year for drum fishing on the Hatteras Island Fishing Pier in Rodanthe. As a matter of fact, it was the same year that Elvin Hooper set the world record with a 90 pounder. In this photo taken by a pier employee, Tim Merritt (left) and BJ Huff (right) display their big drum, also known as channel bass. They were in excess of 50 pounds each. The pier was longer then, and the best fishing was in the worst weather.

A few years later in 1975, the locals were catching some sizable sharks, mostly late at night. It took BJ over an hour to land this hammerhead. There were some appreciative onlookers that night. They posed with BJ for this photograph. From left to right: Bruce Midgett, Larry Midgett, BJ, Butch Luke, Tim Merritt and Jimmy Hooper. The shark was cleaned and all the meat packaged. Our freezer was stocked, that is until we tried eating it. It was full of cartilage and unpalatable. As much as we didn’t want to waste any, it all had to be thrown out.

New Inlet up on Pea Island was one of our favorite spots. I used to walk out on the old bridge, and hang strings with chicken necks over the side. I always brought home a good catch of hard crabs. At one point, BJ learned where the deep holes and channels were located. He would cast sting ray grubs on to the edges and catch flounders or speckled trout. I took this photo of him casting in 1975.

BJ enjoyed fishing the waters of Pamlico Sound. Our friend Gary Bishop had a boat and took us out at Hatteras to a spot called the cobia stake. It was named for a channel marker piling near the inlet. In this photo taken around 1976, BJ reels in a nice cobia. Gary caught two. By the time we made it back home, it was getting dark. We went to the pier at Rodanthe to weigh and clean them, when I took this photograph below.

BJ and I were roommates for about 2 years. We lived in a trailer in Salvo rented from Barbara Midgett for $200 a month. It had 3 bedrooms. One for each of us, and one for my darkroom. During that time, our lives were relatively carefree. All we worried about was making enough to feed ourselves and pay the rent. BJ also had the pressure of making payments for his nice GMC pickup truck. Most of us drove vehicles that had tendencies to break down. BJ was always kind enough to let us use his dependable truck in a pinch.

March of ’78 was a cold one. We kept warm by chopping wood gathered on the beach. There were plenty of oak planks washing in back then. Note BJ’s 16 foot wooden skiff in the background. He bought the boat from Les Hooper.

Inside was warm and cozy, even when the electricity went off. We had no TV, only a KLH turntable to spin a meager record collection. We listened to jazz and blues, mostly. The parlor stove was given to me by my Aunt Jo. She had just moved out of an old house, in San Marino California, where General Patton was born. That stove was a very functional piece of history. We used a cinder block to replace the missing rear legs. The stove eventually cracked and fell apart. To replace it, BJ bought a big pot bellied stove from Les Hooper.

BJ did a lot of beach-combing. Most of the time, he’d bring home some seashells or driftwood. Sometimes the bluefish would be running, pursuing bait and other fish. One day he caught this nice trout without a fishing rod, picking it up with his bare hands, right off the beach. Photograph below was taken in 1977.

Another day in 1977, BJ found something very unusual. We had no idea what it was, and used it as a bookend for over a year. As I recall, it also made a good door stop.

My girlfriend at the time was a college student, and very curiously took it to be examined at the Smithsonian in Washington. It turned out to be a 10 to 20 thousand year old molar from a wooly mammoth, a significant find indeed.

Around 1980, BJ and I were building a saltbox in Buxton Woods for friends, Jim and Marcia Lyons. During construction the fishing got good, so Jim and BJ left for a short time and returned with a stringer of gray trout. We always ate well.

In 1980, I had been working for Alex Kotarides a few years. He owned a large bakery in Norfolk, but had an estate in Salvo. I did waterfowl hunting guide work for him in the winter. Other times, I worked odd jobs for Alex, including construction of the new house, raising ducks and geese, then a stint at commercial fishing that Spring. I got BJ to help me.

We used 3000 yards of gill net, plus had access to Alex’s small fleet of boats. We fished half the nets in shallow water near Gull Island. The other half we set in deeper water past the reef. We had good results, out catching the locals nearly every day. In this shot taken by BJ, I had just pulled in a nice red drum from the deeper water. It was a beautiful sight to behold, glowing in the submerged net below. We were fishing in a 23 foot Sea Ox at the time.

Other times we fished from a 21 foot wooden boat, called Falcon, built by Willy Austin in Avon. It had an inboard 4-cylinder Ford Pinto engine set up for marine use. It was a nice handling boat with a full keel. We loaded up with fish for a month before retiring the rig when the bull nosed skates migrated through Pamlico Sound.

That was the last fishing I did with BJ. He went on to live in Avon working construction, got a girlfriend, married her and they had a baby boy. They moved back to Michigan, and split up after a while.

I didn’t see BJ for years. He remarried, had a daughter and moved to Charlotte. He came back briefly, perhaps 20 years ago. He did some exceptional restoration work for us at the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, then returned to Charlotte.

After a prolonged absence from the island, BJ suddenly showed up at my gallery door one day just a few years ago. Expecting a gallery customer, I must have had an expression of un-recognition on my face, only to hear him say, “BJ”. I knew then, it was my good friend again.

I could tell that he missed Hatteras Island, yet still felt a close connection. He returned several more times, looking up lots of old friends. He seemed to rediscover himself. It was great to see him again. He returned Spring of 2011 and spent the weekend with me.

Back in Charlotte, he kept in touch by telephone. A pain in his shoulder caused him to see a doctor. It was cancer. I spoke to him a few more times before Hurricane Irene. The storm made our phone service go down. BJ tried to call again, but was unable to get through. I didn’t speak with BJ again. He passed away on September 6, a week after the storm. He was 61 and will be missed by many.

Thanks for the memories, BJ!





Homage to C.E. Midgett

When I made the villages of Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo my home, it didn’t take long to realize that it was also home to a cast of colorful characters. Among these native residents was Clarence Midgett, better known as “C E”. His family history goes back many generations on Hatteras, and it has been documented that they were some of the original settlers coming to the island after surviving shipwrecks centuries ago.

C E’s great-grandfather and namesake, Clarence Ezekiel Midgett was a member of the early US Coast Guard. Stationed at Chicamacomico during World War One, Midgett took part in the famous Mirlo rescue of 1918.  They saved the lives of 51 sailors from a burning British tanker that had exploded offshore after running into a German mine. C E was really proud of that legacy.

C E was also fortunate to have grown up on the island when the atmosphere was much more rural than it is today. The spaces were wide open then. The island world was their “oyster”. You could hunt, fish, surf, party and even work unencumbered. There were no crowds to get in the way. I must admit that C E was probably a part of what secured me to this area. The native folks are a unique breed, generous, mostly independent and don’t require much to get by. They still are my kind of people.

In the 70’s and 80’s, C E was a part of a crowd of locals that I used to hang out with. You could always tell when C E was around. You could hear him talking and laughing louder than anyone else. Like many of the native sons, he loved to fish, either from the pier or commercially, with nets in the sound.

Most likely, you could find C E around the creek in Rodanthe. Here he works on a skiff with his cousin Bruce Midgett (right), while D B Midgett (left) looks on. Photograph was taken 1975.

C E Midgett at the Rodanthe creek as a “Marlboro Man”, 1974.
C E sits atop a catch of big bluefish in 1974.
C E Midgett also had his moments of mischief. This time he drove this Falcon station wagon off into a ravine in Nags Head, near the present day Village Golf Links. The cops came and didn’t even give him a ticket.
Bruce Midgett (left) celebrates Midgett Day with C E in 1975, on the hood of his Ranchero.
Gerald O’Neal and Richie Austin converse in the background.
C E competes in the oyster shoot at the Old Christmas celebration in 1985.

Sadly, C E passed away on October 23rd after a prolonged illness.

Rest in peace, my friend.