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The Herald Friday, July 5, 1991
Time to take a rest
After my 240-mile, three day ride to Surf City, N.C., I set up camp for two days of R&R. I enjoyed beach walking, pier fishing and neighborhood bike cruising at Topsail Island. The beach itself is impeccable, with thick, fluffy sand and an abundance of shells and sharks' teeth to be found.
The island is located north of Wilmington, and is not known well enough for all it has to offer. It is 26 miles long and perhaps a quarter mile wide at most spots. This affords both surf and inlet activities.
Centuries ago, pirates would wait in ambush behind the island and raid passing merchant ships. The merchants soon grew wise to this when they realized they could see the pirates' topsail back in the inlet. Hence, the name of the island.
Today the island is perhaps the quietest beach resort of its type. This would be a great place to retire and write a book while the surf pounds and the wind blows. A well-planned community, Topsail Beach has no water slides or carnivals. There are only houses, ranging from comfortable to the type requiring a six-figure down payment.
Surf City is a little more down to earth, with affordable entertainment at every turn. My joy during my stay was pier fishing. I found that a rod rental, pier pass and a box of shrimp cost $12. The pass and rental are good for 24 hours, and I used most of it.
The amazing thing about pier fishing in the ocean is the wide variety of critters that will take the bait. I had only been fishing a few minutes when a man came up to me and politely said I was wasting bait. He schooled me in the proper amount of shrimp to use, and versed me in the different types of fish I had already seen.
Meet Brent Wuchae from Greensboro, N.C., a man with a steady gaze and a firm handshake. He was on vacation in search of the elusive king mackerel. Brent would become my tour guide and informant during my stay on the pier. Without his help, I would have been just another dumb tourist.
Bottom fishing as I was with the rented pole is the most popular sport. With this rig I caught mullet, spots, groupers, and bluefish. The blues (not good to eat) are a bait fish for the guys at the end of the pier going for king mackerel. Early in the morning, the king guys will come running when somebody yells, "Blue." These fellows use the blues as live bait with an elaborate system of anchor lines and fighting poles, held together by standard wooden clothespins.
The king fishermen need so much equipment that they come lumbering down the pier towing a buggy full of rods, coolers, tackle and other stuff. Every buggy looks like a miniature fishing store. It must be an obsession.
Brent puts pier fishing like this: The king mackerel can range from 8 to 50 pounds, are great to eat and difficult to catch. It requires all the equipment named above.
The Spanish mackerel can be had by casting a fast-retrieving lure, much like our local bass guys do. This fish also is very good eating, and can go up to 8 pounds.
Bottom fishing is perhaps less exciting but more interesting, yielding who-knows-what. Once I caught a slender green fish with a huge mouth. I held it up and asked the guy next to me, "What is this?"
He said, "That's something you don't want." OK. After dark I had the misfortune of landing a stingray. The rays are the scourge of the pier, enough to cause a preacher to cuss. They are always murdered and dismembered, and everybody around says, "Better you than me." when somebody catches one.
When you're pier-fishing, the hours race away and you sure don't know what might happen.
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