As a parent of two great kids (young adults now), a public school teacher for three decades and someone who, believe it or not, was a child himself at one time, I think I have learned a thing or two from youngsters over the years.
One of those things is that you don’t have to hit three home runs in a ball game for it to be a really good game. Sometimes just being on the field with your buddies on a warm summer evening can be enough, especially if a cute little girl at the concession stand gives you a wink.
That analogy may seem a little far-fetched, but it’s something a lot of outdoorsmen could learn from. Some of the most memorable days I’ve ever spent on the water or in the woods have been ones when I came home empty-handed.
I vividly recollect a winter morning I spent in a brush blind on the south shore of the Pamlico River. I may have gotten one or two ducks but the weight of my game bag is not what makes the day stand out.
The ducks didn’t come flocking to the decoys, as all hunters wish they would, but something else really neat did happen. As the morning wore on, I became aware of hounds baying in the distance, gradually heading in my direction.
Suddenly there was a swishing sound in the reeds behind me and a whitetail doe came slipping by no more than a couple of yards from where I sat. I could hear her breathing and see small tufts of marsh grass clinging to her umber coat.
The deer eased down to the water’s edge and paused, turning to look back in the direction of the dogs’ approach. She stood there for several moments, so close I could have reached out and tapped her with my shotgun barrel, and then casually
waded out into the middle of my decoys. Very deliberately she maneuvered through the blocks parallel to the shore, somehow avoiding getting tangled in the decoy lines. About twenty yards down, she headed back toward land and, after pausing again as if to make sure her tracks were covered, quietly disappeared into the dense vegetation.
About five minutes later a small pack of Walker hounds came through the brush, their noses to the ground, baying and yelping as they ran. When they reached the river, the dogs stopped, wandered around for a few minutes with puzzled looks as they sniffed the ground, and then collected themselves and started back the way they had come. I could almost imagine I heard a chuckle from down the shore where the deer had gone.
While the memory of a sack-load of ducks would have faded in short order, the image of that beautiful doe deer standing close enough to touch and then giving her pursuers the slip, has remained with me a long time. So have the particulars of a very special day spent on the cobalt ocean waters off Cape Lookout. It was an outing from which I clearly remember coming home with nothing in the cooler, but one that has rocked me to sleep many nights.
It was a beautiful fall day – sunny, mild – with just enough nip in the air to make you realize cooler days were coming. An easterly breeze laid the waves down and gave the translucent ocean a surreal character. While their mom worked, Adam (6) and Kristen (8) took advantage of a school holiday to venture out with their dad for some fishing and adventure. Putting in at Harkers Island, we headed out and began trolling off Shackleford Banks.
The kids had spent time in the boat since they were big enough to walk (actually before then) and relished time outside the inlets which, to them, was like a voyage to the South Seas. As we slowly motored down the beach there were dolphins breaching nearby, some family banter and plenty of snacks to keep us all occupied. But the fish just weren’t cooperating and after awhile it seemed a change in plan was called for.
Approaching Beaufort Inlet, it occurred to me that Artificial Reef 315 lay about three miles due south and might have a mackerel or something else hanging around. In any case, it was a good day for an easy cruise to what the youngsters would consider exotic waters.
Changing our heading, I gave Kristen a quick course in reading a compass and instructed her to keep it on 260 degrees. She had to stand up to steer but manned the wheel with the focus of a seasoned mariner. Adam’s job was to sit facing the stern, watch the rods and, if he saw one bend sharply, holler out. My role was to recline in a comfortable padded seat and give my eyes a rest as the boat slowly rolled across the waves.
My repose was disturbed by the First Mate yelling, “Dad, dad, dad – we got one!”
Jerking upward, I looked at the rods and noted they were still erect – no bend.
Explaining to Adam that the lure might have just hit some grass, I settled back to continue my nap. A few minutes later, I was roused by another “fish alarm.” Again nothing was happening and I very patiently explained again that, if a fish did hit, a rod would make a severe bend and there’d be no question that he was there.
About the time I got settled back down and closed my eyes, that’s exactly what happened. This time, when Adam yelled out, I glanced up and saw one of the light trolling rods doubled over and line stripping off at a quick clip. Shouting for Kristen to bring the throttle back to neutral, I began fighting what felt like a good-size fish. Without being told, Adam grabbed a landing net and stood by. After what seemed at the time like a lengthy struggle, a long, silvery form was brought alongside.
With a little help from Dad, Adam netted and brought aboard a very healthy false albacore – the biggest one I – we - have ever caught. After admiring it, we gave it its freedom.
Sure, it wasn’t a blue marlin and there weren’t a lot of them, but that one fish – at that moment, in that place, caught with all of us involved – produced a memory that I’ll cherish forever. To me and the kids, it was worth way more than a cooler-
full of anything else. That’s the way to measure a good day outdoors.
Ed Wall can be reached at email@example.com or 252-671- 3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com