Monday, July 14, 2014

Salty Memories Part 2 - The Pier Years

If you haven't had a chance to read Salty Memories Part 1 - The Beginnings, please take the time to click the link and read it. This post picks up where I left off in Part 1.

At the end of Salty Memories Part 1, I made mention of a chance encounter on a pier at Oak Island that changed the way I would saltwater fish. This encounter happened at the Long Beach Pier, named for the town of Long Beach that merged with Yaupon Beach in 1999 to form the Town of Oak Island. Dad and I took a walk on the pier early one morning while we were at the island on vacation, and happened to see several people catching some nice fish which we found out were spotted seatrout, or speckled trout as they were sometimes known. These fish were  bigger than anything I had managed to catch in the surf with shrimp and bloodworms, and I wanted to find out more about these fish and how to catch them.

Oak Island Pier
My previous experiences pier fishing had led me to believe that I was just as well off surf fishing, because I caught the same small spot and whiting from the pier that I did in the surf, and didn't have to pay anything to do it. What I didn't know at the time was that the true value of a pier ticket was access to fish that I couldn't catch from the surf as easily, and that it was my choice of tactics and bait that had limited my success on the pier in the past. The fishermen I saw that morning were mainly catching trout, but I also saw the occasional bluefish and Spanish mackerel brought onto the pier. All of these fish were species that I hadn't caught before, and so I began talking to some of the fishermen and asking a few questions to find out what I needed to do to have the kind of success they were having. One gentleman was nice enough to show me that the fish were being caught on live shrimp, and also showed me how to tie a basic rig to fish the shrimp for trout. Armed with this new knowledge, I decided to buy a pier ticket the next morning and try my luck.

Yaupon/Oak Island Pier
I don't remember catching any trout on that first attempt, but some of the local pier fishermen helped me out tremendously by showing me how to hook the shrimp, how to tie my own bottom rigs, and other tips about tackle that would help me out in the future. I was also shocked to learn just how expensive live shrimp were to purchase. If my memory is correct, live shrimp at the time were somewhere around $8 - $10 a dozen, depending on where you bought them, and this was 14 or 15 years ago! I knew that if I did very much trout fishing, I was going to have to find out where to catch my own shrimp like most of the regular fishermen did. Once again, the friendly fishermen that I met on the pier came to my rescue, and shared a few publicly accessible spots on the island where shrimp could be caught with a cast net.

The Crew at Oak Island - 2008
The next summer marked my graduation from high school, and a good friend and I decided that we were going to take a trip down to the coast to do some fishing after graduation. I was fortunate enough to have some relatives that had a mobile home on Oak Island that they used for a vacation home, and they graciously allowed two broke kids to stay there for a week and do some fishing. This was the first time that I had any real success pier fishing, and we caught trout on live shrimp, and bluefish and Spanish mackerel on Gotcha plugs. We ate bologna sandwiches if we couldn't catch enough fish for dinner, and even one day cleaned a bunch of shrimp that we caught in the cast net and made fried shrimp for lunch. All things considered, we lived like kings for the week.

The Homemade Pier Cart
This marked the beginning of a series of trips that would last for several years, and that grew in the number of participants. It started out the first few years just being two of us, but as some of our close friends heard about the success we were having they asked to join in, and the last few years we all made the trip there were five of us that went down to Oak Island for a week to fish. By this time we all were out of college and working, so we started renting a house for the week and were able to afford to eat more than just bologna sandwiches. The trip took on some traditions of its own, such as not buying ice for the fish cooler until the first keeper was landed, and a certain Hardee's restaurant that was the only place on the way down that we would stop for a biscuit for breakfast. We even used a little bit of redneck engineering to turn a lawn cart into a pier cart complete with rod holders for ten rods, thanks to some hose clamps and PVC pipe. It seemed like it weighed a ton, but it did the job for us for several years.

Henry
Our first few years, we fished off of the Long Beach Pier, but when the pier was closed due to being sold we moved up the island and spent the last few years of the trip fishing on the former Yaupon Pier, now named the Oak Island Pier after its purchase by the town of Oak Island. There was a year in between the closing of Long Beach Pier and the opening of Oak Island pier where we fished from the other pier on the island, Ocean Crest Pier. We had good luck at all three piers, but wound up at Oak Island because that's where most of the fishermen we had come to know on Long Beach Pier wound up going after it closed. Over the years we got to know several of the locals, not the least of whom was Henry, the unofficial mascot of the Yaupon/Oak Island Pier. Henry was a snowy egret who made the pier home, and was the only egret I've ever seen on the island who didn't seem the slightest bit afraid of people. He would fly over to the pier in the morning, and spend time making the rounds and getting fed by the fishermen. Henry wasn't above helping himself if you happened to leave the lid open on your bait bucket either. We always made sure to give Henry a shrimp or two for good luck.

Trout, Pompano, and Spanish Mackerel
These trips lasted for several summers, and were always the highlight of the summer for us. The last trip we all made together was in 2010, and after that marriages and children and life in general seemed to prevent everyone from being able to get together for a week. We all still keep in close touch and even occasionally fish together, but we've not been to the beach together since. Some of my friends still make it down to the island every year, and I will occasionally get a call or a picture message on my phone of some nice trout or flounder. I'm glad that I was able to share a place that I enjoyed with some good friends, and now some of them take their own families to the island. For several years I was lucky enough to make two trips to the island every summer, once with the fishing crew and usually again in late summer with my family. I hadn't been down to the coast since a family trip in 2010, so when my wife and I got the opportunity to go over the July 4th holiday with my Dad I was looking forward to seeing how things might have changed in four year's time.

To be continued.....

- Joseph

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Fruits of Our Labor

Corn Stalks
It's summertime once again, and I spend at least a part of almost every day working in our garden. It's one of my favorite summer activities, and its always exciting when the vegetables begin to ripen and can be harvested. Soon it will be time to can green beans and make pickles. The corn will be ready to pick and freeze, and ripening tomatoes mean tomato sandwiches for lunch. The garden gives me an outlet for my outdoor energies on the days when fishing is out of the question, and serves to keep me occupied during my summer break from teaching.

Potatoes
This year's garden has so far yielded Georgia sweet onions and Red Pontiac potatoes, along with several cucumbers and a lone squash. Our squash and zucchini vines fell victim to squash bugs, and were wiped out before they had a chance to bear much fruit. I was surprised, because the first few years we had a garden the squash bugs and squash vine borers weren't a problem. I'm going to have to be more diligent in future years to make sure these pests don't become a problem again. The most disappointing thing about losing our squash and zucchini will be the lack of fried squash and homemade zucchini relish in our house this summer. Another loss from the garden earlier this year was our cabbage and broccoli plants. Judging from the tracks left behind, these fell victim to the deer that call the woods behind our house home. I was hoping to attempt homemade sauerkraut this year, but the deer decided that fresh cabbage was on the menu and didn't leave me any to experiment with.
Cucumber

The rest of the garden, minus the onions, potatoes, cabbage, and broccoli, was planted later this year than in years past. Normally I try to plant our garden soon after April 15, our normal frost free date, but some unusually cold weather caused me to delay planting until close to May 1. So far, this hasn't seemed to have a negative affect on our garden since we've been lucky enough to have fairly frequent rain showers. The only difference I've really noticed is that of course planting two weeks later has caused everything to ripen about two weeks later.

Tomatoes
Charleston Gray Watermelon


One thing that has me excited about this year's garden is our watermelon vines. For some reason, my attempts at growing watermelons the past few years have been less than stellar. The watermelons seem to stop growing and ripen while still very small, even though I planted a variety that was supposed to produce large melons. This year I'm trying a couple new things with the melons, planting a different variety  and also changing the location of them in the garden. So far, our watermelon vines seem to be much more vigorous, and the melons are growing at a faster rate than I've seen in previous years. I don't want to declare it a success yet, but I'm hopefully optimistic about this year's crop.

Time will tell what this year's garden will produce for us, but the thoughts of fresh vegetables  make all the hours spend pulling weeds and picking beans worth every minute. This winter, the corn in the freezer and the canned green beans will serve as a taste of the summer gone by, and give me a reason to till the ground and plant more seeds come spring.

- Joseph

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Salty Memories Part 1 - The Beginnings

I want to dedicate this series of blog posts to the memory of my mother, Betsy Hord, who lost her battle with cancer on July 13, 2011. This was one of her favorite places in the world, and I can only hope that Heaven has it's own version of Oak Island that Mom can enjoy. This is part one of  a series of blog posts that will reflect on Oak Island, NC and some fond memories I have of it. These posts were inspired by a trip that I took with my wife and father over the July 4th holiday weekend, and the more I thought about all of the memories associated with this particular place, the more I felt led to write about it. I am planning for this to be a series of three posts. The pictures in these posts will mainly be a combination of ones I've taken over the years, and some from my wife (who is a much better photographer than I am).   Thanks for indulging me in a trip down memory lane. 

- Joseph
Mom and Dad on the Southport- Fort Fisher Ferry

It all began with a last minute decision to go somewhere for the July 4th holiday weekend, and a phone call from my Dad. He suggested that he, my wife Trina, and I all go somewhere to take advantage of Trina having Friday off for the Fourth of July. We talked over a few different ideas, and finally settled on trying to find a place near Southport and Oak Island so we could attend the NC Fourth of July Festival that is held at the Southport Waterfront each year. Luckily we were able to get the last room left at a hotel about 20 minutes away, since everything in Southport and on the island itself was full. Before I talk about this past weekend however, I'd like to go back a few years to the beginnings of my outdoor obsession and the role that Oak Island played in this.

The Beginning
Oak Island has been a place that my family has vacationed at for as long as I have been alive. My mother's family had been vacationing on the island since my mom was a little girl, and two of my grandmother's brothers and their wives had houses on the island, along with other cousins and kinfolks of my grandmother. We would always combine a trip to the beach with visiting relatives that we only got to see a few times a year at most, and this made a trip down to the island special in itself. My earliest memories of the island are pretty fuzzy, however there is one memory that is clear in my mind. I remember Dad telling me once we got down there that he was going to take me fishing. I was probably 3 or 4 years old, but I can distinctly remember that bag of bait shrimp sitting in an old yellow refrigerator in the beach house, and the anticipation I had of the next day's fishing trip to the surf.

I'm not exactly sure how old I was at the time, but I must have been pretty young because I remember having to have Dad help me with casting the rod, and letting me know when I had a bite and how to reel in the fish. My grandparents were down there with us, and it was one of my grandfather's fishing rods that I was using. Everybody made a big deal out of my first fish, which taking my best guess from looking at the old picture was a pompano. I'm not sure looking back why I had never been fishing before that trip to the beach, but that first fish had me hooked for life. I couldn't tell you much else about that year at the beach. I don't know what else I did, or where we went, but there are two things I remember very vividly - a bag of shrimp and the feel of that fish tugging on my line.

Oak Island Surf
As the years went on, we took a family trip down to the island almost every summer. As I got older, I would spend the majority of my time at the beach surf fishing and catching small pompano, spot, and whiting, with the occasional small shark thrown in to keep things exciting. I graduated from bait shrimp to bloodworms, and I used to know every place on and around the island that sold them and who had the best price for them. It was always a little exciting to fish with bloodworms, because they had a head with pincher-type jaws and could bite you if you weren't careful. Any time we were at the beach and weren't doing something as a family, I was on the sand with a surf rod trying to catch fish. I spent a lot of time freshwater fishing, but I always looked forward to our beach trips because I knew that for a week, I could fish almost every day without having to worry about where to go or who was going to take me. The Atlantic Ocean would be right out our door, and to me it seemed absolutely full of wonderous possibilites.

There were always other things to do besides fishing at Oak Island, and I enjoyed swimming and playing in the waves, and riding the ferry from Southport to Fort Fisher to visit the NC Aquarium. Dad and I would walk the beach at night with flashlights and look for ghost crabs and other wildlife, and there were always the shore birds to watch and try to identify. Even as a child, I had a fasinaction with nature and loved discovering new things. Mom and Dad bought me a nature guide for the Carolina coast, and I would take it with me each year and spend time reading it to see what types of birds, fish, and other animals were around us. Another activity that Dad and I both enjoyed was walking on the piers on the island and talking to the fishermen. It was a chance encounter on one of these piers that would change the way I fished at the island and open up a whole new chapter in my fishing life.

To be continued......

- Joseph

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Perseverance

It's been way too long since I've taken the time to sit down and write on this blog, and I feel bad for neglecting it. I have occasionally updated the blog's Facebook page with outdoor happenings, but this little corner of the Internet has sat quiet since December. There's several things I plan to write about in the next few weeks, and I hope you will indulge me by letting me look back over the last six months or so and catch things up around here. To start with, I wanted to write about a trip my wife and I made last week, and the frustrations (and rewards) of fishing a new spot.

Lake Ruth Ann, Small Country Campground, Louisa, VA
Last week the 2nd anniversary of this blog came and went without a mention on here, mainly because I was on a family vacation trip in Louisa, Virginia. My wife and I were staying with her extended family at the Small Country Campground, and visiting with people we only get to see a few times a year since the majority of her family live in Pennsylvania. We actually stayed in what was called the Manor House, which was built around a pre-Civil War era log cabin. What had me excited about the trip was finding out that the campground sat on the edge of a 25 acre private lake, and that it was open for fishing by anyone staying in the campground. After hitting the Internet to do a little research, I found out that it was called Lake Ruth Ann, and that it contained largemouth bass, bluegill, black and white crappie, and catfish. I was a little apprehensive about my chances of catching anything, because I had no idea if the lake was heavily fished or even fished out, but I decided to throw lots of fishing gear in the car for the trip.

Small Bluegill With Lily Pads in the Background
I packed my 8 wt flyrod along with my vest and fly boxes with the intentions of doing a good bit of flyfishing for both bass and panfish, and I also packed a baitcaster and spinning rod for bass, and an ultralight spinning rod for the panfish in the lake. I considered taking along some catfish gear, but decided that I already had enough fishing equipment to keep up with and find a place for in the car. I wanted to be prepared for almost anything because although flyfishing was my intention, I really wanted to be able to catch a few fish if the flyrod didn't work out. When we arrived on Saturday afternoon, I grabbed the ultralight and a few spinners and headed down to the lake to check things out. What caught me off guard about this lake were all the small lily pads lining the shore and going almost unbroken all the way around the lake. These lily pads extended from the shore out about 20 - 30 feet depending on the area of the lake. There were some spots of open water around the banks, but the majority of the edges were completely covered.

Crappie from the first day
I picked one of the relatively open areas along the bank and made a few casts with a black and gold Rooster Tail spinner, and managed a nice black crappie and a small bluegill. I figured that this was a good sign, especially since I only had a few minutes of fishing time between unpacking and dark. The biggest challenge that I could see to flyfishing this lake was going to be finding enough open water to work a popper or streamer without tangling in the lily pads. I decided that since I had a week to figure it out I wouldn't worry too much about it on the first day. With a few fish caught, I headed back to the house for the night with a head full of plans about the week to come. I figured the next day I would get serious about trying to catch a few bass, especially since talking to a few other fishermen around the lake revealed that people were catching bass on a fairly regular basis, and one young fisherman told me he had caught a nice bass the day before we arrived. I had a vest full of flies and a large tackle box full of all kinds of bass lures, and I thought I had the situation well in hand. Unfortunately I would find reality to be an entirely different situation.

The next day found me down at the lake with a spinning rod in hand rigged up with a plastic frog imitation rigged weedless. I figured that with the challenge of fishing the lily pads and the amount of bullfrogs I had heard the evening before, a weedless frog would be just the thing to catch a few bass with. I fished this particular lure for a couple hours at a time over a two or three day period, without much success. It worked wonderfully for fishing through the thick cover of the lily pads, and I had a missed strike or two, but I couldn't seem to hook up. At one point I switched to a wacky rigged soft plastic jerkbait (Senko-style lure), and manged to hook a nice bass that broke the line as I got it in close to the bank. I'll chalk this one up to fisherman's error, because the line actually broke at the knot and I was fishing 14lb test that was brand new. All I can figure is that I must not have tied the knot correctly for it to break that way.

Solo Flyrod Fish of the Trip
 Then came the most exciting and heartbreaking moment of the trip. I was fishing the frog and had casted out past the lilies to some deeper water, when I felt the thump and saw my line moving. I set the hook and the rod doubled over, and then one of the biggest largemouth bass I've hooked in quite a while jumped out of the water and threw the hook with a violent head shake. I hesitate to try to guess the size of a fish that got away, but this time I'm going to try anyway. I know losing a fish always makes it seem bigger, but my best estimate was that this fish was in the 5 - 6 lb range (and maybe larger). Regardless of its size, it was tough losing that fish after several futile attempts at catching a bass. I felt encouraged that I might be on the right track, but I wasn't getting very many strikes on the frog and decided to switch things up.

I had originally come with the intentions of doing a good bit of flyfishing, and I decided that it was time to change things around for an evening and get the flyrod out. I picked one of the few spots that had enough open water to fish, and started off throwing a streamer with the hopes of hooking up with a bass or possibly a crappie. After several minutes of unhooking lily pads and fighting underwater tangles, I decided maybe a popper would be easier to fish. Once again going with the frog idea, I tied on a green popping bug and began working the open areas between the lily pads. I never got any bass to strike the popper but I did manage to hook a nice bluegill, and I decided to call it a day shortly after.

First Largemouth
 The next couple days of the trip saw more of the same, with me fishing almost exclusively for bass. At this point it had become a personal goal to catch at least one largemouth out of this lake before the week was over. I must admit I was getting a little frustrated, however that just made me more determined to figure out something that would work. I switched lures around and tried buzzbaits early in the morning and late in the evening, along with a lipless crankbait and Texas rigged worms, all without any luck. However, I stuck with the frog the majority of the time, mainly because I was getting a few strikes and also because of the ease that I could fish it through the lilies. Finally a small largemouth decided it wanted a bullfrog lunch, and the first bass of the trip was in hand. As excited as I was to finally catch a bass, I couldn't help but think about the big one that had got away a few days before. I also knew that our week in Virgina was quickly coming to a close and that if I wanted to catch a big bass from this lake I would have to do it soon.
Last Day Bass

Friday evening came and I knew that this was my last chance of the trip to fish, since we would be packing up and leaving the next morning. Other than a few bluegill on spinners, I hadn't had any more luck since catching the small bass on a frog. It was time to get serious about catching a few bass, and I decided that maybe a change was in order. Working off of a hunch, I rigged up with a blue soft plastic jerkbait, fished wacky style, that used to be one of my go-to lures for summer bass fishing in ponds before I started chasing fish with the flyrod in rivers the majority of the time. After a short time fishing this lure, I hooked up with what felt like a good bass. Once again, this fish jumped but this time I remembered to lower the rod tip and managed to keep the fish hooked. After a good fight, and a wrestling match through the lily pads, I finally had a nice sized largemouth in had. It wasn't as big as the one that got away, (they never are), but it was the type of quality bass that I am happy to catch anywhere.

Last Fish of the Trip
 After a quick picture or two, I released her and kept fishing. I felt like I was finally onto something, and of course it took until the last day to figure these fish out. As time was running out, I did manage to hook up with another nice largemouth that wasn't quite as big as the first. Either way, these two bass were the highlight of the trip, as far as the fishing goes, and there were lots of great times and great memories made with family as well. It had been a while since I had done much bass fishing with non-fly tackle, and I forgot just how much of a challenge summertime bass in a lake can be. I think the challenge is what made these fish stick in my memory, it wasn't necessarily the size, or the numbers since I only caught 3 in a week, but the fact that I finally was able to catch a few fish by persevering and trying new techniques. I've often said that fishing has a lot of life lessons to teach, whether we as fishermen realize it or not. I'd like to think that this trip was one of those lessons, and the lessons I took from this trip were don't give up, and keep on trying until you get it right. Sooner or later, the big one will make a mistake and if you're lucky, it won't get away.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Catching Up

I realize that things have been awfully slow lately around here at NC Outdoor Ramblings. I could come up with any number of reasons (or excuses, truth be told) about why there has been a lack of blogging on my part, but rather than do that, I thought I'd share some of the highlights from the past few months that occurred while the blog has been neglected. I would say that I'm going to try to keep things updated a little more frequently around here, but then again I know better than to try to make a promise that I'm not sure I'll be able to keep. Since they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, I'll try to use that to make up for the thousands of words I'm behind writing on here.

Some of these pictures will have their own posts written in the near future, along with more details provided about the story behind them. Here's what's been going on since hunting season has kicked into full swing around here.

Dove and 20 Gauge
The season started off with a bang in September, much like it did in 2012, with the opening day of dove season. The usual suspects got together for the opening day hunt, and then a few days later I still had the dove hunting bug but nowhere to go since I was a guest of some friends on opening day and didn't have access to the cornfields we were hunting by myself. I decided to do a little scouting around at the farm I hunt, and found a few doves flying back and forth to the pond located below the barn. I found out that a motorized decoy and a little cover to hide in would allow me to have a few shots, and I decided to try out a new 20 gauge over-and-under that I had purchased after Christmas last year. The combination of decoying birds and the 20 gauge made for a couple of exciting afternoons, and some very tasty dove breasts for the grill.



Muzzleloader Buck


The week after dove season brought the opening of archery season in western North Carolina, and while I was able to get out and do a little hunting during September, I didn't have any luck. I did see a few deer, but never had a shot at any. Then came October and muzzleloader season. I had gotten a new muzzleloader for Christmas last year, and I was anxious to try it out. I guess now I should admit that my luck with a muzzleloader has been less than stellar. I had missed two or three deer over the years with a muzzleloader, and had never been able to successfully harvest a deer during muzzleloader season. In my defense, it did seem like bad luck because I was always very careful to make sure that my muzzleloader was sighted in, but for whatever reason my scope would get bumped or something else would go wrong. I'm just thankful that the shots I had taken at deer were clean misses, instead of wounding one and not recovering it. This year, I felt like maybe a new gun would change my luck. The first day of the season, I slipped in the woods after work and it wasn't an hour or so until two deer made an appearance. A squeeze of the trigger, lots of smoke and noise, and when everything cleared I had my first muzzleloader deer.
Making a European Mount
I decided I wanted to try my had at a little simple taxidermy after I harvested my buck, and with the help of a good friend who had done it before I made a European mount. I enjoyed the process, and I think that I will be doing this for any bucks that don't wind up getting mounted by a taxidermist. I think they make a unique trophy and great memento of an exciting hunt.

video

I was also able to film a couple deer from the stand during muzzleloader season. These two does and little spike were close enough to touch at one point, and it made for an exciting morning in the stand. During the time between muzzleloader and rifle season, I did get out and bow hunt a couple of times, but not nearly as much as I had intended to.

Two of the beagles working a thicket
As the end of November approached, I found myself getting more and more excited about the upcoming rifle season, and hopefully the rut as well. I was lucky enough to get an invitation to go rabbit hunting on opening day, which falls on the Saturday before our gun season opens on the following Monday. We had a good time and managed a few rabbits between all of us, and more importantly I got the chance to see the beagles work and walk a few miles carrying a shotgun. It just whetted my appetite for all the rabbit hunts that will hopefully follow the end of deer season next week.

Dave and I with his buck
After the rabbit hunt on Saturday, rifle season finally opened for us here in western North Carolina. I've spent every day that I could in the stand, and have managed to see a few deer here and there, but I have yet to pull the trigger. One thing that got me more excited than usual about this year's deer season was my father-in-law asked if he could possibly tag along for a few hunts. He is originally from northwest Pennsylvania, and grew up around deer hunting but had never been himself. He's always enjoyed venison, and I've noticed the last year or two just how excited he gets when my brother-in-law or myself have managed to get a deer. I've invited him to come hunting the last few years, but he took me by surprise when he asked to go this year. He was able to harvest his first deer while hunting with me this year, and this is a story that deserves its own post. I plan to write up the whole story for the blog very soon.

That pretty much wraps up my ramblings for the last few months. We've got another week left of rifle season here, and after that I'm looking forward to doing some rabbit and squirrel hunting. Also, I've found myself thinking more and more lately about smallmouth bass and rising trout. I do believe I will have to start tying a few flies and looking for some warm days where I can get up to the mountains to try to fool a few trout. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy what little is left of deer season, and enjoy spending time with my family over Christmas. As always, thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings.

- Joseph

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Pop's Lures

This post was written over a year ago, when I first started the blog. It's been sitting in the draft folder ever since, with a revision or two over the past year as I've tried to edit it and make it exactly what I wanted. I have been waiting for the right time to post this, and decided that since today is Grandparents' Day, it was time to share it. I want to dedicate this post to the memory of all four of my grandparents: Jim and Essie Hord and Lib and Dick Hamrick (also known as Pop to me and my cousins). They shared with me the outdoors and supported me in my journey as an outdoorsman. 

"Pop! Pop! Let's go to the basement and look at your fishing lures!" My maternal grandfather, "Pop", must have heard these words or something very similar every day when I was little. I stayed with my grandparents during the day while my parents worked, and even at four years old the fishing bug had already bit me. My grandfather, who had the patience of a saint, would just smile and say "Ok, let's go take a look." We would go down stairs and sit on an old couch and Pop would open up the old metal tackle boxes that to my four year old eyes were treasure chests.
Pop's Tackle Box

One by one, we would look at the lures and Pop would tell me what kind of fish they caught or the name of the lure. I remember well looking at old lures with names like Punkinseed, Water Dog, and a lure Pop called the Whopper Stopper. The striped bass that hung over the basement fireplace was caught on a Water Dog, and I can't remember now what the big largemouth that hung in the den was caught on but I'm sure it was in one of those boxes.
Bomber Water Dog - One of Pop's

 Pop was a fisherman for most of his life, and he used to have an old Johnson outboard motor in the basement that he would take up to Lake James or Lake Norman and put on a rental boat to fish. He often talked about buying his own boat, but by the time I came along Pop's fishing trips weren't as frequent and he never did buy a boat.
Pop and six year old me with a trout

He still loved to fish, though, and often in the summer he would take my cousin and me, along with my parents and my aunt and uncle to one of those trout ponds where you pay by the pound for your catch. These ponds were near either Marion or Little Switzerland, NC and we would have fun catching trout that would wind up on the grill that evening back home. I don't remember Pop fishing much on these trips. I think for him it was a way to help introduce us at an early age to fishing, and these ponds were about as close as you can get to nonstop action. I'm sure Pop wanted us to catch a lot of fish and have a good time without the chance of getting bored with fishing. I'm also sure that Pop couldn't have known at the time that when I got older, trout fishing would become one of my favorite pursuits, although now it's usually with a fly rod in mountain streams.
The "Whopper Stopper" 

I also remember Pop taking the hooks out of one of the Whopper Stoppers for me to use when I wanted to practice casting in the yard. I spent a lot of time casting to imaginary bass behind their house, and caught a lot of whoppers, if only in my mind. Another lure that I distinctly remember asking Pop about a lot were what he called sea trout plugs. Later on, when I began saltwater fishing myself, I would learn that these were Mirr-O-Lures, and that they were one of the popular choices for catching sea trout in the waterways around Oak Island in the fall. I never caught a sea trout on these lures, because my trips to Oak Island were in the summer and I fished for trout using live shrimp. Even so, I always felt like I was following in Pop's footsteps fishing for the same fish at the same location that he used to.
Sea Trout Plug - aka MirrOLure

It's funny how things can come full circle, as I sit here writing this blog post in the den of my grandparents' house, which my wife and I bought, in a recliner in the same spot that Pop's recliner used to sit. I think Pop would be happy to know how much I enjoy fishing now, and some of his old lures sit in a display case on our coffee table as a reminder to me of where it began.
Some of Pop's Lures on display

Pop taught me a lot, and more than that he had the patience to tell me the same stories and look at the same old fishing tackle day after day. I'm sure he got tired of it, but he never let it show. I hope that I inherited some of his patience and understanding, because without a doubt I inherited his love for fishing.
Bomber Lure

There are several people that have had a major influence on my love of the outdoors, but my two grandfathers and my Dad were the earliest influences. I will always be grateful to all three of these men for their guidance and for the passion they instilled in me at a very young age. I hope someday to be able to pay it forward when I have children and grandchildren and help them the same way Pop helped me. Maybe someday they will have an old tackle box full of my lures, and a lifetime of memories.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph