Picture a clear stretch of shimmering aquamarine-blue Atlantic, a hundred yards or so from a beach of dazzling whiteness off the North Carolinian coast, hard by Oregon Inlet, the gateway to Albemarle Sound. To the north stretch the grass-tufted sand dunes, rising to Kill Devil Hills at Kitty Hawk, whence the Wright brothers took off on man's first powered flight. To the south the sands curve to Hatteras.
Breakers fringe the desolate shore where wild ponies and cattle are sometimes still seen. Ducks and geese launch themselves in high-flying arrows across the sky. And the inlet itself is a maelstrom of roaring tides, cross currents, rips and bores that sets wave crashing against wave so that small fishing boats are rolled and tossed and made to dance the most alarming but exciting water polkas.
Suddenly and dramatically as you troll through the translucent sea the waters about the boat turn to red-gold as, without warning, you find yourself in the midst of hundreds upon hundreds of living, copper-colored torpedoes. The next moment the lure is struck, the reel sings an intoxicating air as incredible quantities of line are ripped off and, if you are using light tackle, you find yourself with the fight of your life on your hands.
These are the red drum of Manteo, the channel bass, schooling offshore, dyeing the waters red as they swim majestically no more than a few feet below the surface. As long as I live I shall never forget the moment and the sight. As long as I am able I shall keep coming back to it to relive it. For it is an emotional experience as well as a fishing thrill. The rising of a school of channel bass out of the hidden depths is one of nature's most impressive manifestations.
Yet this is only one of the thrills connected with trolling for this big drum off Manteo. If you ever catch them on the feed, as I did one year, you will experience a 40-minute passionate turmoil that you will remember to your dying day.
THE FISHING AROUND ROANOKE
Manteo and the Fort Raleigh Hotel (M. K. Fearing, prop.) are situated on Roanoke Island, surrounded by Albemarle, Croatan and Roanoke sounds. A causeway connects it to the thin skin of the Carolina beach below Kitty Hawk and Nags Head. It lies some 90 miles southeast of Norfolk, Va. and is reached via State Highway 170, which later joins up with U.S. Interstate Highway 158. It is a tidy little town riddled with history and surrounded by legend as well as nostalgic pine-and-marsh country.
Sir Walter Raleigh colonized this part of Carolina in 1585. Sir Francis Drake touched there, as did Sir Richard Grenville. It was at the northern tip of Roanoke Island that the drama of the lost colony was played, the unsolved mystery of what became of 15 persons left by Grenville. This is the birthplace of Virginia Dare, first English child born on the American continent. "Captain" Edward Teach, the notorious pirate Blackbeard, plied his nefarious trade in these waters. And the last time I was there, the telegrapher who flashed the first stories of the flight of the Wright brothers and preserved the original manuscripts of the reporters covering the event was still living and working his bug in Manteo.
History, scenery, wildlife are there galore. But if it is fishing thrill and drama you are after, the environs of Manteo from about April 1 to June 15 and sometimes later will be your rendezvous. That is when the channel bass appear mysteriously off the coast from no one knows whence, and school.
These fish, though popularly called channel bass, particularly in the northern part of their range, are a fish of channels, tide rips and estuaries but they are not actually a bass, being a member of the extensive drum family, which in turn are so called because of the peculiar grunting noise they make. To be most accurate the local name of red drum should be used, though I think always of this grand fighter as a channel bass. They attain a length of four feet and sometimes more when full grown and, while big fish average between 30 and 40 pounds, fine specimens will go from 50 to 70. A record catch some years ago was 83 pounds in weight and 52 inches in length.