An Angler Looks Back At His Beginnings…..Fishing At Sea Breeze
I’ll have to say, boats were not a part of my childhood growing up in the foothills of North Carolina. Saltwater fishing was as foreign to me as the moon, but fishing in the local country ponds with my grandfather was a special time I still cherish. In 1992 at the ripe old age of 36, I moved my family to Wilmington, NC. It was a move driven by my struggling business and several other factors. I had a friend living in the area to fax me the list of rental properties (no internet back then.) My wife and I picked a place, and a little over a week later, we were moving in. It was the beginning of a whole new life of crabbing and fishing from an old broken-down pier in a place called Sea Breeze near Carolina Beach, NC. I started my fishing career with old antique gear my great uncle had given me, and oftentimes my 7-year-old son (John) would go with me and catch fiddler crabs with a paper cup and a string contraption that only a young kid can come up with.
The other fisherman that frequented the old pier took the time from their fishing to teach me the art of saltwater fishing. This was interesting to me, being that I was the only white guy that fished there. They gave me the nickname “Sunscreen” for obvious reasons. With that, I felt like part of their fishing club.
At the day’s end I would head back home with my bucket of crabs, spots, and croakers. After cleaning my catch, my wife would prepare the crabs, which were her favorite. My family would sit at the dining room table and enjoy our freshly caught dinner while John and I shared the adventures of our day with the 3 girls.
After a few summers of fishing at the Sea Breeze pier, things began to change. The group of guys that fished there and introduced me to saltwater fishing started to become fewer. My son grew older and wanted to spend his time doing more interesting things like taking gas from the lawn mower and blowing things up in the yard, which explained why the lawn mower was always out of gas. John later went into the Marine Corps where he could continue to blow things up. My days fishing at Sea Breeze became farther apart, and worst of all, the hurricanes took their toll on the old Sea Breeze pier, and it became nearly impossible to walk over the missing deck boards. That chapter of my life came to an end when I bought my first boat and moved to the next stage of saltwater fishing.
A few years later I became a fishing guide and fished both inshore and offshore. Again, learning the tricks of the trade from names like Captain Jimmy Vass and fishing legend Captain Lee Parsons. But I never forgot Sea Breeze. Every so often my wife and I would slowly drive by the old pier and sit and take a few minutes as I reflected back on memories of those days past when things seemed to be far simplier. Days when my son and I would grab a ham biscuit and a tea from Bojangles on the way to the pier on a warm Saturday morning for a day of fishing, crabbing, and just enjoying where we were in life.
Years later, I stopped by that same Bojangals and picked up a bag of ham biscuits on the way to a day of fishing. But this time, I was heading to the marina to board my new bay boat. My rods and reels were not relicts this time, but nearly new ones that had been provided by a well-known tackle manufacturer. As I moved up the ICW and came to Sea Breeze, I noticed a couple of young guys fishing on the newly rebuilt pier, using old worn fishing gear and styrofoam cups filled with some sort of bait. As I moved closer, but being careful not to foul their lines, I called out to them, “Would you like to join me on the boat? I’ve got plenty of bait, gear, and even breakfast biscuits and soft drinks.” After a long stare, they
turned to each other and then back to me and asked how much it would cost them. I said, “Nothing”, and that I just was looking for some company. They both grinned and one of them said “Hell Yeah.” So, I pulled the boat over towards the beach, they boarded, and we spent the rest of the day fishing. It was a day of catching fish, eating ham biscuits, and laughing. At the end of the day as they were getting off the boat, one asked me, “How come you do that for us?” I paused for a minute to come up with an answer that made sense, then replied, “I just wanted to fish one more time with some Sea Breeze boys.” The fact is, I think it was because I wanted to give a great day of fishing to some guys that were starting where I did. It somehow was payback for all the great times I had at “The Breeze”.
In the 30-plus years that followed those days, I’ve been fortunate to catch a giant Bluefin Tuna and the majority of the 10 fastest species of fish in the world. But the memories that always stand out are my humble beginnings, like days with my son at Sea Breeze. Recently I went back to where it all started with my grandson, Skyler whose dad shared those many times with me there. I’m now 67 and a long way from those days with my friends at the Breeze. There have been times when I by that old pier, hoping to see one the old boys that knew as “Sun Screen.” Sadly never their, but the memories are there every time and boy they’re good ones.
Take for yourself a few minutes to look back at where you started. You can enjoy how far you’ve come.