The year was 1951, and as summer began to slowly drift away like a late morning fog, five friends set out from Scarborough’s Garage in Nags Head for walk a to the beach.
The group comprised of local business leaders Jim Scarborough, Dal Williams, Dan Harris, Major Leo Murphy and Warren Jennette were known to friends as the “think group.” Their goal on this particular morning; to put their heads together and come up with an event that would draw business to the Outer Banks during the off-season.
The end result of their salt-infused notes? A surf fishing club comprised of hundreds of members and an annual tournament that is currently celebrating its 67th year, the Nags Head Surf Fishing Tournament.
“What started out as a small party has now evolved into a serious event with major sponsors and a waiting list because of how much fun it is,” says tournament judge Rick Hildebrant.
Held every year, the second weekend in October, 80 teams of six members each travel from all over to participate in what has become a historic institution here on the OBX.
“Unless there is major weather event, like hurricane Mathew last year, we will run the tournament,” Hildebrant says. “In fact puppy drum seem to like it when the weather isn’t perfect and the water is churned up because it gets the bait moving.”
In addition to puppy drum, anglers compete to catch spot, croaker, trout, black drum, pompano, flounder, bluefish, sea mullet, Spanish mackerel and striped bass. Each group of anglers is allotted a 90-feet slot with two judges per every
Scoring is as follows:
1. Any fish eligible for scoring must be caught from the surf within slot
2. All fish entered will be scored on required minimum length for each species as stated by the State of NC Division of Marine Fisheries
3. Additional points will be awarded for each inch above the minimum length and up to and including a length of 20 inches. Above 20 inches, 3 points for each additional inch in length will be awarded
4. Tournament is catch and release
5. Skates, rays and sharks are not scored unless there is a trash fish category
The teams are made up of men, women, and co-ed and compete for trophies for the most fish, biggest fish and are awarded everything from rods, reels and coolers. But make no mistake: The camaraderie and fellowship are truly what the event has come to stand for, says Joan Canipe, team captain for Blackbeard’s Babes.
“We ain’t in it for the fish!” Canipe says with a broad smile and a hearty laugh. “We are all one big family. Every year is like a reunion, we get so excited to see folks we only get to see once a year.”
Canipe grew up in Columbia, North Carolina, and started fishing with her grandmother. She drew further influence from the Sea Hags, the first all-female team in North Carolina, who have been together for more than 50 years. “We are doing the same and passing our team down to family and friends.”
Since its beginning, Blackbeard’s Babes have celebrated first place wins and enjoy other tournaments throughout the year in Hatteras — and the always favorite spot, Ocracoke.
“There have been years where we fill our buckets with trout and have blues blitzes, and that’s all before the judges even have a chance to get to us,” says team member Peggy Eason. “Some years the bite is just hot, in fact in 1976, the fish were in such a frenzy. A record
7,824 fish were caught during the tournament,” Eason says. “But you know what? There are years where we aren’t catching a thing, and that’s okay, too.”
Whether it’s paying homage to anglers past and present, organizing one of the annual youth tournaments or donating a portion of their proceeds to local charities, the Nags Head Surf Fishing Club puts on quite the event that is still going strong.
Due to beach access, this year’s event will take place on a stretch of beach between Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head Thursday-Friday, Oct. 5-6.