The past week has been one I have found interesting. We began with Tropical Storm Fay and were in the cone of possibility, but it reversed itself and went the other way. Then, Tuesday through Thursday of this week we get rain and storms from the remains of Tropical Depression Fay that got caught up in a cold front that brought them back our way. Now we're looking and wondering what might happen with recently formed Tropical Storm Hanna. September begins Monday and I believe it pretty safe to say the tropics are heating up.
While we could still use more rain, I'm glad we didn't get the deluge that some folks in Florida did. Tropical Storm Fay never quite got to hurricane strength, but couldn't decide where or when to move either. I have a cousin who moved from Oklahoma to Fort Pierce, Fla. just over a year ago and when I called to check on her she said, "I don't like this." She wasn't really pleased with my "Welcome to the tropics, you only got the rain, wait until you get the rain and the wind is two or three times as strong," reply. I really do wish they could have sent us a few inches of the rain.
This is Labor Day Weekend and it should be the last big weekend of the summer. Most schools are already back in session, so we'll probably see a lot of traffic headed into town and onto the beaches Friday night. Even though the weather is still very nice, the beach crowds will begin dwindling after everyone leaves on Monday.
Let me use the Friday night travel as a segue to some of the biggest news for N.C. boaters in quite a while. For several weeks, I tried to keep you abreast of what was transpiring regarding H 2167, which was the bill that would relax the towing regulations for boats.
As I'm getting ready to celebrate this, I feel that I should point out that I don't have a boat this law affects, so this isn't a personal thing for me. I just think it makes good sense. Yes--I'm talking about overriding the governor's veto of the boat trailer legislation, H 2167.
There wasn't a lot of information given to the public until after the governor vetoed this bill and the legislators threatened an override. Since then, there have been some very misleading comments, some incorrect or incomplete reporting and a pair of videos produced to show each side of the issue. I'm not Paul Harvey, but I still believe the average person needs to know the rest of the story.
First--there were already boats (and multiple other trailers) up to 12 feet wide on our roads weekdays and Saturdays. All that was required was completing the permit form and mailing a $100 check to the state. At that point loads 8 1/2 to 10 feet wide had to be flagged and loads 10 to 12 feet wide also required wide load banners front and rear. If you were willing to drive to the Raleigh office, your permit could be processed in a matter of minutes once you reached the counter.
The permit is still required for boats and other loads wider than 10 feet. However, there are no driver's license or experience requirements--just complete the form, pay the $100 and get the permit. The permit is good for a year. For loads wider than 12 feet, flagging, banners and escort vehicles are required and the permits are only for a single trip and are less expensive. The big difference is that under the provisions of H 2167, boats to 9-1/2 feet wide may be towed at any time--day or night.
There are, and have been, numerous fishermen towing larger boats, without permits, plus at night, on Sundays and on holidays for many years. During the 1990's, I fished a boat that was 9 feet, 4 inches wide and inquired about it twice. Both times I was told it was a boat and boats were considered recreational and not included in the trucking regulations. I asked the second time, just to be sure. There is no record of this law being applied to boats until the fall of 2007. Many other states that still have similar laws also consider boats as recreational and exempt them from laws designed for commercial trucks.
All overriding the governor's veto of H 2167 did is remove the requirement for the $100 permit for boats less than 10 feet wide, plus allow boats less than 9-1/2 feet wide to be towed at night, on Sundays and on holidays and boats less than 10 feet wide to be towed on any day , during daylight hours. The original bill included nighttime towing for all boats less than 10 feet wide, but after working through committees and listening to (only a few) concerns other than the governor, the lawmakers agreed to a compromise and amended the bill to reduce the maximum night width to 9-1/2 feet.
A point many people are missing is that there wouldn't be a foot added on the inboard side of the trailer as was shown in one of the videos. The addition is 6 inches on each side. Actually this maximum amount is not required for most boats. Most boats are made at 8-1/2 feet wide. The boats themselves were legal, but adding the trailer guides increases the width 2 to 3 inches on each side and made them illegal--but not any more!
The governor's example of school busses was an extremely bad example. Current laws put wider boats (up to 12 feet wide) and other wide loads on the roads at the same time busses are traveling. I can't speak for the rest of the state, but in Carteret County we don't have school on Sundays, holidays and after dark, so those times, which are the only times expanded in H 2167, really aren't a concern. If school bus and trailered boat interactions are a genuine concern, allowing wider boats to go to the ramps earlier and head home later on weekdays would get them off the roads during the hours when school busses are traveling.
The Governor's Office also likes to point out how many miles of secondary road there are in N.C. Boats only travel secondary roads to get from the owner's house to the highway and then from the highway to a ramp. That is usually only a couple of miles per trip. It isn't like there are wide boats everywhere on secondary roads.
Governor Easley criticized the bill as being unsafe and cited that as his reason for the veto. Numerous people have questioned what he based this opinion on. Statistics provided to the N.C. lawmakers from the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety show an average of 280 accidents a year involving (not caused by, but involving) boats. This is less than 1 per cent of the average of 230,000 accidents in N.C. per year. They further noted an average of 7 of these annually involved boats wider than 8 feet (not even the 8-1/2 foot anytime maximum of the time) and of these only 2 might have been attributed to width. Interestingly enough, there are more accidents each year involving emergency and law enforcement vehicles than wide boats.
With Easley's veto coming after the session closed, N.C. law requires the Governor to reconvene the General Assembly within 40 days of the close of the session, unless the legislators sign a form stating they do not wish to reconvene and will accept the veto. This bill passed so overwhelmingly (43-0 Senate and 108-5 House); the legislators were not willing to allow the veto to stand. Senate leaders and the bill sponsor met with the governor and his staff to try to reach a compromise and avoid the historic override, but could not find any middle ground.
Overriding a veto requires a 3/5 majority of the House and Senate members present for the vote. Senate President Pro Tem, Marc Basnight (D-Beaufort, Camden, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Pasquotank, Terrell, Washington) and bill sponsor Representative Arthur Williams (D-Beaufort, Pitt) said going into the session they were confident the veto would be overturned and they were correct. The entire process required less than an hour and H 2167 is now State Law 2008-229. The Senate voted for the override 39-0 and the House approved 95-8.
This is a time our voices were heard. It would be proper to thank our legislators who supported overriding the veto. The contact information for all N.C. legislators can be found at www.ncleg.net.
We should also thank Robin Parker of Parker Boats in Beaufort for her work at the forefront of this, plus the idea and funding of a video that showed there is enough room on area roads for boats that are 9 1/2 feet wide. Numerous other people invested a lot of time and effort on this and I offer my thanks to all of them.
We've got another issue brewing in Pamlico Sound. Tuesday morning I received an e-mail from Joe Albea, one of the hosts of Carolina Outdoor Journal on UNC-TV. He said that last Saturday, 8 boats of red drum fishermen were asked to relocate by two military patrol boats that were preparing for live fire practice in the Piney Island (BT-11) bombing range. The fishermen were asked to move at least three miles further away from the range even though they were outside the restricted area and in one of the more popular spots in the southern Pamlico Sound to fish for red drum.
You may remember that several weeks ago I mentioned the Navy wanted to increase the safety perimeter of the ranges in Pamlico Sound even though today's weapons are more sophisticated and accurate than the weapons the ranges were built to accommodate. Piney Island is one of these ranges. Currently, there is opposition to any expansion and even some suggestion that all live fire operations be moved out of the Pamlico Sound entirely. It would be wise to contact your legislators and let them know how you feel about this. You can find your senators and representatives and their contact information at www.govtrack.us.
The guides fishing the Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River are reporting good action with tarpon and large drum. The intensity of the drum bite appears to be increasing, while the tarpon bite is slowing some. Both have been caught as far up the Neuse River as the Minnesott-Cherry Branch Ferry crossing, but the runoff from the rains of this week may push them back downriver.
Speckled trout and red drum are being caught in the marshes and creeks. The Haystacks, Core Creek and Adams Creek are all being mentioned often. Shallow water near channels and under docks has been good places to cast a bait. Flounder are being caught at the Morehead City State Port, plus around the inlets, in the drain at Harkers Island and at the nearshore artificial reefs. There are some really nice flatfish being caught, but the sizes vary and many don't quite make the 15-1/2 inch minimum.
Sheepshead are being caught along the State Port Wall and beside the pilings on area bridges. Some gray trout are being caught under the lights of the high-rise bridges at night.
The piers are reporting excellent catches of Spanish mackerel, especially in the early mornings. Other pier catches include bluefish, pompano, sea mullet, flounder, sheepshead, black drum, sharks and a few spots.
Large schools of Spanish mackerel are roaming the Atlantic Beach and Shackleford beaches. Several fishermen say the Spanish themselves are a little larger closer to Cape Lookout and just east of the shoals.
The king mackerel bite is slowly building. There are kings on many of the artificial reefs along the Crystal Coast beaches and out to about 80 feet of water, but the larger kings have been east of Cape Lookout. East Rock and 1700 Rock have been hot spots, but 30 Minute Rock, the Atlas Tanker and the George Summerlin Reef should all be holding some fish.
King mackerel fishermen in deeper water are also catching some dolphin, plus an occasional sailfish or wahoo and I still hear about an African pompano or two each week.
The offshore boats have been seeing a few more wahoo, but it isn't the good fall bite just yet. They are also seeing fair numbers of smaller dolphin. This fishing begins at about the 90 Foot Drop and extends to beyond the Big Rock. A few billfish, mainly sailfish, are checking out baits, but not many are hitting right now.
The heat has slowed the grouper bite a little but it's still pretty easy to catch a couple of limits. Moving a little deeper sometimes helps locate fish that are more aggressively feeding. The groupers are mainly reds and gags, but fishermen are also catching red snapper, beeliners, black sea bass, porgys, grunts and a few hog snappers.
The Dog Days Surf Fishing Tournament was held Saturday from the farthest west beach access on Oak Island. This tournament was organized by the North Carolina Public Access Foundation (www.ncpafonline.com) to help raise funds to assist the Town of Oak Island purchase Yaupon Pier. According to tournament director Al Baird, it was a great success. There were 46 fishermen and that number or more stopped by to make donations and offer thanks and encouragement. With a $10 entry fee, the tournament raised over $1,300 and donations are still arriving.
The tournament winners were: Biggest Fish, First Place, Marion Parker, Southport, 17 inch flounder; Biggest Fish, Second Place, Mike Long, Linden, 16 inch speckled trout; Flounder, First Place, Marion Parker, Southport, 17ninches; Flounder, Second Place, Lee Bryan, Sophia; Pompano, First Place, Rick Howard, Southport, 8-3/4 inches; Pompano, Second Place, Ethan Cote, Fort Mill, S.C., 8-1/2 inches. Ethan Cote of Fort Mill, S.C. won the grand prize drawing--a fishing charter with Fugitive Charters of Oak Island.
I got this wrong last week and want to apologize. I had the Gregory Poole Beaufort Offshore Classic beginning last Wednesday, but it should have been this Wednesday. I was following a saltwater tournament guide published by the state and the date had changed after the guide was printed. I hope no one was put out by the error. The offshore divisions started fishing on Thursday, with the king mackerel division having a Friday final registration and fishing on Saturday. For more information visit www.fishbocc.com or call 252-504-5113.
The Brunswick Islands Classic King Mackerel Tournament will be held this weekend in Holden Beach. In addition to the king mackerel tournament, prizes will also be awarded for the largest cobia, dolphin, Spanish mackerel and wahoo. For more information visit www.bluewaterpromo.com or call 1-800-546-4622.