Renewed interest in Robert Ruark’s books is happening not only because he is arguably North Carolina’s most famous author but because of a newly published biography (Ruark Remembered, by the man who knew him best) on the life of Ruark written by his personal assistant and secretary, Alan Ritchie. People who’ve read the biography find themselves suddenly digging through their book shelves or library digging out all the novels written by Ruark and reading them again. Some of them, such as The Old Man And The Boy and its sequel, The Old man’s Boy Grows Older, have been read by generations of outdoorsmen and are being re-read to the grandchildren as an introduction to what hunting and fishing was like in North Carolina during the 1920s.
Robert Ruark grew up in Southport on the lower Cape Fear River below Wilmington. His mentor and grandfather was a crusty old man who was intimately familiar with the out-of-doors and passed on his love of the outdoors to grandson Robert. Not only a great deal of knowledge about nature on the seacoast but a real appreciation of outdoor ethics was taught to the young Robert Ruark.
Over the past week one particular chapter from The Old Man And The Boy seemed to relate well to this early fall weather we’ve been enjoying here in North Carolina. The chapter entitled “September Song” relates how Ruark’s grandfather pulls the young grandson away from regular home duties in order to spend some time fishing for puppy drum and bluefish as fall begins to cool things off along the waterfront.
Quail season had not yet begun and the red drum and bluefish were swarming into coastal waters pursuing jumping mullets and menhaden. It was as a young Robert Ruark states in the book: “The time of the year liked better than any other had started. You could tell in so many ways that summer was finished—your legs didn’t sweat the crease out of your Sunday pants any more, and there was a little nip in the air. The dogs that had been listless and shedding hair in the sticky heat got into condition again without being doused, and began to look hopefully at the tin Liz, like maybe a ride was indicated.”
That is a pretty good description of what the past few day’s cooler weather is doing to a lot of outdoorsmen all across the state. With a special Canada goose season and the dove season opening last week it’s hard to choose between going fishing and going hunting.
The special Canada Goose season that allows hunters east of Highway 17 to take up to 15 geese per day during the entire month of September sounds to be a little like overkill to a lot of waterfowlers and I haven’t heard of anyone yet who’s set out to load the back of a pickup truck with geese during this season. With the nearly tame geese that have established year-round residency on the lawns of developments and golf courses becoming a nuisance to humans, our powers-that-are have decided that we need to re-train the Canadas on the art of migration. After all, what do the geese know about being natural? We gave them food, water and a safe place to rest so why should they spend all their energy migrating into the wilds of Canada to nest when they had all they needed right here in North Carolina?
Farmers have been harvesting the corn crops and dove are swarming into these fields to fatten up for the upcoming cooler weather too. The sporting goods stores are selling lots of low-brass dove loads and this early season should be one of the best. With a daily bag limit of 15 mourning dove there will be a lot of shooting heard across the state for a few weeks.
Fishing’s another story. Not only along the coast but also in the inland ponds, creeks and lakes the fish are beginning to sense that cooler and colder weather is in the offing. They’re feeding very actively as they try to build up the fat reserves for the oncoming winter.
Anglers who have been taking it easy during the summer’s heat and confining their fishing hours to nights, early mornings or evenings fine that even these cooler days make it comfortable to fish through the middle of the day.
Over the past few weeks I’ve seen fishermen bringing in some of the nicest red drum, speckled trout and a few keeping-sized flounder that I’ve seen all year. Although artificial lure are producing well the bait that’s doing best is either cut mullet or a live mullet minnow (4-6 inches long) fished in the shallows. Fishermen and wading the shorelines along the coastal rivers and sounds and catching both trout and drum in surprisingly shallow water.
Robert Ruark’s titling of the chapter in his book, The Old Man And The Boy, as “September Song” is well done. I may just read it to my grandson again.