North Carolina

First in flight, 49th on my state quest. Home to the world record red drum (94 pounds, 2 ounces) and great trout fishing in its western mountains, North Carolina has many fishing opportunities. But I wanted to complete the continental United States with a bang, so I chose to target an apex predator so (in)famous that it inspires movies and gets its own week on television: the shark. This trip also doubled as my bachelor party, and one of the guys who came was the one whose bachelor party in April 2007 marked the beginning of my 50-state quest.

I chose Mike White because of his ability to catch quality fish consistently. We left Wrightsville Beach on a windy, summer morning and headed into the rough seas to catch bait on light tackle, which I always enjoy. I caught quite a few Spanish mackerel before we began shark fishing. Mike knew a great spot and, within minutes of anchoring, I had my first North Carolina sport fish, a hammerhead shark with a fork length of 42 inches and a total length of 54 inches, estimated to be 28 pounds. Within minutes, I had my next North Carolina shark, a bigger hammerhead with a fork length of 51 inches and a total length of 66 inches, estimated to be 52 pounds. Both hammerheads fought as hard as I hoped they would, with the bigger one taking many runs and even jumping out of the water. Unfortunately, the bite slowed after that and the two other non-vomiting members of my six-person group caught one sandbar shark each. All of the sharks were released to get bigger and fight another day.

Update December 2014: While North Carolina was 49th in my first pass through the states, it was the third of my return trips because of its close proximity. Virginia’s Buggs Island Lake, famous for producing the world record 143-pound blue catfish, has a sizeable arm in North Carolina that produces many trophy crappie. I chose Chris Bullock because his experience and trophy crappie pictures speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the temperature the day of our trip barely reached the 40s (over 10 degrees below average) and it rained nearly an inch. Overall, the bite was slow, but Chris knows all of the best spots and we finally found one with hungry fish. I caught seven different species of fish: crappie; largemouth bass; striped bass; white perch; yellow perch; channel catfish; and bullhead. The white perch were enormous and I caught at least five over 11 inches, with one being a 12-inch trophy. We also caught many crappie in the 13 to 15 inch range, but none big enough to meet North Carolina’s 16-inch trophy minimum. However, I was very happy with the trip, as I was able to make North Carolina the 35th state in which I have caught at least one trophy fish.