As the small group approached on the beach and commenced to pull their dory down to the water, two of the men wearing high waders got the boat in position in the edge of the water while stowing the carefully folded nets on board. They placed the first shore anchor attached to one end of the net into the dry sand and made sure it was fast. One man immediately climbed on board and the second kept the boat's high blow facing into the breakers as he pushed it close. As the wet sand gave way to the moving water from the small waves, the dory then rose easily up and over the next wave and the second man quickly climbed on board. One took to the oars and began rowing it out to sea while the second carefully fed out the net while keeping it reasonably taut as the cork floats would rise to the surface while the slightly heavier other side would sink, creating a barrier that fish could not swim through. About half a mile off the beach, a center anchor was dropped and then they rowed ashore at an angle creating a natural V if seen from above while looking toward shore. The final anchor was then placed into the sand where they came ashore, completing the task for the day. Now late afternoon, the fishermen would return early the next morning to haul in what they hoped would be a great catch.
As Mr. Culpepper and his crew waved as they road by he yelled, "Don't forget, boys. I need your help in the morning. If you meet us at the garage before first light, we'll give you a lift on the truck." Then we all headed to our respective homes for dinner. As I walked in, smelling dinner which aroused my already ravenous appetite, Mom commented that she hoped I'd be bringing home some fish in the morning.
I smiled and said, "Well, Mom, you know I'm going to ask you to fry me some fish wrapped in bacon with grits and eggs."
She just laughed, knowing that she already had it planned. And after dinner and a family board game with a soft ocean breeze feeling delightful, I turned in. I was excited any night before the fish nets were hauled and wanted to make sure I was up on time. And sure enough, just like clockwork, my internal alarm awoke me at half past four and I washed up and dressed and went outside under a star studded sky that was already showing signs of lightening to the east.
As I walked around the corner of the Culpepper garage, there was one of the others boys already present, followed shortly by three more. Within minutes, the fishermen arrived and Mr. Culpepper fired up and pulled out the truck. We climbed aboard, sitting at the rear with our legs dangling freely as we headed to the beach. The two boat operators got to work and we helped with a push as they picked up the anchor and placed it in the boat. While the boat was slowly pulling out to sea, responding to the oars, the other fisherman began the slow placing of the nets on board. It took about twenty-five minutes to complete the task and with the boat still floating in the very calm water, the truck was driven down into the water where a third man would place the heavy line on the strong hook on the heavy duty bumper. Those of us nearby would then stretch the first section out. Trip after trip was made until the entire net was on the beach like the way garland hangs on a Christmas tree. With the sun still below the horizon, we boys started opening the nets and several of us, plus a few of the oldtimers, divided equally on each end, began picking and sorting a nice catch into peach baskets. There were some bluefish, Atlantic trout, spot, croaker, mullet, mackerel and a number of beautiful flounder. There was also a five foot shark we stayed clear of. That was left to old George who fancied himself as the shark hunter. And as some early risers on the beach, particularly pretty girls came down to watch, he loved to flirt with them by teasing the shark which was not amused.
When the baskets were full, we loaded them on the truck and took them up to the garage where they were hosed down to keep them cool and remove the sand. And about half an hour later like clockwork, the refrigerated fish truck from the market in either Elizabeth City or Norfolk arrived to pick them up. In the meantime, we boys were allowed to pick a nice assortment to take home for breakfast. But first we helped to bring up the nets to a spot behind the house where they could lie out in the sunshine and dry. They would be examined carefully in the afternoon for any rips or tears, then stowed in the attic of the garage until being needed again.
About an hour later, now with a big appetite, came my reward. Fried fish with bacon and eggs and grits was the perfect summertime breakfast and I loved it. And when the weather was good we repeated the same routine usually on about two days a week. What a wonderful time it was, fresh fish caught right off shore in front of our cottage, as fresh as fish can be. But, alas, it wasn't too many years later that it was banned, that and jeeps, beach bonfires without permits and dogs running free. They were amazing times, days of glory, and I'm just glad I was born at a time when I could witness it myself as a young man. And I only hope in my own little way that these words I write can give later generations a taste of just how amazing it really was. It was "Summers at Old Nags Head."