The wind fairly screamed from the northeast, dumping wave upon wave upon the most famous strip of surf fishing sand in the country. They come from every corner of the land to be at Cape Point, North Carolina. The autumnal surf-fishing brotherhood congregates with religious fervor on the treacherously narrow spit of land that experts say should have been swallowed by the Atlantic more than a hundred years ago. The sand spit is still there -- changed a little by storm and tides from year to year, but still there just as the grizzled fishing veterans are still around. To stand knee-deep in the rousing surf of Hatteras' Cape Point is a mind-boggling experience for novices. You learn to understand hand signals and facial expressions -- if they can be seen at all -- because even shouted words disappear in the breakers. In the middle of the night we kneeled in the sand cutting up oily mullet bait that would be pierced onto large hooks. Heavy four-ounce pyramid sinkers were snapped to three-way swivels and within minutes our 10- and 11-foot-long surf rods sliced through the night winds not unlike slender swords about to engage in combat with the ocean. Just to be there was enough. Even if the autumn promise of bluefish and puppy drum was to be ruined by the three consecutive days of horrendous winds we had just lived through, we would not be discouraged. The man who first taught us surf fishing basics more than 15 years ago, Ken Lauer of Buxton only laughed when he learned the Washington foursome would venture to the "Point" in the dead of night. "It's a full moon, sure enough," he said. "Good for puppy drum if the surf weren't so muddy." Muddy is the word used by experts when sand particles mix heavily with onrushing waves during periods of strong easterly winds. Puppy drum are juvenile channel bass, the mainstay of Carolina surf anglers during fall. It is said that the fish who look for easy bait pickings in the surf will stay away when half the water mass is displaced by swirling sand. Sorry about that. The guy on the outside of our surf rod picket fence had just landed a speckled sea trout. Big deal. So it wasn't a puppy drum. The trout flopped on the beach, hooked well enough not to wriggle back into the water. Besides, the day before we had latched onto a half dozen young bluefish. Maybe not the monstrous 18- pound choppers we had expected, but fish all the same. The tide had been dead high and now was about to turn. In the distance three four- wheel-drive vehicles clambered across the beach ramp just a little south of the Hatteras Lighthouse. Their license plates could be predicted without even looking. The locals were asleep now, secure in the knowledge that "muddy" surf waters would not turn up much. But when you drive seven hours from Maryland and Northern Virginia, where the bulk of the distant visitors to Hatteras hails from, you don't wait for the surf to clear. One bewildered out-of-towner sat on the tailgate of his all-terrain-vehicle, a lantern keeping him company. "I've been driving all day, all the way from Cincinnati," he said. "I'll be damned if I'm going to sleep this night away in a motel room." The poor fellow was alone, not really sure of what to do. "I read about Hatteras during fall all my life," he said with a sigh. "I just had to do it. It was like a magnet for me. Hell, I don't even know if I have the right gear." He did -- even if the fish didn't cooperate. Three 101/2-foot rods leaned against his Jeep. They were loaded with 17-pound, 20- pound and 25-pound testline -- ready for anything the surf might call for. him, the way most of the surf clan here would. The wind picked up -- up to 40 mph, said a voice on the radio. One bluefish was hooked in a spot that during the previous day had given up a number of three- to six- pound puppy drum. Big deal. So the fish weren't all that willing. There would be other days, other Octobers and Novembers. "I told you so," said surf guide Lauer later. "But don't give up. You know this is the best place on the Atlantic." Lauer is right, even if he sounds like a walking billboard for the local chamber of commerce. Don't give up. If the winds slow -- and they surely will -- the rest of this month and all of the next can be great for drum and blues, maybe flounder and trout. He'll part with the latest info during the early evenings -- without trying to hustle a guided trip. Call him in Buxton, 919/995- 5183. During the daytime call Outer Banks Fishing Unlimited in Buxton, 919/995-5224.