Fifteen-year-old Billy Dillon strode over the last rise and surveyed the crashing surf at the point on Hatteras Island.
This is not just a point. It's the point of the Outer Banks, where south and north currents meet to create a maelstrom of colliding waters. The turbulence extends 11 miles out to sea in a perilous sand bar called Diamond Shoals.
It's a very fishy looking place on a dark, warm spring night. Hard sand narrows out in a vee in the roiling waters. On either side, the bar drops off into ddep sloughs where the bottom is kept constantly in chaos, kicking up small marine creatures that fish feed upon.
Big fish, this year.
Billy's brother-in-law, Dave Dawson, hasn't seen anything like it in his nine years in Buxton. "We've caught more red drum this year than ever, by far," he said.
On April 13, fishermen crammed the point from dawn till dusk and then dusk till dawn again. When it was over, the surfcasters had landed more than 100 red drum, or channel bass, many in the 40-pound class or better.
Dawson caught three, one 18, one 46 and one 47 pounds. The latter were the first drum he'd ever caught. He was still bubbling last Friday when Rick Nordan and I arrived from Washington.
"Sure, I'd love to take you out there tonight."
With Billy and Rick in the back of Dawson's pickup we snaked out across the soft sand. Once over the dunes there was no trouble finding the point. It has the look of an army encamped in the night.
Jeeps and trucks and campers, perhaps 35 vehicles in all, formed a vee along the shore. Behind us a silver of quarter-moon hung in a starry sky. Fifty yards from the water Dawson cut his lights. "Some say they bother the fish," he explained.
He found a slot between two campers and switched off the ignition. We listended to the crash and hiss of the surf.
"Could be a zoo out there," Dawson said, eyeing the massed four-wheel drivers. We pulled on chest-high waders, rigged up long surf rods and walked across the sand. No zoo. The point was empty. Not a soul fishing. All the people were sleeping or huddled around stoves and lanterns.Nothing biting, they said.
Surf fishing at night is wonderful. Dawson directed us to hurl our baits, weighted down with five-ounce sinkers, straight out into the wild water and let them wash off to one side or the other of the bar. We then eased back up through the breaking waves to a spot knee-deep in the foam.
"Watch out behind you," he said. "The surf comes both ways. I've seen plenty of people knocked down from behind."
Billy got the first hit. He felt somthing different from the waves tugging at his line. There was sudden jerk, then the line streamed away. He slammed the rod overhead and set the hook.
"Nice one," he said.
Earlier, he had problems. On his first cast of the night his line had broken and he'd lost bait and weight to foreverland. Now, with an old, untrustworthy line, he layed the fish carefully.
The drum swam north across the bar. Billy followed, stalking silently along the beach in the hope he wouldn't alert the resting fishermen in their campers. We followed him.
After 10 minutes the big fish was near shore. "He's ready," Billy said. Dawson played the light on the breaking waves. He caught a quick glimpse of gray-pink fish in the curl of a breaker. Billy squeezed down on the reel, hoping to force the fish through the last 10 yards.
I was next. The rod tip did a merry dance and then bowed. The fish all but hooked itself. It was not a big one -- about 12 pouds, what the locals call a puppy drum.
Then Dawson's rod bent over and he was into his fourth drum of the week. By now an old hand, he dispatched it handily. A 25-pounder.
The excitement rousted the sleepers and eaters, and the point began to fill up. It was midnight. We packed it in.
A dozen more channel bass, almost all big ones, were caught that night and word spread quickly that night and word spread quickly through the little town that the drum were back.
Saturday at dusk we returned to see what Dawson meant by zoo. The point was shoulder-to-shoulder with surfcasters. CB radios crackled. Someone was smoking pot and the sweet smell swept over the shoreline. Beer flowed. Every 20 minutes or so someone hooked a big drum. The crowd expanded with each catch.
"I'd like to fish, Dawson said. "But I'm afraid someone will tear my ear off on a cast."
Ken Lauer, a surf fishing guide, leaned against his jeep. "I like fishing too much to go out there," he said.
Billy looked at the crowd and chuckled. "There's more snags out there than drum. Let's go home."
Which we did.