Song of the Cape Fear


“When you read this book you feel like you’re sitting on a barstool listening to a friendly old salt telling stories that are so good you just have to buy him another round to keep him talking. — stories that make you say ‘Damn! I wish I lived back then.’

And really, isn’t that the hallmark of any good story?”

Mike Hoffer, Snow’s Cut Monthly

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SKU: 978-0615334561 Category: Tag:


Song of the Cape Fear: Tales from the Golden Age of Sport Fishing

by Bill McDonald

ISBN-13: 978-0615334561

Chapter Two excerpted from Song of Cape Fear: Tales from the Golden Age of Sport Fishing.

From Pappy Leiner By Bill McDonald

He was a saltwater man with credentials carved out of long experience running back to his early days. He had wrestled the secrets of the sea, sound, and estuary over a very long span of intimate experience.

He could look a confused inlet in the teeth and evaluate the crashing surf and breaking seas, the currents and the sweep of the chop, and find the channel that led to the open sea. With all its shoals and hidden spits, you’d be dry on the seaward side of the bar with Pappy to guide you. On an ebb tide at Carolina Beach Inlet, that’s on par with working out an algebra equation.

Pappy Leiner knew the ways of the wily flounder like he was acquainted with his brother. And an excursion with Pappy down to the flounder haunts in the intricate tidal creeks of Buzzards Bay at night was more than a memorable event. He almost never missed bringing home a mess of flatfish.

He knew where the clams were, and he wasn’t reluctant in sharing his trips with the kids on expeditions below Fort Fisher. The price of admission was to have enough interest to stay until a load of clams was raked up on the tidal shallows and to help with opening the shellfish when you got home. Brother, those fritters and that chowder that came out of the kitchens of the womenfolk in the family when Pappy got through sharing clams was purely inspired.

Pappy held a school on clam opening, and he never wanted for the company of enthralled kids who gathered round to learn the business of doing in the shellfish with a clam in one hand and a knife in the other. Pappy made it look so easy when he split the bivalve with skill and ran the liberated delicacy through an old fashioned meat grinder, placing the efforts of his labors in ice trays in the fridge. He later sliced off what he wanted from the frozen contents.

Pappy knew where the bluefish were taking it easy on a slow trolling day on Frying Pan Shoals and could tell you where the shallows and the deeps were according to the color of the water and in spite of the surf breaking from both sides of the string of sand lumps running twelve miles southeasterly to sea. You could trust him completely when he directed you to hug the lumps, where he knew the fish were waiting.

He spent most of his adult years working as a survey party chief for the Wilmington Office of the Corps of Engineers. He and his men were out there in a modified Simmons Skiff checking inlets, the estuary, tidal creeks, the Inland Waterway and the Cape Fear River. He had a running battle with malaria for years.

Pappy put in some time on the lonely beaches in the fall fishing, plugging the slough for speckled trout and bluefish, looking for a stray puppy drum or flounder as well. But never on Sunday.

Come Sunday and Pappy was in the First Baptist Church testifying to his faith in life and offering gratitude for the privilege [of] being alive. He was the kind of man who was called on to deliver food gifts to the needy and those down on their luck following the interdenominational Thanksgiving service in the old days when everybody brought some kind of food to the church for a gift. He was a master at extending heartfelt kindness along with the food gift without compromising the needy.

Pappy was an old fashioned craftsman with his hand tools. He was a master before and after the new power tools came out. When the new glass plugging rods first came into popularity following World War II, Pappy built his own rod from Calcutta bamboo. It was a masterpiece of body, balance and whip. He was busy in his shop over the next several years making rods, he was also making lecterns for teachers at his church and fashioning an “old rugged cross” out of weather beaten driftwood for use on the beach when the community observed Easter Sunrise Services each year.

While he was an excellent shot with a scatter gun, Pappy was the kind of man who elected to pole the boat while you sat up in the bow waiting to shoot marsh hens in the September flood tides in the lower reaches of the bay, offering quiet advice and knowing exactly where to go in the maze of creeks and flood covered marsh grass. He said he got more from the hunt letting you have the shots.

Pappy was introduced to the ways of the sea and the shore, creeks, and inlets by his granddad, Captain Gray Burris of Federal Point and Southport. Burris was a river pilot for the Confederate blockade runners in the Civil War and for a number of years following with commercial shipping calling at the port of Wilmington. Burris was at Fort Fisher that memorable day the Federals took it in January, 1865, and when informed the fort was about to surrender, swam the mile wide Cape Fear River to escape.

When Pappy was a boy of twelve years, his family moved to Southport where Burris had a waterfront house with his sailboat tied up in the creek that came nearly to the front yard.

It grew into a mutual admiration society for the old man of the sea and the boy. They fished the river and the bay and Corncake Inlet and the beaches over on Caswell together from 1912 until Burris died in 1925. They shot deer, ducks, and other game for the table and out of necessity. However, Pappy learned a reverence for wildlife and the fields and the marshes and fish and the sea from the old gentleman that lasted all his days.

It was said by one of his “adopted” kids in later years, who used to enjoy shooting with Pappy, that he never took a shot at game that was out of range, which might only wound a bird or deer without a clean kill. He was not willing to inflict suffering in the event the game escaped and went off into the brush to die and be wasted.

Pappy knew how to say the right words to chastise us young savages, who killed for killing’s sake, no matter whether it was game in the fields or fish in the sloughs. He was a conservationist and took his own game within the context of food for the table and enjoyment of the great outdoors. He firmly expected his guests to do the same.

The man had a green thumb. He had a yard that looked a little like Eden might have looked. There were roses climbing a trellis, a transplanted cedar tree, a fragrant magnolia, fruit trees, and grape vines — one of which he typically found growing wild on an island in the Cape Fear, dug up, and brought home. Another came from the fine vine at his granddad’s home in Southport.

Pappy also had a fish cleaning table in his yard near his workshop, and every hungry cat in the neighborhood was welcome to watch him dress out the catch and eat his fill of scraps before Pappy hosed down and cleaned up.

Pappy’s gone now. Somehow it’s never quite the same as it used to be when he was along in an open outboard skiff heading offshore into a gathering sunrise to keep an appointment with a school of waiting mackerel or to High Rock to have a go with the gray trout.

Such a seasoned old salt and yet such a blithe spirit passes by only once or twice in all a man’s years to share with you some of the secrets he has learned from life.

We were richer than we knew.

Chapter Two excerpted from Song of Cape Fear: Tales from the Golden Age of Sport Fishing.

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