When he headed to the end of Avon Fishing Pier on North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Tuesday, J.R. Clate of Scottsdale, Va., wasn't expecting to see a dolphin, but he was glad that he wound up landing a colorful, 33-inch fish, only the second caught from the pier and one of less than a dozen on record from all North Carolina piers.
Clate was fishing a live croaker on a pin rig from the end of the pier, disappointed early in the fifth day of his trip to the Avon area because of muddy water, figuring his best chance was to catch a shark.
After a few hours, the wind changed, and the water began to clear.
"One of the older fishermen on the pier got excited when the water began clearing and said to get ready," Clate said. "He said the water was warm enough we might see some kings, tarpon or dolphin, and sure enough, we did.
"The first time this dolphin swam into the baits at the end of the pier, it went to my croaker and hit it, but didn't get hooked," Clate said. "It mangled the bait, so I quickly reeled it up and switched it out with a fresh, lively croaker."
Clate said as he was changing baits, someone cast a Got-Cha jig; the dolphin would follow it but not strike it.
"When I got the new bait in the water, it immediately got the dolphin's attention, and it swam over and began stalking it," Clate said. "This time when it grabbed it, I let it have some line, and it swallowed the bait and hooks. When I came tight on the line to set the hook, it popped the pin and jumped over the anchor line and then took off.
"I had a fair amount of drag on the line, and the dolphin pulled hard for about 150 yards before tiring," Clate said. "It jumped once more before it let me lead it back to the pier. My friend, Max Morrison … slipped a landing net under it and quickly lifted it up and across the pier's rail and onto the deck."
Clate said when he checked his watch after the dolphin was on the pier, it was 11:15. The fight had only lasted about five to 10 minutes, but it was probably double that time from the moment the dolphin was first spotted.
Clate’s catch came slightly more than a year after Avon Pier’s other dolphin encounter. On June 15, 2016, Austin Smith landed a 34-inch dolphin from the Outer Banks pier.