The Last to Know the Names of Creeks: The Hoopers of Salvo, NC

Edited excerpt of oral histories recorded by B. Garrity-Blake for Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s “Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages Adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” 2005, IAI Inc. Map drawn by B. Garrity-Blake.

Salvo resident Leslie Hooper, now deceased, said that the tiny creeks along the sound side of Chicamacomico, where Salvo, Waves, and Rodanthe are located on the northern end of Hatteras Island, were special to him.  

“I spent a lot of happy hours up there in them creeks, hunting and fishing,” he said. He sailed a sixteen-foot skiff, catching fish and crabs.  His favorite area was called Jenkins Island and No Ache Island.

“That’s where I practically lived!  Everyday I went down there fishing or hunting.”

He knew all the names of the creeks.

“The first creek on this end is Brick Creek.  The next creek up is Opening Creek.  Then Horse Wading Creek.  Crooked Creek is next.  After that is Ben Peters Creek.”  

Leslie Hooper lamented that the younger generation might not bother to learn the old names.  

“I’m the last generation that’s going to know what the creeks are called. The generation that is growing up now, they don’t hunt, they don’t fish.  They could care less what the name of a creek is.”

His cousin Burt Hooper, also deceased, shared Les’ concern about the loss of local creek names. He pointed out that visitors are surprised to find so many creeks on the sound side of Hatteras Island. He could not recall the stories behind some of the names, but did recall a few. One landing was called Percy’s Net Rack:

“He was a man that lived to Avon. He cut everybody’s hair years ago for a dollar a head.  But he used to fish up around Gull Shoal and he had a net rack that he put there, and that’s why they called it Percy’s Net Rack.   

He mentioned Kannigy’s Pond, drained so that “they could get the terrapin turtles out of it,” and a point called “A Man’s Grave” where somebody was buried.  Another interesting name is “Hen Turd’s Creek.” “Cross Shoal” where Coast Guardsmen used to meet and “clock in” with one another on patrol.  

“The Coast Guard used to have a little house here on the beach that was called the Cross House.  That’s where they met from Avon and Gull Shoal, to check their clocks, and the guy from Gull Shoal had a key for the clock that was in Little Kinnakeet, and the guy from Little Kinnakeet had a key for the clock for Gull Shoal. Gull Shoal men had the key to Rodanthe clock, and Rodanthe had the key to Gull Shoal clock, and that’s how they would strike ‘em, and that’s they way they knew that they met.”   

Burt Hooper attributed his knowledge of the old creek names from “growing up in the sailing days” and his adventurous spirit as a boy.

“There was no engines here.  They were all sailboats.  Later on as I got up to 15, 16, 17 year old, they started getting’ these little Briggs and Stratton engines in their boats, and then when I got in my 20’s they started buying outboards. But when I grew up it was all sailboats.  

He said that many of the skiffs of Salvo were about eighteen feet long and four and a half foot wide, with  home-sewn canvas sails and a jib.

“They’d build ‘em theirself.  They’d just set up a place and buy the juniper and build ‘em a boat.  They pulled ‘em up every Saturday morning, cleaned ‘em off, and put ‘em back overboard on Monday morning and they’re setting their nets again.”

Villagers of Chicamacomico sailed the skiffs to Avon for fellowship meetings. They sailed up and down the sound side Hatteras for fishing, waterfowl hunting, trading, and social visits. With its myriad of creeks, points, and islands, it’s no wonder place names were important.

Map 7.3 Salvo.jpg

We Call them Crying Snappers: Maurice Davis of the Captain Stacy Fishing Center, Atlantic Beach, NC

Reprinted and edited from Tradewinds Magazine, 2018, B. Garrity-Blake      

“Guess what this is?” Captain Maurice Davis said, picking up a yet-to-be carved swordfish bill covered with faint circles. “Those are sucker marks from a giant squid, trying to fight off the swordfish!” We were in “A Captain’s Gallery,” the shop Maurice and his wife Jennifer opened last year to showcase his artwork, located across the street from the Fishing Center.  

Students from Duke Marine Lab’s Fisheries Policy class were surprised when Captain Davis arranged to meet them in an art gallery instead of at the Captain Stacy Fishing Center. Glass tables etched with maritime scenes filled the room. Scrimshaw swords made of swordfish bills with handles carved from wood and shell hung on the walls. 

“This is what we do with some of the stuff from the ocean,” he explained. “Turn it into art. I buy swords from the long liners – they make a little money, and the swords aren’t thrown away.” Maurice also had several of his paintings and drawings displayed on the wall, all sea-themed. 

“Fishermen can’t make it full time on the water anymore,” he pointed out. “They need side jobs, and this is mine.” Fresh on his mind was a recent Marine Fisheries Commission meeting in Wrightsville Beach where an income requirement was proposed as a way to define a commercial fisherman. 

“Teachers can’t make enough money anymore either, and they need to find side jobs. Are you going to take away their license to teach? No – that would be unconstitutional! Why would you do that to a fisherman just because he has to find supplemental income to survive?” 

Captain Maurice, 56, grew up working in the family head boat business that his father - legendary fisherman Sonny Davis - started with his wife Joyce in the early 1960s. Sonny learned the trade from his father, Stacy Davis of Harkers Island. Maurice and his brother Joe worked as deckhands as boys, and his sister Loretta kept the books. 

The business continues to be a family affair. Maurice has captained the iconic 83 foot head boat Captain Stacy IV since he was 18, with the help of his brother Joe and son Trey. His father Sonny, who has built several of their boats throughout the years, catches bait with his homemade cast nets, and is a fixture on the Atlantic Beach Causeway waterfront. 

“We were raised different,” Maurice smiled. “Didn’t go to the playground - I’d go scrub the boat or I didn’t eat!”

The key to success for any head boat captain is knowing where to put customers, eager to drop a line and catch supper, on fish. The Davis family has local knowledge going back three generations. North Carolina waters are especially rich in good fishing spots. 

“We got more bottom from Cape Lookout to Frying Pan Shoals than anywhere,” said Maurice. “Forty miles southeast of here you’re in fifty fathoms, go five more miles and you’re in one hundred.” 

Captain Maurice said that his father gave him the location of hundreds of fishing hotspots, teaching his son not to overwork any one site.

“He taught me to farm it,” explained the captain. “Fish one spot and a month later you might come back to it. Give it time to recoup.” Maurice said that the head boat captains work together, coordinating their efforts. 

“I call Terrell of the Carolina Princess to find out where he fished and I won’t go there,” he emphasized. “Dad always worked with Captain Woo Woo Harker. Commercial fishermen are the same way – what area did you work? Okay I’ll work north of you.” 

A student asked Captain Maurice to define head boat fishing, and explain how it differs from charter fishing.

“Head boat customers pay ‘by the head’ to fish a day or half day, and pay about a hundred dollars for a full day. We’re licensed to take 100 people, but keep it to 80 or less.” He pointed out that there’s only a handful of head boats in North Carolina. “Charter boats, on the other hand, are numerous, and charge between 1,500 and 1,800 dollars a day for up to six people.”

Captain Stacy Fishing Center has several charter boats as well as the queenly head boat Captain Stacy IV.

“Carbon footprint of a head boat is a lot less than a charter boat,” Maurice stressed. “Head boat will burn 156 gallons of fuel in a day’s time, serving eighty to a hundred people. Charter boats with outboard motors burn basically the same amount of fuel to serve four to six people.” 

Although head boats are categorized as recreational, not commercial, they have to undergo an annual Coast Guard inspection that charter boats do not, which takes up to a month and a half.  

“We’re responsible for a lot of people, so we have meet Coast Guard requirements that include hull and topside inspections, lifejackets, man overboard drills, collision at sea drills. Fire drills. Our crew has to have CPR training and drug testing.” 

Captain Maurice also pointed out that recreational anglers and six-passenger charter boat captains are off the hook when it comes to catch reports and certain conservation requirements. 

“Head boat captains fill out daily reports called the boat survey, and that data goes to NMFS in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ve been doing that for thirty-six years, and we’re nine years into a pilot program using an ap. We need the data, but they don’t collect recreational data.”

Maurice said that vessels over 65 feet long are required to slow down to ten knots when crossing a designated whale zone as a protective measure for endangered cetaceans. 

“Why aren’t outboards required to follow the same rules when crossing the whale zone? They’ve got meat grinders under their boat, going sixty knots – what do you think that’ll do to a whale?” 

Because of the whale zone, large vessels like the Captain Stacy IV are required to have a “position indicator” onboard, allowing their speed and location to be tracked. Maurice said that anyone with a cell phone can pull up this data and see exactly where the head boat is at any given moment, and figure out where the fishing hot spots are. 

“Thousands of miles of bottom, and here they come like mosquitoes,” Maurice said. “Sixty years of bottom we’ve worked for our whole life – if you find the place yourself, good, I honor you. But they get on their phone, track us, and show up with three outboards – then they sit there and burn the spot out.”

The Davis family has one foot planted in recreational fishing with their head boat and charter operations, and the other in commercial fishing, giving them a well-rounded vantage point. 

“We do it all. We finish up head boat fishing around Thanksgiving, then get the boat ready for the commercial bluefin tuna season. After the first of the year vermillion snapper opens up – we’re scared the feds will take away our permit if they put an amount limit on it, so we’ve got to catch vermillions.” 

Maurice Davis has a good relationship with recreational fishermen along the waterfront. 

“We talk and argue all the time!” he grinned. His role as captain of a head boat includes educating customers about why various restrictions affect what they can or can’t put in their cooler. 

“We need bag and size limits, although the snapper closure, they should have done that differently. You can’t catch them but two or three days out of the year.”

A student asked what kind of snapper is so restricted? 

“We call them crying snappers,” Captain Maurice said with a straight face. “Because you cry when you’ve got to throw them back.”

Captain Maurice Davis shows Swordfish Bill to Duke Marine Lab’s Marine Fisheries Policy Students

Captain Maurice Davis shows Swordfish Bill to Duke Marine Lab’s Marine Fisheries Policy Students

My Father the Pepsi Cola Man: Rudy Gray Recalls Growing up in Waves, NC in the 1950s

Edited excerpt of oral history recorded by B. Garrity-Blake for Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s “Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages Adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore,” 2005, IAI Inc. Map drawn by B. Garrity-Blake.

My father started working for Pepsi Cola, hauling Pepsi Colas out of Elizabeth City down here on Hatteras island.  I can remember when we would leave real early in the morning around about 5 o’clock to go up to catch the ferry out of Oregon Inlet.

At that time it was a wooden ferry that they take over Oregon Inlet, and they would have a chain hoist rig that would raise up the front of the ferry. They would drop a wooden ramp down on the beach. You would drive your truck up on the ferry real slow on this rinky-dink thing. 

 He would cross the inlet and go to Elizabeth City and that’s where he would pick up the Pepsis. The paved highway never started until what we call Whalebone Junction. 

It was an all-day affair from the time he left here and went across the ferry, drove to Elizabeth City, and back. My dad would stop and drop some Pepsis off there to the fishing center in Oregon Inlet.  It’s not like it is today.  It was just a small fishing center.

My father distributed Pepsis on all of Hatteras Island. He had lumber, boards, 2 by 12s or whatever he could find on the beach, and kept them shoved up underneath the truck. We’d be going along and the sand would get real soft like it does in the summertime. He would get stuck in the sand, and he’d have to pull those boards out from underneath that truck and start boarding his way.  He’d drive on the boards a little ways, then get another board.  It wasn’t real easy getting down here like it is today with the highway.              

I’d go with him to deliver the Pepsis. At one time I felt like I just about knew everybody on Hatteras Island except the people that was here in the Navy or Coast Guard.

In the olden days back when I was a kid the grocery stores is where all the older men would hang out in the afternoon.  It was a gathering place. At my grandfather’s store, A. H. Gray General Merchandise in Waves, there would be 10 or 12, 14 men sitting around talking, some of them playing dominos, checkers, and stuff like that.  People had more time to visit and socialize more than they do now.  Everybody’s got to hustle and bustle today.

Map 7.2 Waves.jpg

NOAA's Voices Oral History Archives

The Voices Oral History Archives - https://voices.nmfs.noaa.gov - is a central repository for consolidating, archiving, and disseminating oral history interviews related to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishing in the United States and its territories. The program seeks to document the human experience of our marine, coastal, and Great Lakes environments.

The database contains recordings and transcripts of eyewitness accounts from fishermen, their spouses, processing workers, shoreside business workers, scientists, marine resources managers, and others. These stories expand our knowledge and enrich our understanding of the nation's fisheries and their impacts.

The program works with prospective oral history practitioners to add interviews to our growing digital repository and the public to use and interact with our content for educational and research purposes. The Voices Oral History Archives database is a powerful resource available to the public to inform, educate, and provide primary information for researchers interested in our local, human experience with the surrounding marine environment.

Everything We Have Comes from the Water: Elbert and Sandy Gaskill of Harkers Island, NC

Reprinted rom Tradewinds Magazine, 2017, B. Garrity-Blake; photograph by B. Merkley

“Everything we have, everything we eat, our whole livelihood has come from the water,” Sandy Gaskill observed. She and Elbert grew up together on Harkers Island and have been making a life together for more than fifty years. 

“We borrowed 1,500 dollars to get started,” said Elbert. “Bought an 18-foot boat, motor, gillnet, and waist boots. Soon as we started making money we paid it off.” 

Elbert has built boats, made his own clam rakes, and done his own engine repair. 

“I know a little bit about carpentry, can fix my nets, rigging, wiring, welding - you got to know a little bit about everything,” he points out. “When all else fails, you can grab your tub and rake and go clamming. Eat Vienna sausage, crackers, keep clamming til your back gives out, but you can pay your light bill.” 

Elbert has a low-key, humble demeanor. You might not guess that his fellow fishermen count him as one of the hardest-working, innovative members of their community. For example, Elbert was the first in North Carolina to try the “fish eye” in his trawl net, a type of finfish excluder device. 

“We were working back of Cedar Island - me and Buddy Gaskill, who later drowned – we studied it.” The men sewed the excluder device, which Elbert had built based on one he had seen at a fishing show, into a tail bag, while a second tail bag served as a control. They made a tow and checked their results. 

“When I hauled back, the bag with the fish eye device was smaller, and right red looking. Dumped it out and it was shrimp. It worked.” He emphasized that fishermen do not want to catch small fish and other bycatch because “that’s our livelihood!” 

Elbert thinks that Turtle Excluder Devices, called “turtle shooters” by fishermen, were a good innovation as well. “Turtle shooters was the best thing (managers) ever done,” he emphasized. “I shoot the whifferees (rays) right on out, and skates, grass, bycatch, jellyballs, turtles, and other stuff you don’t want to be bothered with.” 

“Right now,” he added, “if they said ‘You ain’t got to use a TED’ I’d still want to use it!” 

Sandy and Elbert maintain that the key to their success was working together and being prepared to switch gears and fisheries to adapt to conditions.  

“We’d get set up for channel netting,” Sandy said, “And he’d go floundering while I fished the channel net. He’d go scalloping from Harkers Island to Sneads Ferry in the wintertime and I’d open scallops.  Built a big boat for shrimping, but a hard freeze killed every spotted shrimp that season – had to leave the new boat to the dock and go hand clamming. During red tide we went offshore, sink netting.” 

In the early years Elbert apprenticed with Claude Brown of Marshallberg, setting pots in the wintertime for black sea bass in the ocean. Today Elbert is one of the few permit holders from this region who can participate in that fishery. 

“He’s been a hard worker and a good provider,” Sandy said, nodding her head. “He tends his own business and we don’t bother nobody.” 

“You have to act like it’s the last dollar to be made,” Elbert added.  

For all of the deck time Sandy has put in, she has worked just as hard on land sticking up for the fishing industry. “If it hadn’t been for the women,” Elbert declared, “fishing would be all be closed down.” 

Although always the backbone of fishing families, women became increasingly organized and vocal in North Carolina fish politics in the 1990s. “Ladies auxiliaries” formed to support the North Carolina Fisheries Association, and women sponsored fundraisers, protests, and trips to the state capital to appeal to lawmakers.   

“We’d go to Raleigh and sometimes we’d leave there laughing,” Sandy recalled. “Sometimes we’d leave a’crying. Most times we’d leave a’praying.”   

In the Gaskill’s living room hangs an award to Sandy from the North Carolina Coastal Federation for her efforts in stopping a large marina from being built on Harkers Island, which would have destroyed adjacent shellfish beds. Sandy also served on the county harbor authority and successfully fought to keep dock space affordable for commercial fishermen. 

 She, along with Karen Amspacher, Pam Morris, and the late Janice Smith, was instrumental in making the North Carolina Seafood Festival’s Blessing of the Fleet what it is today. 

 “It’s been 20 years we’ve been doing this Blessing,” Sandy said. The women elevated the event to a truly sacred experience, with a procession of boats big and small blessing lost loved ones with wreaths that are tossed into the water. 

Honoring ancestors is important, but so too is looking ahead to the next generation of commercial fishermen. Sandy and Elbert have hope in the future because they see young people entering the fisheries, and they hope more of them will participate in management. 

“I was on the state's crustacean advisory committee for eight years,” said Sandy. “I said, no, I’m not going back on - I want the young ones to take a turn, take part, and take an interest in it.” 

Sandy shared a story about a young fisherman who asked her about the North Carolina Fisheries Association, the state’s largest trade organization for the seafood industry. He was wondering if the organization cared about small fishermen. 

“I said, let me tell you something. We can’t make it without them, and they can’t make it without us. We have got to work together or we’re going to lose it all.”

Sandy is known for speaking passionately at fisheries and legislative meetings. “When everything you have comes from the water, you go to a meeting and speak from the heart. You go there to tell them the truth.” 

Her advice to the next generation of fishermen and fisheries warriors? “Don’t be afraid to speak up. You know what you’re talking about." 

Elbert concedes that young people have new challenges to face. “More than anything, our fish are going north.” He notes that greentail shrimp are now filling the Chesapeake Bay, sea mullets are appearing off New York, and trout and croaker are frequenting northern waters. 

“And sharks are coming up from the south. I’ve worked 12 o’clock shoal my whole life never bothered by a shark, but now they eat the tail bag!” 

At 73, Elbert is not deterred, and he and Sandy continue to rise to the challenges on land and sea alike. 

“All the income we’ve ever had has come from the water,” Sandy reflected. “Nothing else, just the water. And we’ve made it.”

Elbert & Sandy4.2012 BMerkley (1).JPG