When Marc Mitchum was a teenager living in Pittsboro, N.C., he dreamed of starting his career on the water as many “Down Easteners” do. When he turned 21, he migrated from the Piedmont to Wanchese and turned to the sea and its vast resources as a way to make his living.
Today Mitchum is taking the idea of making a living from the sea to another level. He’s operating a charter service for tourists by taking them onto the coastal waters of our state to catch blue crabs and brown shrimp and showing them how commercial fishermen make their living every year. The big difference in this type of charter is that the customers get to keep the seafood that they’ll be catching and enjoy a big seafood dinner after the trip.
For the first years of his career as a commercial fisherman, Mitchum was a first mate aboard some of the charter boats operating from the Oregon Inlet Sportfishing Center. He learned some valuable lessons during the years he spent baiting hooks and catering to the needs of sportfishermen who were in search of marlin, wahoo, dolphin, tuna and king mackerel. These lessons in the successful sport of fishing were to pay off for him in later years. Notably, he learned the importance of working with people and he learned the ways of the fishery resources in the Wanchese area.
In later years, Mitchum decided that his career should take him into the work of full time commercial fishing. Starting out with smaller boats and a crabbing rig, he worked the water to try and make a living to support his wife and four boys. As any waterman knows, commercial fishing of any type does not guarantee a steady income. In some ways, full-time commercial fishing is like being a full-time farmer in our state. You have some very good years when you make a decent living and then there are the lean years when you can barely scrape by.
The years of “just scraping by” began to take its toll on Mitchum and his family and he decided to look around at something a little different to supplement the income from commercial fishing. He wanted to be able to utilize his existing knowledge and expertise on the water with something a little “different.”
Mitchum decided to investigate the possibility of taking paying customers out crabbing and shrimping to catch their own seafood and be able to take it back to their beach cottages to put on a Down East style seafood dinner for family and friends utilizing seafood that they’d actually taken themselves. It sounded like a good idea. Good ideas, however, often have a lot of complications that take place and need correcting before they actually becomes a reality.
Realizing that his smaller crabbing boats were not up to the task of taking multiple customers and meeting the complicated requirements of the code of federal regulations, Mitchum set about getting a larger boat. He found such a boat up in the Deltaville area of the Chesapeake Bay, purchased it and brought it home to Wanchese. The new 42-foot “Jodie Kae” (named for his wife) is a well-built, wooden, Chesapeake Bay working boat that, with its 13-foot beam, can comfortably accommodate six passengers and the crew.
Mitchum also had to take and pass the difficult U.S. Coast Guard’s test to have a license to take up to six paying customers aboard his boat. He took the course and passed the test and now proudly has the well-known “Six Pack License” to operate a commercial passenger boat.
Another Tar Heel industry that rates very high on the list of careers for “Down Easterners” is working with the tourists who flock to the Outer (and Inner Banks) of our state. Looking at this resource and figuring out how to mix tourism with commercial fishing gave Mitchum the idea that just maybe the tourist might be willing to pay to be able to go out aboard his new 42-foot “Jodie Kae” and actually experience, first hand, how to set trot lines for crabs and pull trawl nets for shrimp and other estuarine life. He now had a very clean and very seaworthy boat and a head full of knowledge about harvesting sea life. Now the question was would tourists would pay to go out aboard the “Jodie Kae” and catch their own seafood?
After having seen that the majority of the tourists who visit the Outer Banks seem to come from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania Mitchum has been concentrating his advertising for his new service in those areas. He feels that North Carolinians from the inland areas of our state tend to visit the Morehead and Wilmington beaches rather than to Nags Head or Hatteras areas.
If Mitchum receives the response to his new business that he hopes for, the customers who might take advantage of his crabbing and shrimping expeditions will be up to six people who will board the “Jodie Kae” in the morning then head out into the sound where they will set about running a trot line baited for the blue crabs that our state is famous for. Marylanders and Delawareans are noted for their craving of a meal of steamed crabs. Being able to go out and actually catch a good number of crabs and then put on a steamed crab dinner that they’ve just taken from Tar Heel waters should mean a great deal to the tourists.
The trot line consists of up to a mile of heavy cord that has a piece of crab bait (eel, or chicken necks) tied into the line every few feet. The line is buoyed at its beginning, allowed to sink to the bottom as the boat lays out the line for a good distance where the captain sets another buoy on that far end.
After a few minutes to allow the crabs to come to the bait and begin to hungrily feed on it, the boat and crabbers will go back to the first buoy and start slowly moving down the line as it pulls the line over a roller and up through the water alongside the boat. The crabbers will use dip nets and try and net the crabs as they’re led up beside the boat. With good luck and a lot of Captain Marc Mitchum’s knowledge and expertise, tourists will have a chance to literally catch several bushels of crabs in a day.
If the customers aboard the Jodie Kae have taken enough crabs for their use, Captain Mitchum will then put out a 25-foot trawl net and set about taking some of the brown shrimp that are just starting to show up near Wanchese. After a tow of 20 or 30 minutes, the trawl net will be brought aboard the Jodie Kae and its catch dumped on the deck to be culled. The shrimp will be mixed in with a large variety of estuarine life that was scooped up in the net and the customers will take several varieties home for dinner. The captain will assist the customers in identifying the various kinds of sea life that comes from the shrimp trawl.
The cost for up to six customers a half-day afloat with the Jodie Kae and Captain Mitchum will be $425. Mitchum feels certain that customers will have enough local, very fresh seafood to feed a large party of friends that night. Customers should bring their own drinks and food, but the boat will supply the ice.
Captain Marc Mitchum’s OBX Crabbing and Shrimping Charters website is www.obxcrabbing.com and they can be reached at 252-423-0421.