Splash bites: Tommy Chance lives to fish

Published 7:43 am Thursday, April 21, 2022

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When it comes to fishing, Tommy Chance doesn’t leave anything, well, to chance. He’s got the right bait, equipment and modes of transportation to get the job done. Chance typically has his morning catch posted on social media before he heads into work for McGee and Sons Plumbing.

Just the other Sunday, on a Hatteras beach, he hooted several times while fighting a nice slot drum on lightweight tackle, which he prefers. Chance landed several that afternoon although fishing was slow. He’s just one of those anglers who has a knack for catching.

Chance targets plenty of different species and there’s a lot of photos of healthy red drum and beautiful speckled trout on his Facebook page. A lifelong resident of the Outer Banks, he’s caught hundreds if not thousands of each.

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Around Christmas, he reported to his followers that he caught and released 123 big red drum in 2020 and another 131 in 2021. He said sea mullet heads are key: “Candy bait – like it was sugar to them! I can’t tell you how many splash bites!”

Unlike other fishermen, Chance, age 52, doesn’t wait around for the bite to peak in specific, crowded spots. He simply seeks out places where he thinks the fish will be feeding based on winds, tides, currents and ocean water temperatures. Chance also keeps logs of the conditions from year to year.

His formulas and gut instincts appear to pay off as countless selfies with lunkers document his life. Chance is careful not to give away too much information in the background of these photos, so others won’t swoop in. He uses a self-timer on his cell and has gone through 11 phones in water-related mishaps.

Armed with three different types of rod and reel set-ups – spinning, fly and heavers – he fishes year-round and targets a wide variety. Chance cruises to these locations in a new, huge four-wheel drive white, four door Dodge truck with big tires and camper shell.

He recently sold his outboard fishing boat and now favors a 12-foot long Recon 120 Wilderness Systems kayak or “Yak” as he calls it.

This month, you can find Chance beach fishing somewhere on the south side. Most of his rods are custom built by Nathan Pruitt. Another key tool is waders: don’t leave home without them, he notes.

“Fall, winter and springtime is when I do most of my beach fishing,” he said. “I go every weekend, down south beach.” He doesn’t like crowds and avoids them if possible.

Now for Chance, who is somewhat coy about his fishing secrets and spots, “south beach” can mean anywhere from Oregon Inlet to South Carolina. There is one spot, however, he prefers to others, but didn’t want to see it in print or online.

With his new kayak, Chance said even more places to fish are opening up to him. On the soundside flats around Oregon Inlet and other nearby places, he sight casts for puppy drum and uses a popping cork to lure speckled trout to bite. Chance loves what he calls “splash bites.”

You may see him heading south toward Engelhard on Highway 264 where he fishes for trout on the “backside” in ditches and open areas where points form. The kayak is wide enough for him to stand on and even rotate 360 degrees if needed.

Chance does have his eyes on another fishing boat, a flats boat that can go in two or three inches of depth known as “skinny water” by anglers. He loves to sight cast with his fly rod, and he’s made several trips South Carolina where fishing is good.

Chance’s enthusiasm for angling knows no end.

“I love South Carolina – it’s a whole different ball [of wax] than up here,” he said. “We did well in the grass flats.”

For him, this lifestyle developed early. Chance moved here a year after he was born in Pennsylvania in 1970.

“Ever since then, I’ve been fishing, since my dad’s days,” he said. “My father and mother went to the beach every day, every weekend.

“There was no grocery store; fall fishing helped us survive winters,” Chance said. He learned his profession and his love for fishing from his late dad, Stanley Edward Chance. He currently helps his mom Mary Chance, a retired cafeteria worker, around the house.

He said there were times when his dad handed him a bucket so Chance could pick up all the trout laying on the beach from where frenzied schools of blue fish had run them on shore. He can remember using wooden broomstick handle lures during blitzes.

“Rock fishing in the early ’90s, we were on it for years before it blew up,” he said. Back then, they’d get 15 or 16 stripers on a slow night, 25 to 30 on a good one down around Oregon Inlet December through February, Chance said.

“We were chasing them up and down the beach!” he said. Now, Chance is all about catching fish on flies.

“I love fly fishing — that’s really taken off, I’m on my fifth year and I have five rods,” he said laughing about his growing Orvis brand quiver.

“Sight casting and fly fishing, it’s all about being quiet and sneaking up on them,” Chance said. “In South Carolina skinny water, you see them tailing on the flats in the mornings eating little black crabs in the shallows.

“When the tide goes out, it gets shallow and gets shallow fast,” he said. “Fishing is learning the tides, winds and sea temperatures.

“Put it all in one bucket and go with your gut,” Chance said. Again, he logs the data and uses it to make decisions about when and where to fish.

“Every seven years we get a big cold snap and we’re due,” he said. “In the 70s and 80s we used to have winters.”

Speaking of the old days, this Kill Devil Hills resident who graduated from Manteo High School in 1988, said he misses some of the haunts of the old Outer Banks.

“All the good bars were ripped down,” Chance said. “But Captain Franks has been here forever!

“Remember the old Soundside?” he asks. “I almost drowned there” and explained he fell off the dock one day into Kitty Hawk Bay.

Located on the northwest corner of Avalon subdivision, Holiday Marina eventually became Soundside Folk & Ale House and was truly a local’s favorite. A sandy lane lead north along Kitty Hawk Bay and was fun to ride through, he said.

Chance said he loved life around town then when things were a bit different and sandy roads and desolate beaches led you to adventures near and far.

“The good ole days, all the good places,” he said. “We would drive the beach to Rudee’s [Inlet, Va.] and back.”

In general, Chance thinks people should live in the moment and have fun each day.

“You only have one life to live, live it out right, enjoy the beach!” he said.