Outdoors writer Jerry Dilsaver draws from real life experience

Jerry Dilsaver shown at his favorite spot. Photo: Courtesy of Jerry Dilsaver

In every field there are people whose achievements make them icons. Kareem Abdul Jabbar or Marlon Brando might come to mind in their respective professions. Or you might think of presidents or captains of industry. On the North Carolina coast, longtime outdoor writer and Brunswick County native Jerry Dilsaver is one such person.

Dilsaver is a freelance writer for newspapers and outdoor magazines and chances are you have read his articles in Kayak Angler Magazine, Southern Kayak Angler Magazine, TIDE Magazine, Waterway Guide, Coast Magazine or This Week Magazine. He also oversees the outside of the State Port Pilot newspaper in Southport.

Dilsaver’s commitment to fisheries and the water is a generational affair, beginning with both of his grandfathers and continuing through his father to the present day. His grandfathers, David Fulcher and John Dilsaver, both moved to southeastern North Carolina in the late 19th century. They worked on, in and around the water as shrimp fishermen and commercial fishermen. Jerry Dilsaver’s father, Floyd Dilsaver, was introduced to fishing and crabbing at an early age.

“I grew up in a fishing family. My father was a shrimp and later became the manager of the shrimp company in Southport,” he told Coastal Review.

John Dilsaver remained active late in life, working as a shrimp fisherman until his last years. Jerry Dilsaver ranks his father as the most important influence in learning everything there was to know about water.

“My dad and I used to fish together all the time,” he said.

Dilsaver’s father died in 1987 after living for many years in Southport, which the younger Dilsaver still considers his hometown, although he currently resides in Oak Island.

Dilsaver’s interests have always been diverse.

“For several years as a young man, I professionally raced motocross, hosted concerts, built nuclear power plants, directed duck and goose hunts and much more,” he said.

He didn’t find his path – and his life’s work – until he graduated from East Carolina University at the age of 33.

“I was a late bloomer and after graduating from East Carolina I became an outdoor writer and photographer.”

Dilsaver’s journalism career began with a now-defunct North Carolina outdoor magazine.

“My first job as a contributor was at Carolina Adventure Magazine in 1986 and I stayed there until 2002,” he said, adding that he wanted to join a larger organization. “I started working for Sportsman Magazine Group. I was a contributor to Sportsman Magazines in North Carolina and South Carolina and occasionally worked for Sportsman Magazines in Louisiana and Mississippi.”

The ability that most likely spurred Dilsaver’s career and lifted him above a sea of ​​fine outdoor writers and bits and pieces of fishing reports and stories was his real-world fishing success. His list of tournament wins and fishing tournament first places throughout the season may be impressive enough, but when you add that he was named Angler of the Year by the US Anglers Association in 1998 and then elected to the Southern Kingfish Association Hall of Fame in 2007, then his stature becomes clearer.

So, when Dilsaver offers fishing tips, pay attention.

Jerry Dilsaver gives a presentation at a fishing show.  Photo courtesy of Jerry Dilsaver
Jerry Dilsaver gives a presentation at a fishing show. Photo courtesy of Jerry Dilsaver

“The key to consistently scoring with fish is not getting lazy. Some fishermen get complacent and take shortcuts and that leads to frightened fish, strikes that don’t happen, equipment breakage and so on,” he offered.

Dilsaver also recommends knowing your gear, understanding how it works and how best to use it.

“The way a person gets better at fishing is like anything else: practice, practice, practice. You can learn new things from a book, or TV, or a seminar, but they won’t work for you permanently until you’ve practiced enough that they become second nature,” he said.

A recurring theme is that there is no substitute for time on the water. But Dilsaver notes that success isn’t necessarily measured in pounds and ounces.

“I consider a good time to be the most important part of a day on the water. That means being prepared, doing your best and not letting the occasional mistake or things you can’t control bother you,” Dilsaver said.

Additionally, he said that while it’s nice to release a few fish or invite a few home to be guests of honor at dinner, the number and/or type of fish you catch shouldn’t be how you catch one Assess fishing trip.

“I’ve had some great trips where we caught little or nothing.”

Donna Dilsaver searches for redfish tails on a Spartina grass patch.  Photo courtesy of Jerry Dilsaver
Donna Mooneyhan searches for redfish tails on a Spartina grass patch. Photo courtesy of Jerry Dilsaver

These days Dilsaver has retired from tournament fishing. He plans to compete in kayak tournaments close to home, but no longer pursues the traveling tournament fishing lifestyle.

“My fishing fleet has been reduced to a 16½ foot flatboat and several kayaks. I really enjoy kayak fishing and have even been known to take it occasionally into the offshore ocean to fish for king mackerel,” he said.

Dilsaver has made time to appreciate more subtle styles of fishing including stalking redfish with his wife Donna Mooneyhan.

“We’re fortunate to live near some productive bodies of water and it’s easy to slip the boat on in the late afternoon while most people call it a day and enjoy the tranquility of an uncrowded swamp,” he said.

The Dilsavers enjoy the technical aspects of sight fishing.

“It’s not just about casting and reeling in, it’s also about spotting the fish and then moving within casting distance without scaring them.”

A bit of Dilsaver wisdom to remember every time we approach the water: “Fish will teach us new things almost every day.”