Dan Kibler’s Wanna Step Outside: Living the Dream
Posted at 12:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 13, 2022
It only took Ralph Mason about 30 years of hard work to finally land his dream job. He throws his head back and laughs when he considers this irony.
Mason, 53, spent 28 years with the Winston-Salem Police Department after a few years in the U.S. Army, retiring 3½ years ago. Almost immediately, he moved to Beaufort and hung up his shingle: charter boat captain.
6 Knot Fishing Charters owner Mason splits his time between Beaufort and Wallburg, occasionally organizing sea trips on the Sweet Deal, a 44ft Hatteras sport fisherman owned by a New London construction company owner, but spends most of his time on the Southern Breeze, a 34-foot Carolina Express sport fisherman built by local boat-building legend Buddy Harris that he purchased last spring.
He has his fingers crossed that he can build his charter service to the point of fishing 75-100 days a year, plying the waters around Cape Lookout for Spanish and king mackerel, Atlantic bonito, false albacore, dolphin , wahoo, tuna, and the occasional swordtail. It’s a fitting next chapter in a life of fishing that went from bass to king mackerel and ended up involving everything in between.
Recently, Mason and his buddy, Matt Morgan – another retired WSPD officer – launched Southern Breeze and headed out of Beaufort Inlet to Cape Lookout, where he caught a mix of bluefish, Spanish mackerel, albacore and bonito for a few weeks.
Lines, fish. That’s pretty much how the day of his fishing trip went, which took on six skipjack, a handful of bluefish and 15 albacore ranging from 9 to 14 pounds.
In short, they got their ropes stretched, and it left Mason beaming.
“You always have a dream job you want, and mine was owning and managing my own boat,” said Mason, who grew up in Kernersville and graduated from East Forsyth High School in 1988.
“I came here all the time; my dad has a house in Beaufort, and I could come and go, so when I retired in 2019, after staying with him for a while, I got my own house.
Mason cut his teeth fishing saltwater with his dad on the king mackerel tournament circuits 20 years ago. He got to know Dale McCorkle, who worked at Southern Marine in Salisbury before moving to Beaufort to become a charter captain. One summer, while Mason was visiting Beaufort, McCorkle was in the middle of 20 straight days of charter fishing. He asked Mason, “Do you want to help me?” and Mason jumped at the chance, running three charters to give McCorkle a rest.
“‘You’ve got to lean on that,'” Mason told McCorkle.
In 2006, Mason passed all the tests required to get his captain’s license, and he started helping McCorkle, taking advantage of his police schedule which lumped three or four days off into 5 days off. He helped McCorkle until he sold his boat, and in 2014 he met Stan Bodsford of New London, who had bought a 44ft Hatteras moored in Charleston, SC Bodsford wanted Mason to steer the boat for him , and Mason agreed on one condition. – that he move the boat to Atlantic Beach.
“After Hatteras and Oregon Inlet, we are the second best place on the entire coast to access the Gulf Stream – 40 miles,” he said.
Mason organized his schedule so he could run the boat whenever Bodsford headed to Atlantic Beach and wanted to fish offshore, and he still does, 8 years later. Since retiring, he has organized offshore charter trips on Bodsford’s boat, for clients who want to spend 12 hours on the water and slaughter some of the biggest fish in the ocean.
But having your own boat has always been a goal.
A bargain for Southern Breeze
“I wanted a boat that I could handle on my own, so I didn’t need a (first) mate,” Mason said. “A big sport fisherman requires two people to operate it, but a 34-(footer) is manageable for one person.”
Mason started looking last winter. He found Southern Breeze, which has a single Caterpillar 3126 engine that spins 420 horsepower, in Little River, SC According to Mason, Harris had built the boat in 2007, kept it for a few years, donated it to charity in New Bern, where it was purchased by a New Bern doctor. The boat moved to Norfolk, Virginia a few years later and then to Little River.
“I went to see the boat, which had been moved to Shallotte, and as soon as I got on it I knew it was exactly what I was looking for,” he said. “I knew I wanted a custom boat with a single engine because I didn’t need all those extra things, like twin engines, with all the extra maintenance. I knew chartering was a nickel and dime deal; If you take care of one good engine, you’re fine.
“I was looking for a Carolina Express type boat, and I knew the only people making them were Buddy Harris, and a few other people around Beaufort who were kind of in the rental business.”
Mason handled the financial end of the deal, thanks to a suggestion from business savvy Bodsford, and in February he brought it back to the Morehead City Yacht Basin. He made about two or three trips a week during the 2022 fishing season, in addition to the trips he took on Sweet Dream.
And now he is living his dream.
Dan Kibler is a Clemmons-based outdoor writer.