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  • Writer's pictureCarol Ann Ross

A Fish Called Captain Randy

I’ve known him since diapers and I remember that the house where he and his sisters lived, was the only house in Surf City my momma would let me walk to alone. I remember jumping out of the bumblebee towers with him, going skating at the roller rink in Topsail Beach, going to vacation Bible school, and a bunch of other stuff that we kids did on the island back in the day.

Like other kids who grew up on Topsail, he worked at local businesses. Randy worked at Barnacle Bills and he bussed tables, waited tables, shucked oysters, worked in the tackle shop, and did anything else that was needed at the pier. He ain’t never been no slouch.

Those were pristine times full of innocence and fun and believe me growing up on Topsail Island was the funnest and the best. It cultivated a desire for freedom and curiosity, both of which Randy Batts has plenty of. However, by the time that fore mentioned innocence was upon us, he had moved on to a different level, having survived the crappy cards life sometimes deals all of us, he came up with a fist full of strength of character, integrity, and self awareness.

Randy has always been an independent sort of guy though. Tough and determined, he’s done most things on his own if he couldn’t find a willing partner. And like a lot of us who grew up oceanside, he loves that salty expanse, respects it and always has. By the time he was fifteen he was diving, spear fishing for his own fish rather than pay to walk out on the pier and stand with the rest waiting for a bite. The stories, oh the stories of his spear fishing escapades will make your hair stand on end or make you so envious that you just can’t stand it.

I talked to him the other day, asked lots of questions about his experiences fishing. He was gracious and smiled as he spoke. “Well, there was this time,” he started. Randy went on to explain to me about a time when he went out alone and saw a school of groupers. He shot them and put them on a stringer, then after that, he ran into a school of flounder. As he shot them, he piled them up on the spear shaft. “I had 22 flounder,” he said as we talked.

Then there was the time he was on his boat, about seventeen miles out, and this huge whale shark came up. Now, the whale shark is the largest fish in the ocean. Well, it came up beside his boat out of nowhere and just looked at him. Randy says it must have been between fifty and sixty feet long. Wouldn’t you give your left pinkie to have been there for that.

“Oh,” Randy interrupted me as I wrote. “About all those fish I caught, there was a Sand-Tiger shark hovering around while I was spearing all the flounder and grouper. He was getting pretty aggressive, he wanted my fish, so I pushed him off with my speargun, on his nose, then got back on my boat and headed in. I wanted to come back with some friends of mine since the fishing was so good, but the weather wouldn’t cooperate, so we had to wait.

A couple days passed and me and my buddies motored out to where I’d been before. We spotted what looked to be a capsized boat not too far away, so we motored over there. It turned out to be the carcass of a whale. It was bloated, a great white was hanging around. That was enough to keep us from diving in to fish, so I stuck my knife in the whale, it stank from all the gasses being released but all the guts that spilled out kept that shark busy while we spearfished for grouper.”

There are more stories. Lots of them. But I’d like to mention something that is just as important, maybe more so. Randy is involved in something called SPEAR-IT Veteran Spearfishing Project. It is a non-profit organization that allows veterans to experience spearfishing. The co-founder of SPEAR-IT is Osee Fagan, ret. USMC and he, Randy and a select few take the boat out often with veterans eager to learn how to spearfish. One shot, one kill. That’s the goal.

I checked the project out on Facebook and learned a lot. The sharks are no joke, y’all. Neither are the groupers. Neither are the vets and all the good work going on here. Certified divers learn how to spearfish and have a blast doing it. The project is sponsored by local businesses and has been in operation since May of 2022. Do yourself a favor and check this out.


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