SPOTTER PLANES AND PILOTS
Above, left: Meredith Hayden and his crew on The Brunswick retrieve a catch of menhaden from the seine. Above, right: Skilled spotter pilot and
avid angler Hall Watters could land his Piper Super Cub on the beach for surf fishing.
At twilight, pilots flew back to a precarious landing on narrow
strips of grass or remote highways lit only by lavender skies and the
fading glow of a distant horizon.
There were many talented spotter pilots that worked from South-port,
notably Hall Watters’ brother Robert, his young protégé Don
Sellers, and his cousin Andrew “Punky” Kure, whose grandfather,
Hans Kure, founded Kure Beach.
But perhaps no other pilot enjoyed the reputation of Hall Watters.
Taking off and landing from Fish Factory Road in Southport or
from a narrow grass strip near Carolina Beach, he flew most every
morning, scanning the ocean for menhaden.
He wasn’t just any pilot. The sky was his home and the vast
stretches from Sunset Beach to Ocracoke were his runways. Slim as a
river reed, confident as an eagle, and with unrivaled career experi-ence,
Watters was a supreme pilot and outdoorsman.
Don Sellers was one of Watters’ youngest student pilots, taking
his first flight with Watters at the age of 5.
“It was on that first flight as a very young boy that two things
happened,” Sellers says. “I knew I loved flying and that I would
one day become a pilot, and Hall was forever thereafter my mentor,
instructor, and dear friend.”
Sellers would later become a spotter pilot for the Brunswick
Navigation Company and the Standard Products Company. He also
served his country as a decorated combat helicopter pilot in Vietnam,
and became a pilot with Piedmont Airlines and USAir.
In his book When Dreams Took Flight, Sellers described takeoff
and landing from Fish Factory Road in Southport and doing touch-and-
go landings on the CP&L dike across from the fish factory.
“We landed on just about every square foot of sand on Bald Head
Island, and I don’t think any other type of pilot ever enjoyed the
freedom of flight more than a fish spotter,” he wrote.
Watters logged thousands of hours for Standard Products and
in the process experienced many compelling adventures. Through
tales told in stories, books and articles, he became a legendary figure
famed as chief pilot and champion of the spotter pilots group but
also as an avid light tackle fisherman.
As he flew high above the shoreline searching for menhaden, it
was only natural that he would occasionally spot his favorite quarry
— the giant red drum of the deep surf sloughs. Watters kept a light
plugging rod strapped to the strut of his plane, and after the boats
made a set, he might be found landing his plane on some remote
strand of beach plugging for the big fish.
There is a sense of longing when today’s sportsmen reflect on the
places and the gamefish that Watters encountered — speckled trout,
giant bluefish, tarpon, and the bull red drum that he cherished
and stalked. Kit Taylor is a renowned saltwater fisherman and boat
captain who occasionally fished and flew with Watters.
“Hall was a rare breed — an unrepentant, adventurous, fearless
pilot who happened to love fishing,” Taylor says. “He literally
invented casting a plug for bull red drum, and when he spotted a
school he would land his plane right on the beach — right in front
of the fish! It didn’t matter how tricky or difficult the approach, he
could do a flawless landing and was fishing in minutes.”
Those lonely stretches of beach no longer bear the tracks of Watters’
Piper Super Cub, but his brave and adventurous spirit will always
HALL WATTERS COLLECTION