THE HONEYBUN CLASSIC: 39 years of fishing, fellowship

In late October 1985, Albemarle residents Reed Furr, Bob Townsend and Eston West, along with West’s son Garry, decided to spend a fall weekend fishing on the North Carolina Outer Banks.

While there’s nothing particularly newsworthy about a four-person fishing excursion from the previous century, it is notable that this trip kicked off a nearly four decades long tradition involving a core group of six Albemarle men, most recently culminating in a November 2023 trip that marked the 39th in which some or all of the group hit the surf at Cape Hatteras for fellowship, fishing and a fair-to-middling amount of mischief.

On that initial 1985 trip, the group arrived late on a Friday night at the Falcon Motel in Buxton.

Because of the late hour, the motel office was closed. With check-in impossible and a severe storm approaching, the group was forced to ride out the storm (which flooded much of Hatteras Island) while attempting to sleep in Townsend’s Jeep.

“There wasn’t much sleep to be had,” said Townsend, noting that his vehicle “literally rocked back and forth all night.”

The following morning, Furr, leading on foot (despite discovering that his borrowed waders were leaking), navigated the Jeep through an inundated National Park campground in search of Cape Point, which would eventually become the group’s favorite fishing spot. According to the group’s journal, the four “fished hard for the next two days,” and credited Furr with catching the only notable fish (one large flounder).

Subsequent trips would hold additional stories, brazen pranks and varying fish catches. But, more significantly, the annual outings would see new members gained, lifetime friendships formed and strengthened, and in two cases, lives memorialized.

After the initial trip, only two of the original four returned in 1986. Standard Office Supply owner Stan Biggers joined Townsend and West, and would become a fixture on the excursions for the next 14 years. Although the group resolved that year that each individual bring another person along the next year, little else was noted, with the journal grousing, “…since nobody has a memory worth a crap, there is not much else to report.”

The original six-man crew first converged in 1987. David Dutton and Jim Bivens joined Biggers, Townsend and West, along with Furr, who returned following a one-year hiatus.

“This was a most unlikely group,” said Townsend. “We had a businessman (Biggers), an accountant (Dutton), a realtor (West), an engineer (himself), a school principal (Furr) and a ‘character’ (Bivens).”

“If not for some family and church connections, we might have otherwise never come together,” he continued. “Eston, Reed and I were all in the same Sunday school class at First Baptist. Reed and I are brothers-in-law, and so are David and Eston, and Stan, Jim and I were all connected by working together with the Boy Scouts.”

In 1988, Furr would be forced once again to take leave due to his new position as a school principal, but he was not forgotten as Townsend, in order to remind him what he had missed, left an enormous, several-days-old bluefish on Furr’s front porch upon the group’s return.

“Reed didn’t find that quite as funny as I did,” Townsend recalled.

Furr’s duties rendered him unable to attend in 1989 and 1990 as well. Jim Poplin took his spot during that time, prompting Dutton to complain, “We need Reed back so I’m not the only one getting picked on.”

In 1991, Dutton not only got his wish, but the now six-year-old annual tradition earned its current moniker, leading the five other members of the crew to celebrate Furr’s return and the adoption of its official title by having commemorative T-shirts and sweatshirts printed.

“The title is a tribute to Reed’s addiction to honey buns,” said Dutton.

“He would eat them every morning at breakfast, and the name stuck,” recalled Townsend.

“Not only that,” added West, “he went so far as to hide them so we wouldn’t get into them.”

Travel challenges also marked the 1990s, beginning when the group, having traveled away from their quarters to fish, were cut off from their rented house when N.C. Highway 12 was washed out by a storm.

“We spent the night in our van and truck waiting for the Swan Quarter Ferry,” recalled West. “It didn’t open, so we spent the next night in Manteo. The road was still closed, so we headed back home. Stan and Jim had to come back after the road reopened to get our belongings.”

Bivens and Furr were victimized by travel woes the next two years, as Bivens’ truck broke down on the 1992 trip home. Furr encountered a unique adversity the following year when Townsend somehow managed to drive over his suitcase.

A stretch of slow fishing marked the next few trips, but 1997 proved to be more successful as stripers were running, with Dutton catching the largest one among the group.

During the 1999 trip, Furr, Townsend and West decided to walk to the dedication ceremony of the newly-relocated Hatteras Lighthouse.

“The area to which the lighthouse had been relocated was fenced in,” remembered West. “It was going to be a pretty long walk for us, but along the way, we discovered a hole in the fence, so the three of us went in that way. After the ceremony, we were headed back to the house the same way. Bob and I got through the hole, but somehow Reed was spotted and stopped by a park ranger, who wouldn’t let him go through, and made him walk all the way around.”

The journal was less detailed in its account of the incident, reading only, “He (Furr) was deserted by his ‘friends.’ ”

Outstanding cooking skills displayed over the previous years had earned Bivens the title of chef for the group, but a stunt during the 2000 trip (with assistance from Townsend) nearly got him booted.

Townsend recalled, “Jim and I were on a deck above Stan and David, and Jim was cooking. Some trash talk between us and the two downstairs ensued, and at some point, threats of escalation began. The talk from downstairs didn’t stop, so Jim made a sound as if he was spitting and slung a gob of runny mashed potatoes down on top of them. Stan thought we had really spit, and he went off on us.”

Unfortunately, Biggers’ reaction to that joke would be one of the group’s final and fondest memories of his time with them.

The next year’s outing (2001) began without Biggers, whose only previous absence had been on the very first trip in 1985, as he had passed away that September following a battle with cancer. In remembrance, the group spread his ashes below the Hatteras Lighthouse, near a permanent sand dune in calm waters.

Although most in the group were too emotional to speak, Dutton had composed a letter he read before the ashes were spread.
In part, it stated, “The ashes symbolize your physical departure, but you will always be with us. Your friendship is one of the most valuable things I have ever owned, and I am extremely thankful for the time we had together.”

The group’s connection to Biggers has continued, as his wife, Debbie, annually prepares food for the group to enjoy on the trip.

“Stan was a storyteller,” recalled Debbie, “and he was always telling about things they did every year when they went fishing. In 1998, I started sending cookies, cakes and pies for them to eat during the week, and it’s a way that I can thank them all for how much they meant to Stan.”

Trips during the 2000s continued to produce just as many stories as fish. In 2002, an early breakfast run by Bivens, Dutton and Townsend (which nearly resulted in war once Furr and West learned they had missed out on a meal) almost overshadowed Townsend’s catch of a 43-inch, 50-pound red drum. The 2003 and 2004 trips saw an argument over whether sharks caught should qualify as “real fish” and be counted toward determining the daily prize, and Bivens and West (who had hidden Furr’s honey buns) were forced to listen to songs Furr had written until the sweets were returned.

November on the Outer Banks is a mixed bag for weather, and it impacted a number of trips.

Tornado sirens wailed during a 2006 storm, and the group journal described the 2008 junket as “the coldest and worst fishing week” of the trips, with high winds, sub-freezing temperatures and even a brief snow flurry. The 2011 trip, which saw several days of 70-degree temperatures and gentle winds, was unusual, as most years featured at least a day or two of wet and windy conditions.

During the 2012 trip, the five experienced what their journal described as “the single greatest day of fishing in 28 trips to the Outer Banks” on Nov. 15 as they reeled in 62 red drum over the course of a single day. The 2013 trip saw West land an inordinate number of flounder late on the first day of fishing, and Bivens experienced what he termed his individual “best day of Outer Banks fishing ever” on day four.

But on this same trip, the group journal read, “Reed was having some health issues this week,” noting that his fellow fishermen were “very supportive and accommodating, which he appreciated greatly.”

Unbeknownst to the others at that time, this was likely an omen of things to come.

The group’s journal is notably sparse following the 2013 trip. However, West broke the silence with a 2019 entry which captured the heartache of the entire team at having lost another member, after Furr had taken his own life the previous February. West wrote: “Our 2019 trip was somewhat of a somber one, as it was the first since our buddy Reed decided to get rid of the depression demons that had haunted him for years. He ended his life in February and decided to join Stan fishing in Heaven’s well-stocked ponds. We all pray that Reed is rid of the demons now and is at peace with himself.”

West noted that Furr’s son, Michael, accompanied them on the trip, during which the remaining members once again celebrated the life of their friend by spreading his ashes on the waters he had once fished.

“I don’t remember much about the fishing during the week, but I’m sure I caught the most and the largest,” West joked. “Even with the absence of Reed and the situation surrounding his life, we still had a good time of fellowship, and excellent food from Chef Jim.”

While the remaining “Honeybunners” have continued the tradition yearly, life changes as the years pass by, and what lies ahead for the “Honeybun Classic” is unclear.

“We’re all getting older, so whether there will be future trips remains to be determined,” Dutton said.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.