After 50 Years, Fin-Nor Tackle Lost-At-Sea is Returned to its Owner

One of the greatest fishing stories that you’ll ever hear.

Ralph Vodicka with rod and reel
Ralph Vodicka with his long-lost rod and reel. Courtesy Dennis Dudley

In the mid-1970s angler Ralph Vodicka with three pals headed out for a day of fishing off Oregon Inlet, N.C. in a 17-foot vintage 1966 Boston Whaler.

Vodicka was an experienced Florida angler and seaman, but didn’t know much about Carolina inlets, especially one as potentially dangerous as Oregon Inlet, according to the Coastland Times.

The weather was good, and the anglers ran out several miles looking for dolphin. But late that afternoon, ocean conditions changed.

“The waves were just rolling—not breaking,” said Vodicka, now 89 years old and living near Raleigh. “I saw a big trawling boat go through the inlet. He was bobbing and wheeling all over the place. I said ‘we’d better get in [the inlet] or we’ll be doing this at night’.”

The inlet was rough with the tide falling and the ocean wind rolling in big waves. Vodicka knew he’d have to make a dash through the inlet or he’d being running it at night, which was worse.

“It was a little risky being out in a 16- or 17-foot boat,” he told Coastland Times. “We decided the best choice was to race on in while we could see. I told everyone, ‘Hold on, don’t move. We’ll ride on the back of one of the breaking waves. Even if it takes a little water, it’ll be ok’.”

But midway through the inlet, a boat line snagged in the motor prop slowing the boat causing it to flip. All the anglers were thrown in the water, with the Whaler upside down.

Incredibly, another larger 24-foot fishing boat saw their predicament and rescued them all. But their gear was gone, and their boat was damaged. The following day the Coast Guard recovered the Boston Whaler, and life went on for Vodicka and his angling buddies.

Not long after the Oregon Inlet boating accident in the 1970s, Dennis Dudley was visiting his brother-in-law Russell Twiford at his home in Nags Head, N.C. There, Dudley noticed an unusual 9-foot rod with a gold Fin-Nor 4 spinning reel attached.

Twiford told Dudley the fishing outfit had been snagged by a trawler, and it had the original owner’s name on it: “Ralph Vodicka.”

Dudley so admired the gold Fin-Nor reel and rod that Twiford gave it to Dudley, who began a diligent search for Vodicka, hoping to return the valuable tackle.

But 50 years ago, try as he might, Dudley, now 78, couldn’t locate Vodicka, and pretty much forgot about it until recently when he and his wife began cleaning out clutter in their Elizabeth City, N.C. home.

They and came across the Fin-Nor reel and rod again, and thought they’d try a Google internet search to locate Ralph Vodicka. They quickly learned that Vodicka lived in Raleigh, got his phone number, called and left a message that they had his rod and reel he lost in the 1970s.

Ralph Vodicka and Dennis Dudley
Ralph Vodicka and Dennis Dudley. Courtesy Dennis Dudley

“I was amazed he (Vodicka ) returned my call, with the crazy story I’d left on his machine,” Dudley said.

Vodicka was skeptical, but Dudley convinced him the story was true about how he came into possession of the Fin-Nor reel and rod.

The two aging anglers later met at a restaurant in Rocky Mount, N.C. to exchange tales of the tackle being lost in Oregon Inlet, found, and finally recovered to its rightful owner.

Vodicka had the reel serviced, the rod repaired, and he recently used the outfit fishing the Neuse River.

“It worked. It worked fine,” he said.

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