North Carolina Department of Correction News - April 1999

Hyde administrative officer knows his history

Long before Jimmy Hodge was born in Belhaven, his grandfather was what you might call the warden of Lake Mattamuskeet. Like his grandfather, Hodge, the administrative officer for Hyde Correctional Center, is a wealth of information about the history, the flyways, the variety of ducks and anything else you would want to know about Hyde County.

Here are a few of the facts he shared recently:

Each fall thousands of tundra swans fly in from Canada to winter at Lake Mattamuskeet. The swans are as good as lawn mowers in wheat fields, making some farmers chase them away. In the fields from a distance, the mass of white feathers look like snow has fallen.

Hyde County was internationally known for being the best goose hunting area in the world. However, that ended in the 1950s as crops changed in Maryland, and the geese decided to winter there instead. There is no longer a goose hunting season in Hyde County, although some Canada geese still stop by.

In the 1920s, the lake was drained twice to farm the rich soil beneath the shallow waters. Canals were dug and the largest pumping stations in the world – pumping a half a billion gallons a minute – couldn’t keep the land drained, so the project was abandoned. Because of the attempted farming, grass now grows on the bottom of the lake, making it a natural feeding area for ducks and geese. Because of the draw to wildlife, part of Lake Mattamuskeet is a national wildlife refuge. It’s average depth is two or three feet. Bass and rockfish are the most abundant with some herring.

Little rat-like furry creatures called nutria were brought to the U.S. from South America to be bred as fur bearing animals like chinchillas. The fur, however, didn’t hold up, and some of the critters got loose and are now a common site paddling along the shoreline of Lake Mattamuskeet.

There are no incorporated towns in Hyde County, and therefore no police forces. Six sheriff’s deputies patrol the whole county.

Many of the employees at Hyde Correctional Institution are hunters. The cost of a hunting license is $300. Deer, bear, swans and ducks all have their own hunting season, with bear season lasting only two weeks.

The fishing is just as good as the hunting. Even though Lake Mattamuskeet is a fresh-water lake, a canal was dug out to the sound, allowing some salt water to filter in. Hodge claims the biggest crabs on the coast are found in that brackish part of the lake. You’ll have to go see for yourself. u

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