‘Absolutely breathtaking’: Memorial constructed for captain who died in diving accident
By Gregg Holshouser
May 10, 2019 05:42 PM
North Carolina reefs host tropical marine life
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shared video of tropical fish near reefs in North Carolina. More tropical and subtropical fish are showing up off the NC coast, in part to artificial reefs, say researchers. By J. McCord / CSI
The Captain Chris Chong Memorial Reef has settled into place 25 nautical miles east-southeast of the Murrells Inlet Sea Buoy, and Travis Lane couldn’t be happier with the tribute to his late friend.
Chong was a popular captain and avid diver out of Express Watersports in Murrells Inlet before he tragically passed away in a diving accident on Dec. 26, 2017.
On May 1, a fitting memorial to Chong was sunk within the parameters of the Bill Perry Jr. Artificial Reef site in the form of the tugboat J.P. McCallister, a massive 103-foot vessel that was prepared for placement on the reef with the diving community in mind.
“It’s really the perfect kind of memorial for Chris,” said Lane, a classmate at Coastal Carolina University and roommate of Chong’s for five years before his death. “Putting this immense structure there, that will change the way people see this site for diving. The cool thing about it is, with this wreck we tried to cut out (areas) so divers can dive inside. On a lot of our wrecks, divers don’t really have that opportunity to go in the little nooks and crannies.”
Lane has a vision for the future of his buddy’s reef, with plans to tie rope lines from the tugboat to other structure on the site.
The Bill Perry Jr. Reef site has had a tremendous amount of large structure placed on it over the years including four landing crafts, a shrimp boat, a tugboat, New York City subway cars, Armored Personnel Carriers and shipping containers.
“We want to put a line system in, connecting the tugboat with what ‘s already there,” said Lane, a 2017 graduate of CCU. “Kind of make it into a diving playground with multiple areas to dive on one site.”
Lane noted that 12 reef balls were dropped along with the tugboat, with CCU’s scuba diving club, Aqua League, instrumental in that endeavor.
Lane was among a group of seven divers who dove the site to check out Chong’s reef on Monday, just five days after the tugboat and reef balls were dropped.
“We dove on it to see how it landed, which direction it was facing, look for any hazards,” said Lane. “I was blown away, with it only being sunk a week ago, the amount of fish and life that was already on that wreck. The entire wreck was totally immersed by these baitfish. It was absolutely breathtaking. It is huge.”
Lane observed Spanish mackerel, amberjack and barracuda, along with the massive amount of baitfish, on the dive.
Lane took the opportunity to head to the front of the tug’s wheelhouse to have a photo taken with a plaque naming the wreck in Chong’s honor.
“For it to be named after Chris is very fitting,” said Lane. “He made this (area) his home years ago and he had been out on water ever since. It will be interesting to see what is on (the reef) in years to come, it’s going to be teeming with life.”
S.C. Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series
The 2019 South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series got underway Thursday with the Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament on John’s Island.
After two days of fishing, the field of 33 boats has found billfish action to be very slow.
Eight boats fished on Thursday, and no billfish were landed or released.
On Friday, 26 of the 33 boats fished with only one sailfish being released, by Rascal at 2:13 p.m. Game On hooked up with but lost a blue marlin estimated to be in the 300-400 pound range, but that has been it.
“The water looks good, there’s a lot of scattered sargassum, good temp breaks, they’re just not biting,” said Amy Dukes, coordinator of the series for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “We’ve seen blues, sails and whites but we’ve only had the two hookups. It’s exceptionally low.”
Dukes notes 32 of the 33 boats will be fishing on Saturday, the final day of fishing in the tournament.
“We’re hoping tomorrow things kind of align,” said Dukes. “We’re not releasing many fish and its depressing all of us.”
Ronald Stalvey III of Conway shows off a 30-pound dolphin caught near The Steeples on a fishing trip Wednesday, May 8, 2019. Submitted photo
Grand Strand Fishing Report: Area rivers out of flood stage for the first time in awhile
By Gregg Holshouser
May 09, 2019 06:10 PM
Look For: Flounder, red drum, black drum, spotted seatrout, sheepshead, bluefish.
Comments: “The blues have moved in and taken over,” said Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown after fishing the Winyah Bay vicinity. “It’s bluefish city,” said Capt. Dan Connolly of O-Fish-Al Expeditions in Murrells Inlet. “Bluefish are everywhere,” said Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters. From north to south, the blues have set in, hitting shrimp, mud minnows and even plastic grubs to put a damper on efforts to catch flounder, spotted seatrout, red drum and black drum. McDonald has had some success catching trout, including 15 small ones on a Tuesday trip and six with three keepers on Thursday. Kelly has landed reds from pot holes in shallow creeks on a falling tide, and notes improved flounder action in Little River. Connolly has had decent success in Murrells Inlet with flounder, black drum and reds, including a group of slot-sized reds at mid-week. Also look for Spanish mackerel trailing schools of glass minnows inside the inlets and bays. The water temperature has ranged from the mid-70s to the upper-70s depending on the time of day and tide.
Look For: King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, whiting, pompano, black sea bass, spadefish, weakfish, black drum, flounder.
Comments: Capt. Jeff Maples of Reel Salty Charters observed a 73-degree water temperature Thursday at Paradise Reef, three miles east of Murrells Inlet, and then about 9 miles farther was in 71-degree water at Belky Bear. “That was really surprising,” said Maples. At the live-bottom Belky Bear vicinity, Maples continued to have excellent success with king mackerel in the 26/27-inch range, slow-trolling cigar minnows on jig heads. “It’s just crazy out there,” said Maples. “We fished 1 1/2 hours and caught a dozen kings.” With the bite of Spanish mackerel and kings still hot, few anglers have targeted spadefish on the near-shore artificial reefs. But, as Maples said, “they’re here.” Also look for weakfish, bluefish, Spanish, flounder, black sea bass and possibly kings and cobia at the reefs. The Cherry Grove Pier continues to be the spot for kings from shore. Four kings have been caught since last Friday off the pier including a 36.5-pounder landed by angler David Perryman. Michael Wallace reports Spanish, blues, pompano and whiting have also been caught off the pier. Skyler Parks of Apache Pier reports some limits of whiting have been caught off the pier this week along with Spanish, blues and pompano. Parks reported a water temperature of 76 degrees Thursday afternoon.
Look For: Dolphin, wahoo, blackfin tuna, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, grunts, porgy, amberjack.
Comments: Dolphin action has slowed a bit from a week ago, but action is still very good. Trolling boats are also producing wahoo and blackfin tuna. Surprisingly, the field of boats in the opening day of the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series had no luck with billfish. Eight of the 33 boats entered in the Bohicket Invitational Billfish Tournament chose to fish Thursday but no billfish were released or landed. On Wednesday, Trey Jordan, Ronald “Catfish” Stalvey and crew headed out on Jordan’s Sea Pro for some meat-fishing and headed a little to the north, targeting The Steeples area. The crew landed seven dolphin ranging from 9 to 30 pounds and one wahoo. The 30-pound dolphin went on a rampage across the trolling spread, eating a pair of baits along the way. Stalvey noted lots of scattered grass, or sargassum, in the area while fishing in depths of 130-200 feet with a water temperature of 77-78 degrees. “We caught more grass than anything,” said Stalvey. “I think we would have caught more fish if it hadn’t been for all the grass.” Bottom fishing is excellent for grouper, amberjack, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, porgy and grunts. Scamp have been the most common grouper landed.
Look For: Bream, bass, catfish, crappie.
Comments: Well, what do you know, all area rivers are out of flood stage, possibly for the first time since just after Hurricane Florence last September, and the Waccamaw River at Conway is even making good tides. Bream fishing is simply excellent, Stalvey of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle in Conway reports. “Bream are being caught everywhere, in 2-4 feet on crickets,” said Stalvey. “They’re catching a bunch on worms but crickets are the best.” Conway, Bucksport and the Ricefields on the Waccamaw have been productive along with the Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee rivers. Catfish are hitting eels, cut shad and cut mullet while topwater is working well for bass including buzz baits, Bang-O-Lures and poppers.
How this father-son duo managed back-to-back flounder tournament victories
By Gregg Holshouser
May 03, 2019 05:07 PM
Murrells Inlet resident Peter Gerace and his son, Cullen, have one heck of a flounder spot on the north end of the inlet, and for two straight years it has produced the winning flounder in the Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Association Flounder Tournament.
A year ago, then-9-year-old Cullen Gerace was the angler on a 4.1-pound flounder that was the largest weighed in for the tournament.
The Geraces returned to the same spot last Saturday for the 18th annual tournament, and this time Peter Gerace was the angler on a 21-inch, 3.90-pound flounder that topped all flounder weighed in by the 214 anglers competing in the tournament.
Ed Librick finished second with a 3.40-pounder, followed by Coleman Bess in third place with a 2.55-pounder. Tate Mincey claimed the Youth Division with a 1.75-pound flounder. Andrew Turner was second with a 1.55-pounder.
“I love it,” said Peter Gerace of the back-to-back wins. “We had plenty of years where didn’t place and several years in the top 10. Our plan last year worked so we figured we’d go to the same spot.”
The Geraces headed out at the 6 a.m. lines-in time and made their way to the spot, an area not heavily fished even with flounder fishermen scouring over the little inlet.
“It was the same area, same hole as last year,” said Gerace. “It’s a small creek and at some point fish go through this creek — they’ve got to be there at some time in the tide. We only had a few boats come by.”
The duo had live mud minnows available but had the most success working a Z-Man Shadz root beer/gold soft plastic grub on a 1/4-ounce jig head.
“Cullen had a grand slam by 9:30 a.m., a 16-inch flounder, 18-inch trout and an over-slot red,” said Peter Gerace. “He caught them all on the grub. We threw a couple Carolina rigs out, a few jig heads with mud minnows and they didn’t get snipped. We threw the grub out there and it got crushed.”
About 11 a.m., Peter Gerace hooked up with the tournament winner in surprise fashion.
“My fish ate literally right behind the motor,” said Gerace. “I was about to take (the lure) out of the water and it came up three feet off the bottom, grabbed it and went straight back down. I pulled him back up and Cullen scooped him into the net and threw him in the boat. It was literally like 4-5 seconds before the fish was in the net.
“Cullen said ‘You just won,’ just like I said to him last year.”
As a bonus, Cullen Gerace won first place for weighing in the largest bluefish, which weighed just over 2 pounds.
“The bluefish ate his grub when he was skipping it across the top of the water, reeling it in,” said Peter Gerace. “He blew up on it.”
Peter Gerace noted he won $1,500 for the largest flounder while Cullen Gerace won $465 for the largest bluefish.
“We love that tournament, love supporting the Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers,” said Peter Gerace. “We’re looking forward to another tournament next year. Hopefully we can do it again.”
IFA Redfish Tour
The tour’s first event in the Atlantic Division was held last weekend out of Georgetown’s Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex, and was the stage for a rare feat by a Florida duo.
Fishing partners Danny Sheldon of Newberry, Fla., and Kyle Craven of Mcclenny, Fla., weighed in a two-fish limit of red drum totaling 8.57 pounds to win the tournament and claim their second straight win on the IFA tour.
On April 13, Sheldon and Craven won the most recent IFA Redfish Tour event at New Smyrna Beach, Fla., in a tournament in the Florida East Division.
Early-morning engine trouble kept the duo relatively close to the launch site at the Sampit River, but they threw Berkley Gulp Shrimp to place two redfish on the upper end of South Carolina’s 15-23 inch slot limit in the live well.
“There are so many different variables and so many good anglers that you have to have a lot of things go your way just to win one,” said Sheldon. “To win two events back-to-back is surreal. We both have a lot of experience and we both love it and work hard, so it’s real rewarding to have this happen and we are grateful for it.”
The team has won two Ranger RB190 boats, powered by 90-horsepower, four-stroke Mercury outboards for the pair of wins, accumulating more than $58,000 in winnings.
Stan Allen of Tybee, Ga., and hometown angler Geoffrey Payne of Andrews finished second with a two-fish, 7.80-pound aggregate.
Both tournaments in the tour’s Atlantic Division are being held in Georgetown, with the second one set for July 20, also out of the Campbell Marine Complex.
Dave Jaskiewcz of Wando continued to dominate the IFA Kayak Fishing Tour with a win in that division.
Jaskiewcz, who has six wins on the tour and three Divisional Angler of the Year titles, caught a 23-inch spotted seatrout and a 29.5-pound redfish to win at Georgetown.
S.C. Wahoo Series
Team Reelist, led by Capt. Trea Everett of St. Helena Island, claimed first place in the 2019 S.C. Wahoo Series.
Teams were allowed three fishing days and to weigh in one wahoo per day from Feb. 8 through April 27 in the state-wide event that featured three weigh-in locations — Hilton Head Harbour Marina, Toler’s Cove Marina in Mt. Pleasant and Georgetown Landing Marina.
Each team’s two heaviest wahoo were combined for a two-fish aggregate to determine the winner.
The Reelist crew boated wahoo weighing 84.8 and 72.3 pounds for their winning aggregate of 157.1 pounds. Hay Fever out of Walterboro finished second with a 155.2-pound aggregate.
The Conway crew of Lost Bills, led by Capt. Bill McKealge, was third, with wahoo weighing 76.8 and 65.6 pounds for a 142.4-pound aggregate. Nervous Water of Ridgeland was fourth with a 141.1-pound aggregate.
The Georgetown crew of Tailwalker Marine and Capt. Stuart Ballard claimed fifth place with wahoo weighing 83.6 and 52.1 pounds, good for a 135.7-pound aggregate.
S.C. Governor’s Cup
The South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series is about to get rolling with the Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament, set for May 8-11.
Next up on the docket of five tournaments is the granddaddy, the 52nd annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament May 22-25 out of Georgetown Landing Marina.
The Student Angler League Tournament Trail is helping stage a pair of fishing events for area student anglers.
The first event, John Landers Youth Day, will be held May 11 at 2nd Ave. Pier in Myrtle Beach and will feature pier fishing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The second event, the 3rd Annual Christopher Morris Fishing Seminar, will be held May 18 and feature pond fishing at Lakewood Campground located at 5901 South Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
For more information, visit SALTTFishing.com or call 843-902-4274.