Rough seas will mean very little, if any, fishing in the offshore waters. By the time the seas calm back down, the red snapper mini-season will be over and the species will be off-limits indefinitely. Contributed photo
Anglers waiting it out as cold front, rough seas make fishing difficult
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
November 09, 2017 10:03 PM
Look For: Red drum, spotted seatrout, black drum, flounder, sheepshead, spots.
Comments: If the fish weighed in during the inaugural Inshore Slam and Festival last Saturday out of Cricket Cove Marina is any indication, fishing in local inlets, sounds, bays and creeks is excellent. Clay Morphus was the big winner in the 46-boat field, claiming the aggregate category of largest redfish, trout and flounder with 12.56 pounds. Morphus also weighed in the largest spotted seatrout, a 4.74-pounder. Capt. Curtis Smith of Carolina Girl weighed in the largest redfish, a 5.41-pounder while Dean Spatholt of Fishmeister weighed in the largest flounder, a 5.41-pounder. In particular, trout fishing has been excellent in local estuaries. “It seems like (trout fishing) is in full swing,” said Capt. Patrick Kelly of Capt. Smiley Fishing Charters, one of the sponsors of the tournament. “Floating live shrimp is the preferred method, and Vudu shrimp are working also.” Ronald ‘Catfish’ Stalvey of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle in Conway reports catches of spots was excellent in Murrells Inlet Monday through Wednesday. Bull reds can be found at area jetties and along the channels of inlets such as Little River Inlet and Winyah Bay, along with near-shore hard-bottom spots in the Atlantic. Anglers are urged to catch these fish quickly with beefed up tackle and release them carefully, being sure they are revived before letting them go.
Look For: King mackerel, bluefish, black sea bass, weakfish, flounder, whiting, croaker, pompano, black drum, sheepshead and red drum.
Comments: All was lovely early this week until the cold front roared into the area on Wednesday, putting a chill on fishing activity. Prior to the front, king mackerel action was excellent in mid-range areas such as Belky Bear and The Jungle. The ocean water temperature was still in the upper 60s on Thursday afternoon, so the kings should still be around when conditions stabilize late in the weekend. The near-shore hard-bottom areas should continue to produce weakfish, black sea bass, whiting and bull reds, plus a few flounder. Look for black sea bass, weakfish, flounder and tautog at the near-shore artificial reefs. Scott Skrzydlinski of the Cherry Grove Pier reports whiting, croaker, red drum, black drum and a few spots have been caught this week. The ocean water temperature topped out at 71 degrees on Tuesday, but by 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon had dropped to 67 degrees, surface and bottom.
Look For: Wahoo, blackfin tuna, dolphin, grouper, red snapper, amberjack, vermilion snapper, triggerfish, red porgy, black sea bass.
Comments: We are right in the middle of the red snapper mini-season, consisting of three days of fishing for two consecutive weekends, Friday through Sunday. Last weekend, Friday (Nov. 3) easily offered the best sea conditions, and numerous boats made it out to ledges in 90-plus feet of water to try to catch a genuine red snapper, as they’re called locally. Most boats were able to harvest at least one, including some big sows in the 15-25 pound range. The limit is one red snapper per person per day with no minimum size limit, but they appear to be off the hook this weekend, Friday through Sunday, thanks to the cold front. Rough seas will mean very little, if any, fishing in the offshore waters. By the time the seas calm back down, the red snapper mini-season will be over and the species will be off-limits indefinitely. When sea conditions permit, bottom fishing is excellent for red snapper, amberjack, grouper, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, porgy and white grunts. Greater amberjack was closed to harvest for recreational anglers on Oct. 31 and will remained closed until March 2018. Also, cobia cannot be harvested in 2017 in South Carolina waters (to three miles offshore) or federal waters (beyond three miles) and must be released. Before the cold front arrived on Wednesday, trolling was excellent for wahoo, with blackfin tuna also available.
Look For: Bream, catfish, bass, crappie.
Comments: “Prior to today, it’s been very good,” ‘Catfish’ Stalvey of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle said on a rainy Thursday afternoon. With autumn arriving in earnest, the crappie bite has turned on nicely. “I’d target creeks, lakes, lay downs, with some type of structure they like to school up around,” said Stalvey, who said crappie are hitting medium crappie minnows and jigs. Bream are hitting floated crickets and worms (throw lines) and worms bumped along the bottom (lead lines) in 3-6 feet of water. Stalvey noted it took a five-fish limit of over 15 pounds to win a local bass tournament over the past week. Stalvey reports bass are hitting jerk baits, crank baits and Texas-rigged worms. Catfish are hitting eels, bream and any cut bait, including mullet.
The Miss Islamorada at the dock at Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Florida Keys. Submitted photo
Fine fishing trips return in quick order to the Florida Keys
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
November 03, 2017 3:23 PM
The hot mid-October sun was already scorching at 9:30 a.m. when Capt. Andrew Asbury eased the Miss Islamorada out of its slip at Bud N Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Florida Keys.
Asbury cruised the 65-foot party boat through a narrow channel flanked by a rock jetty and entered the patch reefs in the Atlantic Ocean just offshore of south Florida’s island chain.
Asbury motored on past the patch reefs, sparkling in shades of blue and green, and after 20 minutes reached the edge of the reef, about three miles offshore.
Once Asbury found the right spot, mate Jude Pollock first secured the anchor in 52 feet of water and then dropped a chum bag in the water on each corner of the stern.
A crew of only 13 passengers alternated turns at the stern, six at a time.
The anglers on the stern, using medium-class spinning reel outfits tipped with 12-pound flourocarbon leaders, dropped back whole shrimp, minus the head and tail. A small jig (1/8-ounce or less) was the only terminal tackle.
The stern anglers began flat-lining the shrimp – leaving the bail open and letting the line ease off the reel at the speed of the current, keeping it right in the chum line. The time-tested method culminates when a fish takes the bait, the line typically accelerates off the reel, then the angler flips the bail and firmly, yet gently, raises the rod to hook the fish.
The other anglers dropped down assorted bottom rigs with cut ballyhoo, shrimp or squid in search of primarily grouper, mangrove snapper, mutton snapper and porgy.
For the flat-lining anglers, the main quarry – yellowtail snapper – quickly let its presence known.
Within a few minutes the anglers began pulling feisty no-doubter yellowtail over the rail, well over the 12-inch minimum size limit.
Over the course of the 6 1/2-hour trip, the serious anglers caught their Florida aggregate limit of 10 snapper, mostly yellowtail in the 14-18 inch range.
The bottom-fishing set-ups produced several mangrove snapper, a keeper black grouper, a few keeper mutton snapper, a few jolthead porgy and plenty of white grunts.
Three days later, the same trip featured the minimum of eight passengers, and Asbury returned to the same area that had been so productive for the yellowtail. This time the snappers lived up to their reputation of being finicky, and the flat-lining only produced occasional catches of yellowtail.
Asbury chose to make a move to the patch reefs a little over a mile offshore in only 25 feet of water. Once Pollock deployed the chum bags at the new spot, yellowtail and usually jittery mangrove snapper almost immediately showed up just off the stern near the surface, partaking of the chum.
For about 15 minutes, the flat-lined shrimp were hit after drifting only 5-10 feet below the surface, just yards off the stern. The grade of yellowtail was smaller, in the 10-13 inch range, but nice mangroves in the 2-3 pound range were also among the catch.
Then trouble showed up.
The chum party was over when a sizable barracuda zoomed into the slick behind the stern and dared any snappers to show up. A few yellowtail were caught from well behind the boat after the cuda showed, but the mangroves were long gone.
“The mangroves are a little leery,” said Asbury. “You’ll catch a few and they’ll kind of back off. The cuda doesn’t help for sure.”
Asbury returned to deep water beyond the reef to target grouper, mutton and large mangroves, with some success.
For yellowtail anglers, Pollock began serving up sand balls, a mix of menhaden chum, sand, oatmeal and the right amount of ocean water. The trick is to place a piece of cut shrimp or ballyhoo on the hook in the middle of a pasty concoction of the ingredients and form it into a baseball-sized presentation, then open the bail of the reel and easily toss it about 20-30 feet behind the boat.
The ball slowly breaks apart in a streak that clouds the water column well below the surface and presents treats for finicky flag yellowtail that are normally shy of line and bait. The method produced quite a few yellowtail in the 14-18 inch range on a day when they really didn’t want to cooperate.
Once again, nearly all the anglers went home with their Florida aggregate limit of 10 snapper, a nice mix of yellowtail and mangrove, along with a few keeper mutton and cero mackerel.
Five weeks earlier, Hurricane Irma made landfall a little over 50 miles to the southwest of Bud N’ Mary’s around Cudjoe Key on the morning of Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm. The historic marina, established in 1944, sustained damage to the docks, boat storage facility and the on-site hotel.
But the resilient Islamorada residents bounced back quickly. The docks were repaired in quick order, electricity was restored, and some fishing trips were run once again only about three weeks after the storm.
The Atlantic Ocean side of the island chain was hard hit from Lower Matecumbe Key, just south of Bud N’ Mary’s, to Sugarloaf Key, located about 15 miles east of Key West.
In mid-October, pockets of storm debris still were seen along U.S. 1, well-known as the Overseas Highway. But an army of grapple trucks were on the job, hauling the debris to the mainland in rapid fashion, and the Keys were open for business, with conditions improving day by day for visitors.
A stroll through the tackle shop at Bud N’ Mary’s, established in 1944, reveals memorabilia of simpler times when many a famous visitor would venture down from the mainland to enjoy the incredible variety of fishing available here. Photos of Jimmy Stewart with a bonefish, Miami Dolphin fullback Larry Csonka with a sailfish, among many others are on display.
The famous folks, along with the regular tourists, will continue to return to Keys, where a devastating storm is only a bump in the road of the Overseas Highway.