Jessica Hill, shown here on duty at Perry’s Bait and Tackle, left a lasting legacy in Murrells Inlet. Courtesy of www.camo365.com
The top Grand Strand outdoors stories of 2017 and where they leave us now
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
December 22, 2017 06:30 PM
UPDATED December 22, 2017 06:34 PM
After considering about 15 columns from the past 12 months, here are my top five outdoors stories of 2017:
Heckuva ‘Hoo: Capt. Danny Juel of Fish Screamer Charters was fishing a bottom spot 45 miles southeast of Little River in 90 feet of water the last day of April for the typical reef species such as grouper, vermilion snapper, black sea bass and triggerfish.
As usual, Juel and his mate for the day, fellow Capt. T.J. Nixon, also deployed what Juel called a “light line” for any marauding pelagic species attracted to the action around the boat.
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“We had that light line out for whatever would eat it,” said Juel.
When something did eat the dead sardine used for bait on the light line a little before 10 a.m., Juel immediately knew this wasn’t your ordinary pelagic.
“He took about every drop of line I had (on the reel), 150 yards or more,” said Juel. “I told T.J. that has to be a wahoo, that’s the only fish that will run like that.”
A member of Juel’s crew for the day took the rod and the battle was on, with the fish on an Avet reel loaded with 40-pound line on a Shakespeare rod, a standard set-up for king mackerel.
Although Juel had a good idea what he was hooked up with, it was over an hour before he knew for sure.
“We fought the fish for an hour and five minutes when he rolled up behind the boat,” recalled Juel. “We said ‘Whoa man, that’s a heckuva wahoo.’ We got lucky and got him.”
Juel gaffed the fish but quickly realized he needed help from Nixon getting it over the gunwale. That afternoon at Juel’s home marina – Hurricane Fleet Marina in Calabash, N.C. – the wahoo weighed 115 pounds even on certified scales.
The South Carolina state record for wahoo is a 130-pound, 5-ounce fish landed by R.J. Moore out of Murrells Inlet in 1998.
Fisheries: Important fisheries to South Carolina saltwater anglers were open, closed and had limits changed in 2018.
On July 1, a new law went into effect that increased the flounder minimum size limit one inch to 15 inches and decreased the daily bag limits to 10 per person and 20 per boat.
South Carolina’s old limits were a 14-inch minimum size limit and daily bag limits of 15 per person and 30 per boat.
“I think that’s fantastic,” Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters in Little River said at the time.
Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina teamed with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to put the changes in flounder limits in motion during the 2017 legislative session.
For the first time in three years, anglers in the South Atlantic Region were able to harvest red snapper. A mini-season for the species was opened, consisting of six days over the first two weekends in November.
Only one of the six days featured decent fishing weather, however, and the species was opened to harvest another weekend – Dec. 8-10. A cold front blew out that three-day stretch also, with minimal red snapper caught.
In late January, NOAA announced the recreational harvest of Atlantic migratory group cobia would be closed for the remainder of 2017 in federal waters (beyond three miles offshore), from Georgia to New York.
Since 1996, South Carolina has automatically adopted regulations and closures put in place for federally managed species, meaning cobia couldn’t be harvested in South Carolina state waters either in 2017. State waters extend out to three miles offshore.
However, North Carolina anglers were able to harvest cobia in state waters, adding to the frustration of Palmetto State anglers.
50th Annual: The 50th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament – the oldest billfish tournament in the state of South Carolina and one of the oldest along the East Coast – was staged out of Georgetown Landing Marina in May.
Long-time local big-game angler Jim Johnston fished the tournament aboard his 59-foot Spencer custom-built yacht, Big Sky, and has fished in all 50.
“I’ve had a few close calls where it looked like I was not going to be able to fish but somehow pulled it off,” said Johnston. “I never had 50 on my mind but now that I’ve gotten to 50, I’m thinking 60.”
While Johnston and crew were the sentimental favorites, the Artemis crew out of Charleston won the tournament.
Rough seas shortened the tournament to a two-day event, with three boats – Artemis, Anticipation and Chasin – tied at the top after each released two blue marlin, one on each day of fishing.
Artemis was declared the winner by way of releasing its blue marlin the earliest on the final day of fishing.
Deer Law Changes: South Carolina’s antiquated white-tailed deer hunting laws were revamped in 2017, as the Palmetto State became the final state in the nation to institute a state-wide limit on the harvest of bucks.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources put in place a first-time tagging system which required all deer harvested – bucks and does – to be tagged at the point of kill, joining most other states with similar systems.
The new laws are the result of well over a decade of input the agency has received from hunters interested in improving the quality and quantity of bucks available in the Palmetto State.
Hunter input along with approximately a 35-percent decline in the state’s deer population since the turn of the century forced the S.C. Legislature into action.
“It’s been in the works since 2003,” said Charles Ruth, Big Game Program Coordinator for S.C. DNR. “Clearly it was something hunters initiated and it gained momentum over time. Our deer population changed noticeably during the same period of time to get where we are. (The population decline) added fuel to what changes we were already talking about.
“It wouldn’t ever have gotten to the level where the Legislature was interested in it if the hunters at the local level had not continued to bring it up. Then the legislature said they really wanted to see some changes. That’s when it all started to come together.”
Jessica Hill: For over a decade, Jessica Hill was the face of Perry’s Bait and Tackle, a Murrells Inlet landmark that has been in operation since the mid 1950s and at its current waterfront location on the north end of the Marshwalk since 1971.
Hill was murdered on Sept. 29 in a manner that was unfathomable and heinous, and absolutely devastating to her family, including her three children, and many friends, near and far.
With her departure, a part of the personality and charm of the little fishing village is gone too.
Customers, from the most experienced local old salt to the tourist fishing in saltwater for the first time, were drawn to Perry’s for Jessica’s welcoming personality, local fishing knowledge and of course her beautiful smile.
It can be difficult for visitors to find local fishing knowledge, but Hill made many an inexperienced tourist feel right at home in the little inlet, helping them catch fish with her expertise.
“When she tied (a rig or knot), she explained why it worked and she was teaching valuable knowledge for anybody, from a nine to an 80-year-old,” said Capt. Jason Burton of Murrells Inlet Fishing Center. “She made a lot of people who weren’t very good at fishing experts overnight.”
Fishing report: Wahoo, sailfish highlight offshore trolling trips
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
December 21, 2017 07:18 PM
Look For: Spotted seatrout, black drum, red drum, flounder, sheepshead, tautog.
Comments: Capt. Jason Burton of Crazy Girl Fishing Charters observed a water temperature of 53-55 degrees in Murrells Inlet on a quick Monday trip, a slight increase over the last week. Burton found spotted seatrout still active, hitting artificials, but the action was not as torrid as a few weeks ago before the big drop in water temperature. Burton also found black drum in deeper holes, plus a few red drum and undersized flounder. On the north end, Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters has switched to all artificials since live shrimp are hard to come by. “If you’ve got live shrimp you’re probably going to wipe (the trout) out,” said Kelly. “We’re using Vudu shrimp, Z-Man, Z-Man trout trick and the good old Electric Chicken.” Kelly also reports red and black drum are hitting fresh shrimp fished on the bottom, with the reds being found in pockets of 4- to 5-foot water around low tide. Jetties at Winyah Bay, Murrells Inlet and Little River are producing trout, black drum, red drum and tautog.
Look For: Black sea bass, weakfish, tautog, whiting, croaker, black drum.
Comments: Michael Wallace of Cherry Grove Pier reports action has been fairly slow this week with small whiting and a few small black drum being caught. The ocean water temperature is slightly warmer than a week ago, sitting at 54 degrees at both surface and bottom Thursday at 5 p.m. Black sea bass, with a 13-inch minimum size limit, are the best bet on near-shore artificial reefs with weakfish, tautog and flounder also available. On the near-shore hard-bottom areas, weakfish are still active with black sea bass also available.
Look For: Wahoo, blackfin tuna, king mackerel, grouper, vermilion snapper, triggerfish, porgy, black sea bass, grunts.
Comments: A window of opportunity presented itself with fantastic sea conditions on Sunday, and plenty of boats took advantage with excellent trolling or bottom-fishing trips. Ocean Isle Fishing Center (OIFC.com) reports a crew fishing with Capt. Roger Gales worked the Winyah Scarp vicinity in depths of 180 feet and caught four wahoo, including a 60-pounder, and three blackfin tuna. Three of the wahoo hit Iland Lure-ballyhoo combos. Sailfish also made a showing on Sunday, with multiple boats hooking up. Surprisingly, the Reel Blessed crew out of Sneads Ferry, N.C., released six sails on the day. Capt. Justin Scott Witten of Ambush Sport Fishing in Murrells Inlet took a crew bottom fishing and produced a phenomenal catch of large vermilion snapper, triggerfish, black sea bass, red porgy and white grunts. Grouper are also available, but can be harvested only through New Year’s Eve. The annual Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure will go into effect on Jan. 1 and lasts through April 30. The Greater Amberjack Fishery is closed to harvest for recreational anglers 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. Red snapper are closed in the South Atlantic region and must be released.
Look For: Crappie, bream, bass, catfish.
Comments: Ronald “Catfish” Stalvey of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle in Conway reports good fishing action remains available for bream, crappie, bass and catfish on the local rivers. Beetle spins, jigs and medium shiners are producing good catches of crappie, with lakes off the rivers in particular holding fish. Bream action is good, lead-lining worms on the bottom. “Bass fishing has been hot,” said Stalvey. “Crank baits are No. 1.” Craw baits and Texas-rigged worms are also producing bass. Catfish action is good on eels, live bream and large shiners.
The final three-day period for a red snapper mini-season for recreational anglers was scheduled for Dec. 8-10, but coincided with a cold front that brought a major bout of wintry weather to the Southeast coast, nearly two weeks before the first day of winter. The Sun News file photo
Weather plays havoc with red snapper mini-season
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
December 15, 2017 07:22 PM
UPDATED December 15, 2017 07:25 PM
The third and final three-day stretch of the 2017 red snapper mini-season in the South Atlantic region came and went last weekend, and the species came out virtually unscathed.
The three-day opening for recreational anglers was scheduled for Dec. 8-10, but coincided with a cold front that brought a major bout of wintry weather to the Southeast coast, nearly two weeks before the first day of winter.
The cold weather and rough seas stretched from the Carolinas down into north Florida, a stretch where the majority of red snapper are found along the Southeast coast, and fishing for the species was at a bare minimum during the three days.
The original six days of the mini-season (Nov. 3-5, 10-12) also featured predominately rough seas, save for Nov. 3, which led to NOAA Fisheries opening the species to harvest again for the final three days.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) encourages recreational anglers, including charter and head boat operators, to report any canceled trips using the pilot reporting program at MyFishCount.com.
Reporting the canceled trips could pay off in 2018.
The SAFMC proposed an interim catch level for red snapper at its September meeting that, if approved by the Secretary of Commerce, may allow a red snapper mini-season beginning in July 2018.
Efforts are underway to establish an acceptable biological catch for red snapper and scheduled for review by the council during its June 2018 meeting.
At its meeting Dec. 4-8 in Atlantic Beach, N.C., the SAFMC also moved forward with proposed measures to improve data collection and reduce by-catch of red snapper and other species in the snapper-grouper management complex. Public hearings on the measures will be held in 2018.
The Council also dealt with cobia and red grouper at the meeting.
*Cobia: It was a frustrating year in 2017 for South Carolina anglers wanting to harvest cobia.
The species was closed to harvest in federal waters (beyond three miles offshore) from Georgia to New York and South Carolina has coincided with closures in federal waters since 1996, meaning cobia were also closed in state waters off the Palmetto State.
However, neighboring states Georgia and North Carolina, plus Virginia, did not close the harvest of cobia in state waters.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages species in coastal waters from Maine to Florida, has developed an Interstate Management Plan for cobia, which could eventually consolidate cobia regulations in state waters along the Atlantic Coast.
The SAFMC is considering options for transferring management of cobia to the ASMFC, as well as the possibility of complementary management between the SAFMC and ASMFC.
With the status of cobia harvest in 2018 hanging in the balance, public hearings on the matter are scheduled for Jan. 22-24, 2018. The details of the meetings have yet to be determined.
*Red Grouper: The SAFMC reviewed a recent stock assessment for red grouper that shows the species is still overfished and undergoing overfishing.
At the Atlantic Beach, N.C. meeting the council approved measures to significantly reduce both the commercial and recreational annual catch limits for red grouper, from a total catch limit of 780,000 pounds to 139,000 pounds beginning in 2018.
Based on average landings from 2014-16, the recreational fishery for red grouper is projected to close in July 2018 with the reduced catch limit of 77,840 pounds.