Red drum (above) and black drum have been the hottest species in the near-shore waters following the effects of Hurricane Irma early in the week, with fish caught from Grand Strand piers, the surf, area jetties and near-shore hard-bottom areas. Submitted photo
How Hurricane Irma’s effects are slowing fishing action locally
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
September 15, 2017 6:52 PM
When a major hurricane blows through, it takes a good while for ocean conditions to return to normal, even if the center of the storm passes hundreds of miles to the west, like Hurricane Irma did on Monday.
Irma made its mark in the history books for devastating the Florida Keys and causing significant damage on a northward trek through the entire length of the Florida peninsula.
Locally, the wind field and bands from the massive storm created gusts to over 50 mph, with the persistent east-northeast wind churning up massive waves that obliterated beach re-nourishment projects on the south end of the Grand Strand and caused some coastal flooding at high tide on Monday.
Conditions quickly settled starting on Tuesday after the storm wound down, but anglers have found out fishing is far from normal.
Capt. Jeff Maples of Reel Salty Charters in Murrells Inlet specializes in near-shore fishing in the Atlantic, and had his first charter post-Irma on Friday.
Maples headed to Paradise Reef, located 3 miles east of the inlet. The reef had been producing large Spanish mackerel along with flounder and weakfish for Maples prior to the storm’s passage.
“The water is kind of greenish, but not clear,” said Maples. “You can tell it’s still kind of churned up. The water is green, just not it’s normal color of green.”
Bait is plentiful, however, Maples said.
“There’s plenty of mullet in the creeks (in the inlet) and mullet and pogys (menhaden) along the beach,” said Maples.
Maples loaded up his live well with numerous finger mullet and headed to Paradise Reef Friday morning. He went through the same routine he did prior to the storm of live-chumming finger mullet to get the Spanish active and to the surface, but to no avail.
“We couldn’t get the Spanish to come up,” said Maples. “I saw schools of fish on the fish finder, and we dumped hundreds of mullet out, but nothing.”
Maples also dropped finger mullet to the bottom in search of flounder and weakfish.
“We were sitting on our normal flounder spot, but we caught no flounder, and wound up catching black sea bass and one (16-inch weakfish),” said Maples. “We even stayed a little longer than normal trying to get them going. We’re all trying to figure out what the heck is going on out there.”
Now, according to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Jose is expected to pass between Bermuda and the Carolinas this weekend, bringing increasing waves and winds to local near-shore waters on the storm’s periphery.
Early next week, the wind and seas will begin a decreasing trend as Jose pulls away to the Northeast. Then, look for the much-anticipated excellent fall fishing to finally kick in by the middle of next week.
For now, red drum and black drum are providing the best near-shore action, with fish being caught at area jetties, in the surf, on near-shore hard-bottom areas and from Grand Strand piers the last few days.
Irma also blew out the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council meeting scheduled for last Monday in Charleston.
The meeting has been rescheduled for Sept. 25-29 at the same venue – the Town and Country Inn located at 2008 Savannah Highway in Charleston.
On Monday, Sept. 25, the council will consider an emergency action to allow a limited fishing season in 2017 for red snapper for the recreational and commercial sectors in the South Atlantic region.
The public can comment on the red snapper issue before the council on Sept. 25. Public comment is also currently being accepted online at http://safmc.net/2017-september-council-meeting/.
Amendment 43, which considers options for managing red snapper in 2018 and future years, is also on the SAFMC agenda for the meeting.
Members of the Murrells Inlet fishing community are mourning the loss of Capt. Lee Conner, who passed away on Sept. 7 at the age of 58.
Conner, a 1976 graduate of Socastee High School, operated area private boats such as the Mind Set, Ashley B and Large Time beginning in the 1980s.
A celebration of life will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Burroughs Funeral Home in Murrells Inlet. The family will receive friends beginning at noon.
Memorial contributions in Conner’s name can be made to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children, 2900 Rocky Point Drive, Tampa, FL, 33607 or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN, 39105.