The sun rises over Winyah Bay Sunday morning at the start of a trout fishing trip. Photo Courtesy Gul-R-Boy Guide Service
Stage set for super fall trout fishing, if Irma doesn’t mess it up
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
September 08, 2017 5:35 PM
With temps in the upper 60s, it was a little chilly when Capt. Mike McDonald opened up his new Bulls Bay 2200 mere moments after daybreak, even though the calendar read Sept. 3, nearly three weeks before the arrival of autumn.
McDonald pushed the spiffy center console powered by a 150 Mercury Optimax up to about 40 mph headed northeast in the Intracoastal Waterway after leaving South Island Ferry, headed for Winyah Bay.
With the sun just above the horizon and reflecting on the water, McDonald zoomed across the channel into Muddy Bay, and eased into a narrow creek, right at high tide, looking for bait.
With McDonald, owner-operator of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown, on the bow clutching a 7-foot Fitec Super Spreader cast net and I at the helm, the width of the creek steadily narrowed from 20 feet across to 10 feet, or less.
The calm surface was alive with ripples created by finger mullet and menhaden, plus shrimp.
Several throws of the net produced several dozen finger mullet in the 2-4 inch range, plus some menhaden and a few shrimp. The crew, also including an old buddy of mine, Kerry Morgan of Camden, was set for bait.
Despite it being Sunday, a day before Labor Day, boat traffic was surprisingly light on the bay.
“They’re all waiting for tomorrow,” quipped McDonald.
The comfortable temps combined with a westerly breeze of 5-10 mph made for a sunny, beautiful early September day.
McDonald headed for a tried and true spot for starters, an oyster shell bank, where Morgan fished with an artificial Shrimp Pasta lure and I tossed a finger mullet under a three-inch torpedo float.
“This is more of a trout and flounder spot, isn’t it Mike?” I inquired.
Moments later, the captain had a good chuckle when Morgan caught the first fish of the day, a 13-14 inch red drum.
Soon, however, the spotted seatrout took over, as expected. The finger mullet were producing more bites, and Morgan switched to a float rod.
As the trout bite warmed up, McDonald – half-captain, half-drill sergeant – barked out angling suggestions. Or were they orders?
▪ “Keep that rod tip up!”
▪ “You’re hung up. Don’t raise the rod tip, grab the spool and pull the rod straight toward you.”
▪ “You’re trying to super-throw that float. Just flip it out there and it will go just about as far and you won’t throw your bait off.”
As the tide fell closer to low, we consistently caught trout in the 14-17-inch range, with a few frantic bites from ladyfish and even gar mixed in. When Morgan caught a small flounder, we had landed all three species of a Carolina Slam.
In all, we caught around 20 trout and left the spot with a dozen keepers.
I had a hankering to target black drum, and the westerly wind combined with a falling tide meant conditions at the sprawling Winyah Bay jetties were tranquil.
Inside the jetties, the brown water of the bay rushed out toward the ocean, while on the ocean side of the rock mound, the water was a striking blue-green with bluefish and Spanish mackerel cutting through plentiful schools of mullet and menhaden.
McDonald pulled up to one of his preferred jetty spots and let it be known up front – in his opinion a rising tide would be better for black drum, but we’d give it a try.
We used cut shrimp for bait, and McDonald was proven correct. We caught no black drum over the next hour, but the variety of species on hand at the jetties was on display.
First, we caught, and released, some of the largest pinfish I’ve ever seen. Then the grunts – blue-striped grunts – showed up. We caught several including a large one measuring 12-13 inches that went home for dinner.
A black sea bass just under the 13-inch minimum size limit was caught and released before McDonald moved to another spot farther down the jetties.
Red drum, or spottails, were holding on this spot, and we caught and released several more in the 13-15 inch range before calling it a day.
As McDonald headed back toward South Island Ferry, I surveyed the unspoiled scenery at the entrance to Winyah Bay, and thought of Hurricane Irma, which then was just approaching the Leeward Islands far out in the Atlantic.
The question then was – as it is now – what will Irma’s final destination be?
This trip proved that the stage is set for a super fall season of trout fishing in the Winyah Bay vicinity.
That is, if Irma doesn’t mess it up.
Dennis Caruso tosses a line from the Myrtle Beach State Park Pier this past summer. Janet Blackmon Morgan firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks, Irma: Local anglers hunker down as dangerous tropical system approaches
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
September 07, 2017 6:13 PM
Look For: Spotted seatrout, red drum, black drum, flounder, sheepshead, tarpon.
Comments: It’s been a solid week for Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service on a pair of very different trips. On Monday, McDonald and crew targeted tarpon — the vaunted Silver King of South Carolina summertime inshore fishing. Fishing in Winyah Bay, McDonald’s crew had four hookups while using large menhaden for bait. The largest tarpon, estimated by McDonald to be in the 100-pound range, was lost at the boat when the 100-pound mono leader wore through after a 45-minute fight. Then on Tuesday, McDonald’s crew had a field day with smaller but tastier fish, catching 16 spotted seatrout and seven black drum, also in Winyah Bay. McDonald used live finger mullet and cut shrimp for bait. Capt. Patrick Kelly of Capt. Smiley Fishing Charters had a solid day with a mixed bag in the Little River vicinity on Tuesday. Kelly’s crew caught 10 flounder, five red drum and several black drum. Kelly used finger mullet for the flounder, cut mullet for the reds, and caught the black drum on Gulp baits and shrimp on jig heads
Look For: Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, bluefish, black sea bass, spadefish, weakfish, flounder, whiting, croaker, pompano, black drum, sheepshead and red drum.
Comments: Spanish mackerel fishing has continued to be superb this week, particularly around near-shore artificial reefs. Capt. Jeff Maples of Reel Salty Charters in Murrells Inlet used the live-chum/live-bait method with plentiful finger mullet at Paradise Reef Tuesday. The method produced bites from super-sized Spanish, as Maples crew caught a dozen in the 24-inch range. Maples then stopped by the jetties and used the same finger mullet to catch red drum both within and over the slot limit of 15-23 inches. The next several days will be slow on the fishing front thanks to the approach of Hurricane Irma, as boat owners protect their vessels from the storm. Ronnie Goodwin of Cherry Grove Pier reports a mixed bag of species have been caught this week including blues, black drum, small flounder, whiting, croaker and ribbonfish. The water temperature at the pier Wednesday evening was 82 degrees. The captains meeting for the 7th annual Spanish Derby will be held Friday at 6 p.m. at the Mullet Hut, located on the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk. The status of the tournament, scheduled for Saturday will be determined at the meeting. For more information, call 843-602-0910.
Look For: Wahoo, blackfin tuna, dolphin, sailfish, grouper, vermilion snapper, triggerfish, white grunts, red porgy, black sea bass, amberjack.
Comments: As of Friday sea conditions will become exceptionally rough and dangerous thanks to Irma’s approach in the offshore waters, where fishing will come to a standstill for several days. The silver lining? Fishing is always very interesting following the passage of a hurricane, which causes movement of fish. When conditions once again allow, expect good trolling action for wahoo and blackfin tuna. Bottom fishing can be spectacular after a storm, particularly grouper fishing. Anglers should note that cobia cannot be harvested in 2017 in South Carolina waters (to three miles offshore) or federal waters (beyond three miles) and must be released. Also, red snapper must be released in the South Atlantic region.
Look For: Bream, catfish, bass, crappie.
Comments: The Waccamaw River at Conway was right at flood stage Thursday afternoon at 4:15, with a reading of 10.88 feet, just below the minor flood stage of 11.0 feet. The Little Pee Dee at Galivants Ferry was in better shape, at 6.75 feet Thursday at 4 p.m. Both rivers could be in for a major rise after Hurricane Irma passes, depending on the storm’s track. Beware of floating debris if on the water after the storm. Work crickets under floats along the banks for bream and use cut eels, mullet or shad in deep holes to catch catfish.
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A red snapper rises to the surface off the gunwale of Capt. Danny Juel’s Fish Screamer out of Little River. Submitted photo
Emergency action could allow limited red snapper season in 2017
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
Capt. Danny Juel was surprised what he found on a bottom spot located a little over 10 miles southeast of Little River Inlet in 60 feet of water on Tuesday.
Juel was running a half-day trip on the Hurricane, a 90-foot party boat, for his friend and Hurricane owner, Capt. Chip Stevens.
Black sea bass are the main species typically targeted on such a half-day trip, but on this day red snapper were holding on the bottom spot.
Yes, genuine American red snapper, as they’re called locally, on a spot in 60 feet of water. Juel’s customers caught and released four before he moved to another spot in search of a species that could be harvested.
Red snapper on a spot that shallow is a first for Juel, who has been fishing out of Little River for 35 years.
“They’ve never been in 60 feet of water here before,” said Juel. “We’re seeing them places we’ve never seen them before.”
In 2009, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined the South Atlantic red snapper stock was overfished and undergoing overfishing, and the fishery was closed in 2010 with a 35-year rebuilding plan put in place.
Other than short seasons allowed in 2012-2014, the red snapper fishery has been closed ever since and their numbers have grown, with only fish that have not survived the release process, known as dead discards, removed from the population.
In Juel’s view, the numbers of red snapper on bottom spots offshore have increased during the closure to where he considers them a problem.
“It’s unbelievable. We’re going out there not trying to catch them but if you put a big bait down to catch a grouper, the snappers are eating you alive,” said Juel, who operates Fish Screamer Charters out of Little River. “They’re almost becoming a nuisance. They’re more plentiful than the grouper and we can keep the grouper but not the snapper. Thirty-five to 40 miles out, anywhere you go, if you stop on a piece of bottom rock, there’s going to be a (red) snapper on it.”
There is potential good news for area fishermen, recreational and commercial, wanting to harvest red snapper.
NMFS is proposing temporary measures through an emergency action to allow a limited fishing season for the recreational and commercial sectors in 2017 in the South Atlantic region.
The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is addressing the issue on Sept. 11 as part of a regularly scheduled council meeting in Charleston.
A briefing book on the SAFMC website (www.SAFMC.net) regarding the emergency action cites “recently discovered and unforeseen data from the long-term Southeast Reef Fish Survey (SERFS) fishery independent index of abundance” that was presented to the SAFMC at a June meeting that spurred the proposal.
The data showed the red snapper population has increased substantially since 2014, reaching the highest levels to date in 2016.
The council will consider five alternatives, four of which would result in a mini-red snapper season this fall and one that would take no action and leave the fishery closed. As always, the council could decide to move on any of the five alternatives, or none.
At a June meeting, the SAFMC selected a preferred alternative out of the five options, one that would set a catch limit of 29,656 fish for recreational anglers and 124,815 pounds for the commercial sector.
“(The preferred alternative) provides access with a reasonable amount of risk (to the fishery),” said Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management within the Marine Resources Division of S.C. DNR, and one of three South Carolinians on the SAFMC.
“We’ve got to balance providing access to the fishery and taking a reasonable amount of risk. I think we could do that level and we wouldn’t harm the rebuild. We’re going to crack the faucet open some but not wide open.”
The public can comment on the red snapper issue before the council at the meeting starting at 10:15 a.m. on Sept. 11. Public comment is also currently being accepted online at http://safmc.net/2017-september-council-meeting/.
Juel’s opinion on the issue is representative of the vast majority of fishermen who have already commented on the SAFMC website.
“It’s been a wonderful thing, the comeback they’ve made,” said Juel. “Now, let us catch a few of them. We need to thin them out some. They’re just overpopulated right now.”
This amendment is also on the SAFMC agenda for the meeting which will be held Sept. 11-15 at the Town and Country Inn located at 2008 Savannah Highway in Charleston.
The amendment will look at options for managing red snapper in 2018 and future years.
Spanish Mackerel Derby
The 7th Annual Spanish Mackerel Derby will be held out of the Mullet Hut in Murrells Inlet next weekend, Sept. 8-9, after being postponed last weekend.
First place is a $5,000 cash prize. The Captains Meeting will be held at the Mullet Hut Friday with fishing set for Saturday. For more information, call 843-602-0910.
Southern Redfish Cup
The tour will make a stop in Georgetown next weekend, Sept. 8-9. The Captains Meeting will be held at Buzz’s Roost on Friday with a live weigh-in set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Carroll Ashemore Campbell Marine Complex located on the Sampit River.
For more information visit www.SouthernRedfishCup.com.