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Spawning zones established off of coast

July 23, 2017 Live Great Outdoors Blog Comments Off on Spawning zones established off of coast

image: grouper
One of five spawning SMZs to be established off the South Atlantic coast beginning on July 31 will be in the Georgetown Hole area. The closures to snapper-grouper fishing are designed to protect reef species such as this snowy grouper. Submitted photo

July 21, 2017 6:33 PM
Rule set go into effect aimed at producing ‘fish factories’ in South Carolina, elsewhere

By Gregg Holshouser

For The Sun News

On July 31, five bottom areas off the South Atlantic coast, including a portion of the renowned Georgetown Hole, will be closed to snapper-grouper fishing and designated as spawning special management zones (SMZs).

Within the boundaries of the SMZs, fishing for, retention and possession of 55 species in the snapper-grouper complex will be prohibited for all anglers.

Trolling for species such as dolphin, wahoo, tuna and billfish will be allowed within the SMZs.

The bottom closures are the result of the final rule of Amendment 36 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region, which was approved by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council in March, 2016 and eventually signed by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

The spawning SMZs are meant to protect spawning snapper-grouper species and their spawning habitat by prohibiting fishing for or harvest of the species in the designated areas.

Three of the spawning SMZs are located off the South Carolina coast, and one each off the coast of North Carolina and Florida.

Details of the five areas to be closed follow:

South Cape Lookout: This is a 5.10-square mile area on a ledge that drops from depths of 230 feet to over 330 feet and is located approximately 56 miles southeast of Beaufort Inlet, N.C.

Georgetown Hole: A 3.03-square mile portion of the sprawling Georgetown Hole will be closed. The closed area is centered around a unique spur contour which drops from 330 feet to 500 feet. The entire SMZ drops from 230 to 650 feet deep.

Areas 51 and 53: These two artificial reef areas were established by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources – Area 51 in the late 1990s and Area 53 in 2001 – but were not included among the public artificial reefs. Both areas are located southeast of Charleston, Area 51 in approximately 70 feet of water and Area 53 in approximately 105 feet of water.

S.C. DNR has used the two areas as an experimental reef site to observe the proliferation, or lack thereof, of reef species on structure with little fishing pressure.

As of July 31, the two areas will be legally protected from snapper-grouper fishing.

Warsaw Hole: This area covers 3.60-square miles and is located west of Key West, Fla., on a ledge dropping from 260 to 500 feet in depth.

The amendment includes a sunset clause that could discontinue the SMZs after 10 years, if the SAFMC allows that to occur.

“The idea is to monitor those sites,” said Mel Bell, director of the Office of Fisheries Management within the Marine Resources Division of S.C. DNR. “Either they work or they don’t. The council has the ability to renew them if they are working.”

Bell, one of three South Carolinians on the SAFMC, expects the new SMZs to become what he calls “fish factories” – areas where snapper-grouper species proliferate and spawn without receiving any fishing pressure.

Bell relates to his observations and studies of Areas 51 and 53 over the past 20 years. Soon after Area 51 was put in place in the late 1990s, Bell saw quick growth in the populations of the reef species that took to the structure.

“In a couple years we were amazingly satisfied with (Area 51),” said Bell. “Both (areas) are working quite well. The concept is if you take an area, whether naturally occurring or an area built (into an artificial reef), and leave it alone you can get an amazing amount of fish on there, have amazing abundance.”

The three other areas – South Cape Lookout, Georgetown Hole, Warsaw Hole – are all naturally occurring deep-water ledges that hold deep-water grouper species such as snowy, warsaw and speckled hind.

Of most local interest, the “spur” feature to be closed in the Georgetown Hole area has long been known as a hot spot for snowy grouper and warsaw. The area produced the South Carolina state record warsaw, a 310-pounder caught out of Murrells Inlet in 1976.

“You’ve got a really good drop in depth around a very distinct little spur feature that for whatever reason is where fish go to spawn,” said Bell. “We’ve seen pictures of huge warsaw caught years ago, that area is where those fish used to be. We know warsaw are out there and we’ve found them in spawning condition – leave them alone then you’re providing productivity for (these species).”

Bell pointed out the impact of the SMZs stretches well beyond the boundaries of the boxes, his terminology for the areas closed to snapper-grouper fishing.

“The fish will move out of the boxes and into the system,” said Bell. “When they spawn, the eggs float, they get into the current and move downstream. The production that occurs in these fish factories goes into the whole system, it doesn’t stay in the box.”

The Dog Days of Tarpon Fishing

July 21, 2017 Live Great Outdoors Blog Comments Off on The Dog Days of Tarpon Fishing

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Fishermen line the public fishing dock at Cherry Grove Park at 53rd Avenue North in North Myrtle Beach. JASON LEE
July 20, 2017 5:31 PM
Fishing report: The dog days of summer have arrived, and so has a bounty of tarpon

By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News


Look For: Flounder, spotted seatrout, black drum, red drum, sheepshead, bluefish, tarpon.

Comments: Late July has arrived, and so have tarpon in local estuaries. “Tarpon are here pretty strong,” said Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown. McDonald reports Capt. Rod Thomas, better known as “Capt. Ponytail,” caught and released a tarpon in the range of 60 to 70 pounds earlier this week in Winyah Bay. Smallish Little River Inlet doesn’t attract tarpon as well as sprawling Winyah Bay, but Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters had an interesting tarpon encounter this week. “We had a tarpon hit a live shrimp under a popping cork, and he showed himself (by jumping),” said Kelly. “It was on 20-pound test – didn’t last long.” Kelly estimated the tarpon was in the 50-pound range. Kelly has noticed unusually large menhaden in the Little River area and thinks the tarpon are following those into the estuary. McDonald had a solid day early this week in the Winyah Bay vicinity, catching 15 red drum and three flounder using cut shrimp, plastic grubs and live finger mullet. Kelly had a busy day on a Thursday trip fishing several spots in the Little River vicinity. Kelly produced spotted seatrout, red drum, black drum and flounder, with most fish on the smallish size except for a 24-inch red.

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 action has been excellent in the vicinity of near-shore artificial reefs this week. Case in point, Capt. Jeff Maples’ outing Thursday aboard his charter boat – Reel Salty. On a morning trip, Maples trolled mackerel trees tipped by Clark spoons on a No. 1 planer in the vicinity of Paradise Reef, located three miles off Murrells Inlet. Maples’ customers kept 17 Spanish ranging in size from 15 to 20 inches for a fish fry. Earlier this week, Maples caught a 26-inch king mackerel on the same rig. After Spanish fishing, Maples fished the bottom on the reef’s structure and has been catching mainly flounder and black sea bass. “It’s been 10 shorts to one keeper (for flounder),” said Maples. South Carolina’s minimum size limit for flounder is now 15 inches with a daily bag limit of 10 per person per day with a maximum boat limit of 20 flounder per day. Spadefish are also available on the reefs. Best catches of king mackerel are on bottom spots in 55 to 90 feet of water. Whiting, croaker and black drum are the main catch on Grand Strand piers with scattered catches of flounder, red drum, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, spadefish and trout. The ocean water temperature was a bit cooler than normal, at 80 degrees on the surface and 77 degrees on the bottom, at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Apache Pier.

Look For: Blackfin tuna, wahoo, dolphin, sailfish, vermilion snapper, triggerfish, white grunts, red porgy, black sea bass, grouper, amberjack.

Comments: The Dog Days of Summer are approaching but there has been some productive trolling near the break. Ed Keelin of Georgetown Landing Marina reports the Painkiller had a super trolling day out of Georgetown, catching blackfin tuna, wahoo and dolphin for a Meatfish Slam. Sailfish action is good further out in the Gulf Stream with some being encountered near the break, also. Bottom fishing continues to be excellent, particularly in 100-plus feet of water. Look for plenty of vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, red porgy and grunts along with grouper and amberjack. Anglers should be aware 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: River levels continue to be very good on the Waccamaw and Little Pee Dee, and the fish are responding. “The bream are flat out chompin’,” said River Squires of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle. Squires reports shop owner/operator Ronald “Catfish” Stalvey personally hit the water this week to catch a nice mess of bream on the Waccamaw in the Cox Ferry Lake vicinity. “He caught over 20 good-size eaters, but he had to go through 40 to get those 20,” said Squires. Stalvey was fishing crickets in four feet of water on the edge of a grass bed. Squires reports live bait – specifically black salties – are producing good catches of blue catfish on the Waccamaw. “(The bass fishing is) off and on,” said Squires. “They’re catching a lot of fish but the ones with size are hard to come by.” Squires recommends using a Bang-O-Lure or buzz baits for bass, especially early and late in the day.

New boat issues over, Blue Sky wins Megadock Billfishing Tournament

July 15, 2017 Live Great Outdoors Blog Comments Off on New boat issues over, Blue Sky wins Megadock Billfishing Tournament

image: fishing boat
The crew of Blue Sky, which won the Megadock Billfishing Tournament last weekend out of Charleston City Marina, brings a blue marlin to the boat. Submitted photo

Read more here:
After missing ‘hometown tournament,’ Pawleys Island fishing crew makes up for lost time

By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News

After a rocky start to the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series aboard his new edition of Blue Sky, it all came together for Pawleys Island’s Greg Smith and crew last weekend at the Megadock Billfishing Tournament out of Charleston City Marina.

Smith is breaking in a 2017 60-foot Spencer yacht and had designs on fishing in four of five tournaments in the series.

Working the kinks out of the custom-built yacht caused the Blue Sky crew to miss the 50th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament in May and one day of fishing in the Carolina Billfish Classic in June, the second and third events of the series.

“We’ve just been shaking out some new boat problems – they just seem to happen at the wrong time,” said Smith. “Hopefully that’s all behind us now.”

As a Georgetown County resident, missing the 50th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament was a bummer for Smith.

“We’ve been in Georgetown since 2001 and that’s my hometown tournament,” said Smith, who docks the boat at Hazzard Marine in Georgetown. “That being number 50, it was pretty hard. We’ll be back there next year.”

The Blue Sky crew finally fished a complete tournament in the Megadock, releasing a total of 10 sailfish and one blue marlin in two superb days of fishing to win the fourth of five events in the Governor’s Cup series.

“We were happy to get everything behind us and get to do the whole tournament and do well,” said Blue Sky Capt. Jay Weaver, also a Pawleys Island resident. “Winning it made us all feel a lot better with the troubles we’ve had.”

Blue Sky released four sailfish and the blue marlin on the first day of fishing before releasing six sails last Friday on their second day to finish with 2,600 points, tied for most points in a series event this year.

Current Governor’s Cup leader Gryphon finished second with 2,200 points after releasing five sails and a blue marlin.

Gryphon holds a commanding series lead – 5,875 points to second-place Mister Pete’s 3,875 – heading into the series finale, the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament scheduled for next week (July 19-22).

Weaver is in his first year as captain of Blue Sky, after years of serving as skipper of Charleston-based Daymaker. The Governor’s Cup veteran had four naked ballyhoo on small rods for sailfish and a lure for blue marlin on an 80-pound class rod in his trolling spread.

“It was a really good sailfish bite,” said Weaver. “We fish naked ballyhoo on circle hooks. Once this time of year comes around and there are less marlin, we go to all naked.”

For more information on the tournament and the series, visit
Conway Bassmasters Tournament

Patrick Cook and Joey McLean weighed in a five-bass limit of 14.47 pounds to win the Conway Bassmasters Annual River Fest Bass Tournament last Saturday out of Bucksport Marina.

Cook and McLean, of the Hemingway area, finished atop a field of 57 teams to earn $1,400.

“We paid out just over $6,000. It was a good turnout and a good payback,” said tournament director Chris Jones.

The husband-wife team of Ricky and Karen Bellamy of Longs finished second with a five-fish limit of 13.17 pounds to win $800. The father-son team of Timmy and River Squires of Conway won third place and $600 with a five-fish limit of 12.46 pounds.

The big fish, a 5.97-pounder, was weighed in by Ryan and Wayne Marsh of Myrtle Beach, earning $300.

Anglers interested in competing in future bass tournaments out of Conway can contact Chris Jones at for more information.