South Carolina’s flounder limits will become stricter beginning on July 1. Photo courtesy Gul-R-Boy Guide Service
May 26, 2017 3:30 PM
Fishing for flounder? New law features changes in regulation starting this summer
By Gregg Holshouser
A bill that will increase the minimum size limit and lower the daily bag limits for South Carolina’s flounder population has been signed into law by Gov. Henry McMaster after easily moving through the S.C. Legislature.
McMaster signed the bill a week ago, on May 19, after it was approved by the Senate, and the new limits will go into effect on July 1.
The bill increases the flounder minimum size limit 1 inch to 15 inches and decreases the daily bag limits to 10 per person and 20 per boat. South Carolina’s soon-to-be-outdated flounder limits are currently a 14-inch minimum size limit and bag limits of 15 per person per day with a boat limit of 30 per day.
The bill had full support in the Legislature, passing the House of Representatives by a unanimous 108-0 vote before being passed by the Senate.
“It received no descending votes in the Senate and the vote in the house was very, very unusual, 108-0 – remarkable,” said Charles Farmer, who has served as liaison between Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina, which pushed for the bill, and the S.C. General Assembly for the past 11 years.
“It was a lot of work, a lot of effort but for all practical purposes, no one opposed the bill.”
Fishermen in the Palmetto State have a little over a month before the new flounder regulations go into effect on July 1.
“DNR (law enforcement) will educate the public for the first couple months to make sure everyone is aware,” said Farmer, “and then maybe write warning tickets.”
Farmer pointed out that flounder receive unique fishing pressure, as they are targeted both day and night.
“They are under pressure during day by hook-and-line (fishermen) and at night by giggers,” Farmer said. “(The new regulations) apply to them both. Giggers will have to be more careful when they stick a fish.
“We feel this is one of the most significant bills in marine conservation in some time.”
Farmer is optimistic the 1-inch increase in size limit in particular will help the flounder population in coming years.
Female flounder first mature at 14 inches and begin substantially contributing to the spawn at 15 inches. Raising the minimum size is designed to increase the number of females that successfully migrate into the ocean to spawn in late fall and winter.
“A 15-inch flounder is far more productive at spawning, has a much greater spawning capacity than a 14-inch flounder,” said Farmer. “The overall population is down is significantly. You want to find a way for the population to come back but at the same time not penalize the recreational fishermen anymore than necessary.
“(S.C.) DNR has determined you’re going to affect about 29-31 percent of fish taken each year. We will in effect save or protect 29-31 percent of the fish that would have been taken. In the next six years, you will begin to see a real beneficial effect for the flounder population.”
Farmer, who concluded a 36-year career as a marine biologist with S.C. DNR prior to joining CCA SC in 2006, points to the burgeoning population along South Carolina’s coast behind the need for stricter limits on popular marine fish species.
“The saltwater fishing license is the only license increasing in numbers,” said Farmer. “The hunting and freshwater fishing licenses tend to be relatively stable. Saltwater licenses continue to go up which means more anglers, more pressure, which means the need for legislation such as this on flounder.”
A fisherman walks the oyster bars at low tide in Cherry Grove Inlet in North Myrtle Beach. JASON LEE firstname.lastname@example.org
May 25, 2017 5:34 PM
Fishing report: Lousy weather now in rear view, anglers trying to play catch up
By Gregg HolshouserEstuary
Look For: Flounder, red drum, spotted seatrout, black drum, sheepshead, bluefish, ladyfish.
Comments: Before the wind and rain arrived early this week, Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown had good success with red drum, trout and black drum, fishing from McClellanville to North Inlet. McDonald, who also caught a few flounder and ladyfish, used live mud minnows, live mullet, cut shrimp, and artificials, especially plastic grubs on jig heads. The captain noted the water temperature dropped from 80 degrees on Monday to 74 to 75 degrees Thursday. Capt. Mark Dickson of Shallow-Minded Inshore Charters in Little River reports trout and black drum catches are good, with flounder available especially in Tubbs Inlet. Jessica Perry of Perry’s Bait and Tackle in Murrells Inlet reports flounder catches have been good on a rising tide Wednesday and Thursday. “We’ve started seeing some nicer size flounder,” said Perry, who noted slot red drum (15-23 inches) and black drum have been landed in the creeks of the inlet.
Look For: King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, spadefish, black sea bass, flounder, whiting, croaker, black drum, pompano, spots.
Comments: “I’m ready for this mess to get out of here,” said Capt. Jeff Maples of Reel Salty Charters in Murrells Inlet, who has canceled three charter trips this week due to the weather. King mackerel catches were very good in the 10-15 mile range on bottom spots before the weather arrived. The near-shore bottom spots are holding nice Spanish mackerel in the vicinity, plus spadefish are available on the reefs. Ocean conditions have not been a pretty sight near the beach, either. “It’s pretty nasty out there,” Scott Skrzydlinski of Cherry Grove Pier said of the surf conditions Thursday afternoon. Still Skrzydlinski reports black drum and spots have made a showing this week. “They’ve been catching a good handful of (keeper black drum) a day,” said Skrzydlinski. “We had a small run of spots early in the week, too.” Skrzydlinski noted a water temperature of 76 degrees, both surface and bottom, Thursday at 3 p.m. Moe of The Pier at Garden City reports catches of Spanish, whiting and croaker this week.
Look For: Dolphin, blackfin tuna, wahoo, blue marlin, sailfish, barracuda, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, porgy, grunts, grouper and amberjack.
Comments: It’s been a lousy, windy, rainy week, virtually eliminating any chance to get offshore for trolling action, and at a most inopportune time. Mid-to-late May is the time to load up on dolphin, to go with blackfin tuna and wahoo. Then there’s the billfish factor — blue marlin activity is currently at a peak in the Gulf Stream. The rain mainly cleared out Thursday, but the wind remained, and the first day of fishing in the 50th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament out of Georgetown Landing Marina was canceled by a Small Craft Advisory. All boats in the tournament were to fish the final two days of the event on Friday and Saturday. Bottom fishing is excellent when boats can get out there, with catches of vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, porgy, grunts, grouper and amberjack. Head to depths beyond 90 feet for best catches. Red snapper cannot be harvested in the South Atlantic region and must be released. The fish should be vented if necessary.
Look For: Bream, bass, catfish, crappie.
Comments: Earlier this week — Monday through Wednesday, in fact — a deluge of rain and windy weather caused angler action to be rather slow. The sun re-appeared on Thursday, and fishermen were back at it on area rivers. The rain brought a rise in both Pee Dee rivers but the Waccamaw remains in good shape and fishable. “The rain hasn’t messed us up too bad,” said Ronald ‘Catfish’ Stalvey of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle in Conway. “The Waccamaw’s the best right now, since the water jumped back up everywhere else.” The Little Pee Dee at Galivants Ferry was at 6.9 feet at 1 p.m. Thursday and rising, while the Waccamaw at Conway was at 8.1 feet at 1 p.m. and making good tides. Stalvey suggests floating crickets and worms around lily pads, trees or brush in 2-4 feet of water for bream on the Waccamaw from Conway to Bucksport, and in the Ricefields vicinity. Stalvey personally had a successful bass trip about a week ago before the rainy weather moved in, and suggests using Bang-o-Lures and buzz baits. “Any kind of top-water has been very good lately,” said Stalvey. Catfish catches have been good on live bait or cut shad, eels or mullet.
Georgetown’s Jim Johnston, owner of Big Sky, has fished in all 49 editions of the Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament and is ready for the 50th anniversary tournament next week at Georgetown Landing Marina. Submitted photo
50th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament a special event for many
By Gregg HolshouserOn Thursday, Georgetown’s Jim Johnston and his crew aboard Big Sky headed out to an area south of the Georgetown Hole, 50-60 miles offshore, and proceeded to target their favorite species – blue marlin – aboard the 59-foot Spencer custom-built yacht.
Just like he has over the past half-century, Johnston had a thrilling adventure to share from the big-game trolling trip.
“We had bait on the depth recorder and anticipated a bite,” recalled Johnston. “There was a dolphin in the (trolling) spread, and a marlin came in after the dolphin. It was a really good fish.”
The trip was an important one for Johnston, who was pre-fishing for a landmark tournament that is near and dear to his heart – the 50th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament.
“We were blue marlin fishing trying to get our act together,” said Johnston. “I think we’re dialed in on the blues. Whether it works or not we’ll see next week.”
Nothing would thrill Johnston and his family-oriented crew aboard Big Sky more than to win the 50th annual rendition of the oldest billfish tournament in the state of South Carolina and one of the oldest along the East Coast.
Johnston, who turns age 73 on June 1, is the only angler who has fished in the first 49 tournaments, and is gearing up for No. 50.
The tournament, founded by the late Wallace F. Pate in 1968, will be held next week at longtime venue Georgetown Landing Marina, beginning with Wednesday’s Captains Meeting. Fishing follows Thursday through Saturday (May 25-27) with boats fishing two of three days, captain’s choice.
“I’ve got to make it another week and then I’ll have fished another one,” Johnston said with a laugh Friday morning. “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. I never had 50 on my mind but now that I’ve gotten to 50, I’m thinking 60.”
Johnston has been much more than a participant in the storied history of the tournament, beginning with the inaugural event in 1968 staged on the waterfront behind the former Nautica Marine building on Front Street.
The tournament moved to Belle Isle Marina from 1978-81 and then found a permanent home at Georgetown Landing Marina beginning in 1982.
Then 24 years old, Johnston fished in the first tournament with longtime fishing buddy Bony Peace aboard the boat, After You.
Rough seas forced the first tournament to be postponed and, with the event rescheduled for late August 1968, only sailfish were caught.
The blue marlin showed up during the second event, in 1969, and Johnston was in the middle of the action, serving as the angler on the first blue marlin ever caught in the tournament, a 216-pounder brought aboard Bonanza, a 23-foot Formula.
In 1974, Johnston and Peace won the tournament aboard Jackpot, a 31-foot Bertram, then Johnston made it back-to-back victories in 1975 aboard Sugar Tango.
For numerous years, Johnston and Peace teamed to run the tournament, and in 1977 they saw a need to stem the tide of virtually all billfish caught being killed and brought to the dock.
“Bony and I were the ones that introduced the release part of the tournament where you could win it without having to kill a fish,” said Johnston.
Now, releasing billfish on a points system is the standard in the tournament and all South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series events.
Another highlight came last year, when Johnston and crew weighed in a 460.1-pound blue marlin in the 49th edition of the tournament. Big Sky finished second in the cash award category and his nephew, Tripp Johnson of San Diego, was the angler on the fish.
The blue marlin was also caught on a venerable lure made in the 1980s by Pate. It was a special catch for Johnston.
“It’s great I’ve fished in all of them but Wallace Pate is the man that had the vision to get this thing started,” said Johnston. “He loved blue marlin fishing – he even built his own lures, called changers. No two of them are alike.”
Each crew at the Captains Meeting Wednesday will leave with one of Pate’s classic marlin lures, with a special prize available.
“We’ve got enough that we’re going to give every boat one of his lures,” said Johnston. “The first boat that’s in the tournament that catches (a marlin) on one of his lures wins $2,000.”
Marshall Truluck is a long-time general manager of Georgetown Landing Marina, starting when the facility was built in 1982 through 1998.
One memorable event in the marina’s history came in Sept., 1989 when Hurricane Hugo roared through the lowcountry and obliterated the building and docks. Truluck was involved in building the marina – again – and said the crews working to rebuild had one driving force.
“We didn’t have anything left, and that was our goal to have it back together and host the tournament in May of 1990,” said Truluck earlier this week. “We were fortunate to pull that off.”
The tournament has been a mainstay in the S.C. Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series since the brainchild of a former Governor, the late Carroll Campbell, came to fruition in 1988.
With the Governor’s Cup in its 30th year, the Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament has built a reputation for excellent blue marlin fishing and genuine Southern hospitality among competing crews.
“It’s special, very stable, never changes, and (the staff) always treat people well,” said Truluck, who was the tournament director from 1982-97 and Chairman of the Governor’s Cup Tournament Committee from 1988-97.
“Someone (who fishes the series) from Charleston told me years ago, the Georgetown tournament is run like a business because you have to, but it feels more like a homecoming when you come there.”
Gregg Holshouser: email@example.com
If you go
What: 50th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament.
Where: Georgetown Landing Marina, Georgetown.
Fishing Days: Thursday through Saturday (May 25-27), scales open 5 p.m. each day, open to the public.
Information: www.GeorgetownLandingMarina.com; 843-546-1776.