Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown shows off a spotted seatrout caught Sunday in Winyah Bay. Gregg Holshouser For The Sun News
How trout numbers look nearly a year removed from wintry blast of January 2018
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
November 23, 2018 05:43 PM
Updated November 23, 2018 05:52 PM
It was a pleasant Sunday before Thanksgiving Day, prime time for targeting spotted seatrout along the South Carolina coast, and Capt. Mike McDonald and I couldn’t stand it, we just had to go.
So at mid-morning, McDonald, owner/operator of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown, headed northeast from South Island Ferry and into Winyah Bay, cruising at about 30 mph in the Bulls Bay 2200 center console powered by a 150-horsepower Mercury Optimax.
First, McDonald made a quick stop late in a falling tide at the bay’s jetties to see if sizable black drum were still on hand there, as they had been a few weeks earlier. They weren’t, and we caught only small black drum in the 10-13 inch range.
Time was a-wastin’ and the trout were waiting, so McDonald left the jetties, headed to the north end of the Winyah Bay vicinity, zoomed through a few creeks and pulled up along a Spartina grass bank.
The tide was near dead low, not ideal for trout, but we still caught a few below the minimum size limit of 14 inches over the next hour casting Saltwater Assassin and Matrix plastic paddle-tail grubs on 1/8 and 1/4-ounce jig heads.
Soon, the rising tide started really moving and McDonald found the right spot.
This time, we cast the grubs, set about 2 1/2 feet under popping corks, along a grass bank adjacent to a tidal creek. The bite heated up nicely, and we caught several more trout over the next 30 minutes including one 15-inch keeper. I pulled the hook near the boat on what was clearly the fish of the day. Oh well, another chapter of “the one that got away.”
On the way back to South Island Ferry at mid-afternoon and near high tide, McDonald stopped along an oyster bank in Winyah Bay. We once again worked the grubs on jig heads, minus the floats, and added a few more fish to our tally, including a nice 16-plus inch keeper.
In all, while the bite wasn’t torrid, we wound up catching and releasing double figures of trout along with the two keepers, providing plenty of action on a fine autumn day.
As the calendar turned to 2018, the Carolinas endured one of the harshest stretches of wintry weather in memory.
Over the 10-day stretch from Dec. 26, 2017 through Jan. 4, the high temperature reached only 50 degrees on one day (Dec. 30) according to National Weather Service daily weather data for North Myrtle Beach, and five of those days the high stayed in the 30s.
The low temperature dropped below freezing for eight straight days, all but one in the 20s or upper teens. On Jan. 3, the entire Carolina coast was coated with a rare layer snow, sleet and freezing rain.
Spotted seatrout become lethargic and can potentially die when the water temperature is below 45 degrees for a prolonged period of time, and Dr. Joey Ballenger of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources reported dead trout, red drum, sheepshead and black drum along with forage fish menhaden and mullet were found in the Charleston area after the cold stretch.
Concern was high that a major kill of spotted seatrout was in store, and authorities in both states reacted accordingly.
The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries quickly announced a closure of spotted seatrout for all anglers, both recreational and commercial, through June 15. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources doesn’t have such proclamation authority necessary to immediately close a fishery, but anglers in the Palmetto State were urged by the agency to not target trout and to release any trout caught.
Despite the concerns for the population of trout as the year wore on, the numbers encountered by anglers this fall has been a pleasant surprise.
By all accounts, from the Georgetown County line through Brunswick County, N.C., spotted seatrout are plentiful, especially fish in the 12-13 inch range, just below the minimum size of 14 inches for both North and South Carolina.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, anglers have plenty to be thankful for, including the fact that the winter blast of early 2018 didn’t decimate the population of spotted seatrout as badly had been feared early in the year.
Maurillo Marquez of Cary, N.C. holds a 21-pound, 12-ounce blackfin tuna, a fish that is now active in offshore waters. Richard Ehrenkaufer
Grand Strand Fishing Report: Blackfin tuna bite is hot in offshore waters
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
November 22, 2018 01:13 PM
Updated November 22, 2018 01:13 PM
Look For: Spotted seatrout, red drum, black drum, flounder, sheepshead.
Comments: The torrid trout bite continues in local estuaries with numerous fish being caught from Georgetown to south Brunswick County. By all accounts, spotted seatrout mainly in the 12-13 inch range, just below the minimum size of 14 inches for North and South Carolina, are plentiful. Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters had an excellent trip on Monday, also catching a flounder, but the trout were the focal point of the day. “Everywhere we stopped we caught fish,” said Kelly. “We’ve been hammering them – some spots we were catching them every cast.” While floating live shrimp is considered the prime method, artificials are working just fine for the trout. Kelly has used Berkeley Gulp Shrimp and Vudu shrimp, either on a popping cork or jig head. “Anything clear, white or white with chartreuse is working,” said Kelly. Kelly’s crew did harvest 12 keepers on the trip. Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown had a superb trip in the Winyah Bay vicinity and points south, also on Monday. McDonald’s crew caught good numbers of trout, red drum and flounder on plastic grubs, plus a few black drum on cut shrimp. The bite wasn’t quite as good but still decent for McDonald on Wednesday, when a cold front moved through. “It’s been pretty darn good,” said McDonald. “This front spoiled it a little for me (on Wednesday) but I would think it will turn right back on.”
Look For: Bluefish, sheepshead, black sea bass, flounder, weakfish, whiting, croaker, pompano, black drum.
Comments: Capt. Jeff Maples of Reel Salty Charters out of Murrells Inlet headed out to Belky Bear, about 12 miles east of the inlet, Monday in search of king mackerel, but they weren’t home in 66-degree water. Maples eased over to the adjacent 10-Mile Reef and found black sea bass plentiful, including several keepers over the 13-inch minimum size limit. “We had a ton of throwbacks,” said Maples. The highlight of the trip was an 8-pound flounder caught while fishing for the black sea bass. Action from Grand Strand piers has been slow for spots, but plenty of whiting have been caught. There have also been scattered catches of flounder, bluefish, black drum, weakfish and pompano. Michael Wallace of Cherry Grove Pier reports a water temperature of 63 degrees at the surface and on the bottom Wednesday afternoon.
Look For: Wahoo, blackfin tuna, king mackerel, dolphin, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, grunts, porgy, amberjack, grouper.
Comments: The blackfin tuna bite was excellent Sunday at the McMarlen Ledge, located 58 miles south of Little River Inlet, reports Jeff Martini of Dirty Martini out of Little River. “The McMarlen was on fire, the blackfin were stacked up like crazy,” said Martini. Wahoo are on hand, too, with boats averaging one fish each on Sunday. With the water temperature cooling, grouper are moving inshore, and the bite is on. “Grouper are good from 17 to 32 miles out,” said Martini. “They have moved in. The inshore grouper bite is on.” On bottom fishing trips, also look for vermilion snapper, black sea bass, grey triggerfish, amberjack, red porgy and grunts. Red snapper are common on the offshore reefs and ledges, but must be released indefinitely in the South Atlantic Region.
Look For: Bream, bass, catfish, crappie.
Comments: Ronald “Catfish” Stalvey of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle in Conway is glad to see some activity after the well-documented flooding in September. “More people have been going,” said Stalvey. “It’s good to see some life.” The top reports Stalvey has seen and heard this week are from the Ricefields vicinity in Georgetown County, which has been producing good catches of bream and catfish, both hitting worms and nightcrawlers on the bottom. The Waccamaw at Conway was a little high at 9.06 feet at 3:15 p.m. Wednesday. The Pee Dee system, however, continues to be in flooding stages, with the Little Pee Dee at Galivants Ferry at 9.8 feet, in minor flood stage, Wednesday at 3 p.m. The Pee Dee River at Pee Dee continues to be in moderate flood stage.
Kevin Vaughan, Alex Hull and Ryan Watson of Surf City, N.C., show off their tournament-best 60.22-pound king mackerel, caught in the Southern Kingfish Association’s National Championship Saturday in Morehead City, N.C. Photo courtesy of SKA
Two members down, this crew hauled in winning fish despite lengthy, vigorous fight
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
November 16, 2018 04:25 PM
Updated November 16, 2018 04:25 PM
The Stormy Gale Fishing Team started the Southern Kingfish Association’s National Championship at Morehead City, N.C., with four crew members, but by Saturday, the final day of fishing, was down to two.
On the first day of fishing, David Hull injured his back and Ryan Watson his ankle when the custom-built 29-foot Egret hit a rogue wave crossing the Cape Lookout shoals.
That left David Hull’s son, 22-year-old Alex Hull, and Kevin Vaughan to navigate the final day, amid rough seas that caused numerous problems for the field of 84 boats fishing in the 17th annual event’s Open Class.
Hull and Vaughan came through in a big way, landing a huge 60.22-pound king to go with a 32.25-pounder for a winning 92.47-pound aggregate, earning the team $95,000 in prize money.
“We’re just really blessed to get the one we were looking for,” said Alex Hull, of Surf City, N.C. “We were overjoyed. It’s something a lot of guys have fished SKA for a long time and have never done it. This is our sixth year. We were pretty ecstatic about it.”
Carolina Kings finished second with an 87.59-pound aggregate including a 50.93-pounder, Logan’s Run was third with an 83.89-pound aggregate including a 49.74-pounder and My Hooker was fourth with a 78.67-pound aggregate including a 59.25-pounder.
With their two teammates sitting the day out, Alex Hull and Vaughan headed to a live-bottom area about three miles southeast of Ocracoke Inlet where the team had caught a 52-pounder in a preliminary tournament earlier in the week.
After putting lines in at 8 a.m., Hull and Vaughan got the big bite first, with the smoker king hitting a bluefish on a Bluewater Candy skirt right behind the boat.
“The 60-pound fish hit first, skied on the prop wash bait,” said Alex Hull. ”It was something. I can’t get that picture out of my head. We knew it was a good fish.”
The hookup quickly got complicated, though.
“When (the fish) hit the water, he took off straight toward boat and got the line wrapped in the prop,” said Hull. “Luckily that motor was already shut off. (The fish) was still burning the line down.”
Hull and Vaughan raised the motor, spun the prop by hand to free the line and, somehow, the fish was still hooked up.
They chased the fish down with Hull serving as the angler and Vaughan at the helm.
“After fighting for 30 minutes we were able to get to him,” said Hull. “Kevin had a perfect gaff shot on the shoulders.”
Once the fish was in the boat, the duo noticed it was barely hooked.
“It was only hanging on by one treble (hook) in the gill plate,” said Hull. “The other treble had completely broken off. I honestly don’t know how we wound up getting that fish.”
All this happened amid horrible weather and sea conditions.
“It’s pouring rain and blowing while this is going on, (which made) it even more interesting,” said Hull. “I’ve had a nasty cough for the last few days but it paid off.”
Hull and Vaughan drifted over the same spot and caught the 32.25-pounder to complete their winning aggregate.
The Black Pearl, a 25-foot Hydra Sports, won the Small Boat Class with a 46.35-pound aggregate. Dirty South, a 21-foot Kencraft, won the Single Engine Class with a 41.58-pound aggregate.
For more information, visit www.fishska.com.
Capt. Roger Wahoo Challenge
The Ocean Isle Fishing Center is staging a wahoo tournament in honor of Capt. Roger Gales, who passed away Oct. 18 at the age of 48.
A portion of the tournament’s proceeds will be donated to the Capt. Roger Legacy Fund, benefiting his family.
Eligible fishing days are Nov. 23 through Dec. 31, and teams may fish up to two days during that stretch.
For more information, call 910-575-3474 or visit www.OIFC.com.
Alex Hull and Kevin Vaughan of Surf City, N.C., show off their winning king mackerel, including a tournament-best 60.22-pounder, in the Southern Kingfish Association’s National Championship Saturday in Morehead City, N.C. Photo courtesy of SKA