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Florida fishing recovers from Irma

November 4, 2017 Live Great Outdoors Blog Comments Off on Florida fishing recovers from Irma

The Miss Islamorada at the dock at Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Florida Keys. Submitted photo

Fine fishing trips return in quick order to the Florida Keys

By Gregg Holshouser

For The Sun News
November 03, 2017 3:23 PM

The hot mid-October sun was already scorching at 9:30 a.m. when Capt. Andrew Asbury eased the Miss Islamorada out of its slip at Bud N Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Florida Keys.

Asbury cruised the 65-foot party boat through a narrow channel flanked by a rock jetty and entered the patch reefs in the Atlantic Ocean just offshore of south Florida’s island chain.

Asbury motored on past the patch reefs, sparkling in shades of blue and green, and after 20 minutes reached the edge of the reef, about three miles offshore.

Once Asbury found the right spot, mate Jude Pollock first secured the anchor in 52 feet of water and then dropped a chum bag in the water on each corner of the stern.

A crew of only 13 passengers alternated turns at the stern, six at a time.

The anglers on the stern, using medium-class spinning reel outfits tipped with 12-pound flourocarbon leaders, dropped back whole shrimp, minus the head and tail. A small jig (1/8-ounce or less) was the only terminal tackle.

The stern anglers began flat-lining the shrimp – leaving the bail open and letting the line ease off the reel at the speed of the current, keeping it right in the chum line. The time-tested method culminates when a fish takes the bait, the line typically accelerates off the reel, then the angler flips the bail and firmly, yet gently, raises the rod to hook the fish.

The other anglers dropped down assorted bottom rigs with cut ballyhoo, shrimp or squid in search of primarily grouper, mangrove snapper, mutton snapper and porgy.

For the flat-lining anglers, the main quarry – yellowtail snapper – quickly let its presence known.

Within a few minutes the anglers began pulling feisty no-doubter yellowtail over the rail, well over the 12-inch minimum size limit.

Over the course of the 6 1/2-hour trip, the serious anglers caught their Florida aggregate limit of 10 snapper, mostly yellowtail in the 14-18 inch range.

The bottom-fishing set-ups produced several mangrove snapper, a keeper black grouper, a few keeper mutton snapper, a few jolthead porgy and plenty of white grunts.

Three days later, the same trip featured the minimum of eight passengers, and Asbury returned to the same area that had been so productive for the yellowtail. This time the snappers lived up to their reputation of being finicky, and the flat-lining only produced occasional catches of yellowtail.

Asbury chose to make a move to the patch reefs a little over a mile offshore in only 25 feet of water. Once Pollock deployed the chum bags at the new spot, yellowtail and usually jittery mangrove snapper almost immediately showed up just off the stern near the surface, partaking of the chum.

For about 15 minutes, the flat-lined shrimp were hit after drifting only 5-10 feet below the surface, just yards off the stern. The grade of yellowtail was smaller, in the 10-13 inch range, but nice mangroves in the 2-3 pound range were also among the catch.

Then trouble showed up.

The chum party was over when a sizable barracuda zoomed into the slick behind the stern and dared any snappers to show up. A few yellowtail were caught from well behind the boat after the cuda showed, but the mangroves were long gone.

“The mangroves are a little leery,” said Asbury. “You’ll catch a few and they’ll kind of back off. The cuda doesn’t help for sure.”

Asbury returned to deep water beyond the reef to target grouper, mutton and large mangroves, with some success.

For yellowtail anglers, Pollock began serving up sand balls, a mix of menhaden chum, sand, oatmeal and the right amount of ocean water. The trick is to place a piece of cut shrimp or ballyhoo on the hook in the middle of a pasty concoction of the ingredients and form it into a baseball-sized presentation, then open the bail of the reel and easily toss it about 20-30 feet behind the boat.

The ball slowly breaks apart in a streak that clouds the water column well below the surface and presents treats for finicky flag yellowtail that are normally shy of line and bait. The method produced quite a few yellowtail in the 14-18 inch range on a day when they really didn’t want to cooperate.

Once again, nearly all the anglers went home with their Florida aggregate limit of 10 snapper, a nice mix of yellowtail and mangrove, along with a few keeper mutton and cero mackerel.

Five weeks earlier, Hurricane Irma made landfall a little over 50 miles to the southwest of Bud N’ Mary’s around Cudjoe Key on the morning of Sept. 10 as a Category 4 storm. The historic marina, established in 1944, sustained damage to the docks, boat storage facility and the on-site hotel.

But the resilient Islamorada residents bounced back quickly. The docks were repaired in quick order, electricity was restored, and some fishing trips were run once again only about three weeks after the storm.

The Atlantic Ocean side of the island chain was hard hit from Lower Matecumbe Key, just south of Bud N’ Mary’s, to Sugarloaf Key, located about 15 miles east of Key West.

In mid-October, pockets of storm debris still were seen along U.S. 1, well-known as the Overseas Highway. But an army of grapple trucks were on the job, hauling the debris to the mainland in rapid fashion, and the Keys were open for business, with conditions improving day by day for visitors.

A stroll through the tackle shop at Bud N’ Mary’s, established in 1944, reveals memorabilia of simpler times when many a famous visitor would venture down from the mainland to enjoy the incredible variety of fishing available here. Photos of Jimmy Stewart with a bonefish, Miami Dolphin fullback Larry Csonka with a sailfish, among many others are on display.

The famous folks, along with the regular tourists, will continue to return to Keys, where a devastating storm is only a bump in the road of the Overseas Highway.

Fall fishing is here

November 3, 2017 Live Great Outdoors Blog Comments Off on Fall fishing is here

Fishermen line the public fishing dock at Cherry Grove Park in North Myrtle Beach. JASON LEE
Fishing report: Fall’s finest weather offers plenty options for offshore trolling

By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News

November 02, 2017 6:44 PM

Look For: Red drum, spotted seatrout, black drum, flounder, sheepshead, spots.

Comments: Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown had a solid trip on Thursday in the Winyah Bay vicinity, producing five spotted seatrout, a large flounder and two bull red drum measuring 43 and 44 inches. The huge reds were inadvertently caught on flounder rods, providing quite a battle. McDonald noted the cold front early in the week cooled the water temperature to 65 degrees in the bay on Thursday. Capt. Jason Burton of Murrells Inlet Fishing Center reports the trout bite in the inlet was superb early in the week. On Tuesday, Burton’s crew caught over 20 trout to go with redfish, black drum and flounder. Burton’s largest trout on the trip was a 5.8-pounder. Catches of spots have also been good in the inlet. Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters in Little River has also found some nice trout, plus reds, flounder and black drum. “We’ve been getting an inshore slam just about every trip,” said Kelly. “Fishing’s been good.” Kelly is helping host the inaugural Inshore Slam and Festival this weekend out of Cricket Cove Marina. The Captains Meeting is set for 6 p.m. Friday at the marina. On Saturday, lines in is at 7:30 a.m. with scales opening at 1 p.m. Visit for more information.

Look For: Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, bluefish, black sea bass, weakfish, flounder, whiting, croaker, pompano, black drum, sheepshead and red drum.

Comments: Capt. Jeff Maples of Reel Salty Charters hit the Belky Bear vicinity early in the week and brought in a two-person limit of six king mackerel in an hour. Maples slow-trolled dead cigar minnows to catch the kings. The near-shore hard-bottom areas and reefs are holding plenty of weakfish and black sea bass. Capt. Mike McDonald reports the Georgetown reef located a mile north of the Winyah Bay sea buoy was loaded with big weakfish, also known as summer trout, this week. Scott Skrzydlinski of the Cherry Grove Pier reports a good four-hour run of spots on the pier on Monday, but action for the panfish has been, well, spotty since. Skrzydlinski notes numerous species have been caught this week including Spanish mackerel, bluefish, whiting, croaker, red drum and black drum. Skrzydlinski reported a water temperature of 71 degrees on the surface and 70 on the bottom Thursday at 5 p.m.

Look For: Wahoo, blackfin tuna, dolphin, grouper, red snapper, vermilion snapper, triggerfish, red porgy, black sea bass, amberjack.

Comments: It’s been the finest weather week of the fall, with superb sea conditions, and the offshore trolling has been on fire. For instance, Capt. Jay Sconyers of Aces Up Fishing in Murrells Inlet was part of a crew on a private boat Tuesday that had a fantastic day fishing the Winyah Scarp. In 79-degree water the crew caught four large wahoo weighing 45, 55, 58 and 70 pounds, plus a large blackfin tuna, a nice dolphin and a nice king. “It was beautiful out there,” said Sconyers. Bottom fishing gets a nice treat this week, a few days after Halloween, with the first weekend of the mini-season for red snapper. The season is open this weekend (Nov. 3-5) and again next weekend (Nov. 10-12) for recreational anglers. The limit is one red snapper per person per day with no minimum size limit. Anglers on bottom fishing trips can also look for vermilion snapper, grouper, black sea bass, red porgy, triggerfish, amberjack and grunts. Scamp have been the most common grouper landed. Anglers are reminded cobia cannot be harvested in 2017 in South Carolina waters (to three miles offshore) or federal waters (beyond three miles) and must be released.

Look For: Bream, catfish, bass, crappie.

Comments: The good weather and good times continue on local rivers. Bream can be found in 2-4 feet of water hitting crickets or worms, but as it cools down further will be moving to deeper water, when anglers will switch to lead-lining worms on the bottom to catch them. The Waccamaw and Pee Dee rivers have been producing nice slab crappie, hitting minnows around structure in depths up to 10 feet. Bass action has been strong on jerkbaits and Texas-rigged worms. Bream, shiners and eels are prime baits for catfish, along with fresh cut mullet. The Waccamaw at Conway was at 8.13 feet Thursday at 3:15 p.m. and making good tides. The Little Pee Dee at Galivants Ferry was at 4.92 feet at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Limited season on Red Snapper announced

October 29, 2017 Live Great Outdoors Blog Comments Off on Limited season on Red Snapper announced

image: red snapper
NOAA Fisheries announced the dates of a mini-season for red snapper in the South Atlantic Region on Friday, and recreational anglers will need to hastily plan their trips in order to harvest the species. The Sun News file photo
NOAA Fisheries announces dates for red snapper mini season

By Gregg Holshouser

For The Sun News

October 27, 2017 6:53 PM

NOAA Fisheries announced the dates of a mini-season for red snapper in the South Atlantic Region on Friday, and recreational anglers will need to hastily plan their trips in order to harvest the species.

The red snapper fishery will be open to harvest by recreational anglers for two consecutive three-day weekends – Nov. 3-5 and Nov. 10-12.

Red snapper can be harvested on those dates in federal waters (beyond three miles offshore) with a daily bag limit of one fish per person, per day. There is no minimum size limit on the red snapper harvested.

Commercial vessels can harvest up to 75 pounds (gutted weight) of red snapper per trip beginning on Nov. 2, also with no minimum size limit.

In late September, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council approved a request by NOAA Fisheries to allow the limited harvest of red snapper, with NOAA Fisheries announcing the dates of the mini-season on Friday.

During the red snapper mini-season, marine resource agency personnel from the states involved (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida) will be conducting surveys at various locations and collecting samples from fishermen. Anglers are encouraged to cooperate with samplers and to provide carcasses for data collection.

Fishermen are also urged to use best fishing practices to minimize the number of released red snapper and help improve the likelihood that released fish will survive.

“The red snapper fishery has remained closed since 2014 because mortality estimates of the number of released fish exceeded the annual catch limit,” said Capt. Mark Brown, SAFMC Vice-Chairman and a full-time charter captain in Mt. Pleasant. “It is imperative that we use best practices. The key to having future access to red snapper lies in reducing the mortality of fish that are released.”

Upon reaching the boat’s limit of red snapper, anglers are urged to move to a different area to avoid the unnecessary catch and release of more fish.

Anglers are also advised to use single hook rigs – since the bag limit is 1 per person, as this potentially reduces the number of red snapper caught on one drop.

The use of descending devices is encouraged when releasing red snapper suffering from barotrauma.

Recreational anglers can report the details of their red snapper fishing trips via a voluntary pilot program being tested for the first time as the red snapper mini-season opens.

Anglers can visit, a new web portal that allows anglers to report their catches using photos to document lengths, as well as depths from which fish are caught. The portal also offers release techniques, hook type and other information. Anglers are encouraged to register online and to take photos and keep written records of the information while fishing for red snapper.

Gregg Holshouser: