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.
A fisherman lands a redfish from the North causeway in Pawley’s Island. JASON LEE firstname.lastname@example.org
May 18, 2017 7:13 PM
Fishing report: Offshore trolling action is excellent, led by mahi-mahi
By Gregg HolshouserEstuary
Look For: Flounder, spotted seatrout, black drum, red drum, sheepshead.
Comments: On the north end, Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters has had a solid week targeting flounder and spotted seatrout. On Tuesday, Kelly headed to Bonaparte Creek with flounder in mind. He had success using mud minnows on 1/4-ounce jig heads. “We caught a lot of flounder,” said Kelly. “Most were under (the minimum size limit), but we got a few keepers.” Flounder have a 14-inch minimum size limit in South Carolina and a 15-inch minimum size limit in North Carolina. On Wednesday, Kelly caught live shrimp in his cast net and proceeded to land double-digits of spotted seatrout while floating the shrimp under popping corks in Tubbs Inlet. Kelly’s crew also caught a few red drum. On the south end, Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service has fished the Winyah Bay vicinity from North Inlet to McClellanville, and has found only decent catches of trout and flounder along with a few reds. McDonald reports a water temperature approaching summer-like levels of 77-78 degrees. Jessica Perry of Perry’s Bait and Tackle in Murrells Inlet reports flounder, as expected, are the fish to target in the inlet. “Flounder are doing pretty good,” said Perry. “They’ve been getting some big ones.” Perry also notes slot red drum are being caught on mud minnows, black drum are in deep holes and sheepshead can be found at the jetties.
Look For: King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, spadefish, flounder, whiting, pompano, croaker, bluefish, black drum, black sea bass, weakfish, sheepshead.
Comments: It’s been a very good May for king mackerel fishing on bottom spots 10 to 15 miles offshore. Slow-trolling live bait such as menhaden or dead cigar minnows will do the trick in areas such as The Jungle and Belky Bear. Large Spanish mackerel are also in the mix. It is prime time for late spring cobia fishing along the coast of the Carolinas, but cobia cannot be caught or landed (brought to dock) in South Carolina. Cobia can be harvested in state waters of North Carolina, where the minimum size limit it 36 inches. Be sure to check regulations before harvesting a cobia. On near-shore bottom spots, spadefish have arrived for the season. The same spots are producing Spanish mackerel and possibly kings, bluefish, black sea bass, weakfish and flounder, plus plenty of sharks are on the prowl. Numerous species are a possibility on Grand Strand piers with calmer days with clear water near the beach producing the best catches. Look for Spanish mackerel, bluefish, whiting, croaker, pompano, black drum and sheepshead. Get your catch in quick from the piers, before a shark nabs it right off the line. Ronnie Goodwin of the Cherry Grove Pier reported a surface water temperature of 77 degrees Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
Look For: Dolphin, wahoo, blackfin tuna, sailfish, blue marlin, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, porgy, grunts, grouper, amberjack.
Comments: It’s prime time to catch a box full of dolphin in areas along the break such as Winyah Scarp, Blackjack Hole and Georgetown Hole. That’s exactly what Eric Cox’s crew aboard Coolin’ Out did Wednesday, boating 21 total dolphin including several nice gaffers. Wahoo and blackfin tuna are in the trolling mix, with blue marlin and sailfish lurking in the vicinity also. Bottom fishing has been superb with vermilion snapper heading the catch. Plenty of black sea bass, triggerfish, red porgy, amberjack and grunts are in the mix, along with the occasional grouper. Best catches are in depths of 90 feet and deeper. Red snapper cannot be harvested in the South Atlantic Region and must be released. Red snapper should be vented if necessary before being released.
Look For: Bream, catfish, bass, crappie.
Comments: With a dry spell on hand, river levels are dropping nicely, and the fishing is picking up. The Waccamaw is in great shape at 7.42 feet in Conway late Thursday afternoon, and the Little Pee Dee is getting there, at 6.3 feet at Galivants Ferry at 5 p.m. Thursday. “About one more week and (the Little Pee Dee) should be perfect,” said Gage Fortson of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle. “The water’s been really high lately, and when it gets down the bite is going to be really good.” Look for bream hitting crickets and worms in 2 to 4 feet of water. Catfish action has been very good on eels, shiners and cut shad and herring.
A large sandbar shark tangled lines beside Pain Killer Wednesday about 40 miles off Murrells Inlet. Dr Jason Rosenberg for The Sun News
Offshore fishing trip included encounters with a variety of fish – and one large shark
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
Every local offshore angler worth his salt knows May is prime time for offshore trolling off the Carolina coast, when the Gulf Stream ushers in northward migrating dolphin of the biggest numbers and largest size of the calendar year.
The opportunity is there to battle the feisty, colorful species and put plenty of superb-eating fish, along with blackfin tuna and wahoo, in the box.
Such a trolling trip is exactly what Garden City Beach resident Dr. Jason Rosenberg had in mind for this week’s edition of Fishing with Friends Wednesday aboard his 32-foot Contender, Pain Killer.
When a moderate westerly wind was blowing at mid-morning Wednesday, there was a hint of disappointment in the air as the crew of five knew it would be difficult to make the run on limited time to the “pretty water” where the meat fish, particularly dolphin, could be found.
Capt. Jay Sconyers, owner/operator of Aces Up Fishing, has been at the helm of Rosenberg’s Wednesday excursions for seven years, and headed past the Murrells Inlet sea buoy in a south-southeasterly direction, albeit in choppy 3-5 foot seas.
A day earlier, Sconyers had to venture 57 miles offshore to find pretty water and dolphin on a charter trip, and such a run just wasn’t feasible with the sea conditions and a late morning departure time.
Plan B was a pretty nice option though – bottom fishing in 90-115 feet of water on ledges around 40 miles offshore. A little over 30 miles out, a lengthy weed line was spotted, observed and noted for later.
About 90 minutes after departure, Sconyers pulled the engines back, maneuvered on top of the spot and the crew, also including Earl Fender of San Diego, Jimmy Kaminski of Pawleys Island and myself, dropped down cigar minnows and fresh cut bait 115 feet to the bottom.
For the first few minutes, the only bites were from small fish nibbling at the bait. After about 10 minutes, the bite of vermilion snapper, known locally as beeliners, turned on, and the catches were consistent.
There was plenty of variety on the reef, though, and soon a mix of triggerfish, grunts and black sea bass, along with a red hind (strawberry grouper) came over the gunwale. A scamp (grouper) measured just under the 20-inch minimum size and was released.
There were some big bites too. Red snapper, called genuines by locals, made a good showing, with four caught on the day. Two of the red snapper were in the 5-8 pound range, one in the 10-12 pound range, and I was the lucky angler who battled a 20-pound beauty to the surface.
But after each red snapper was caught it was the same old drill – they had to be released per NOAA Fisheries’ ban on the species, which has been in place in the South Atlantic region since 2010.
Sconyers carefully vented the fish and sent them on their way back to the bottom. Whether the fish survived the ordeal of being reeled up 115 feet, no one will ever know.
Rosenberg speaks for a multitude of recreational anglers with his thoughts on the issue.
“I think we catch (red snapper) on every trip we go bottom fishing,” said Rosenberg. “It should be reasonable to restudy the population and allow us one fish to take home per trip.”
A couple more big bites brought hookups with a pair of large sharks, including a massive sandbar shark, also known as a brown shark, that was an estimated 8-feet long, weighed over 200 pounds and caused a huge tangle of lines.
With a limit of beeliners (12-inch minimum size, 5-fish per person) in the box but only a few black sea bass, Sconyers headed back in for a spot in about 90 feet of water to target more bass.
On the way, we stopped at the well-defined weed line and switched to trolling ballyhoo. The line was perfectly formed and was active, but after nearly an hour of trolling we knew it wasn’t holding any dolphin.
On to the bottom spot in depths of 90 feet, where a few more black sea bass were caught. But this area was heavily patrolled by numerous Atlantic Sharpnose sharks, and tackle tangles got old quick.
As the afternoon wore on, the wind had slowly died down and the seas were a much more manageable 2-3 feet on a comfortable ride home at over 40 knots. A very nice end to another superb edition of Rosenberg’s Fishing with Friends.
S.C. Governor’s Cup
The 2017 South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series opened on Thursday, with the first day of fishing in the first of five tournaments in the series – the Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament.
The opening day produced some of the best blue marlin action in the history of the series.
Twenty-eight boats out of the field of 29 fished the first day, with 16 blue marlin caught and released and three more brought to the dock at Bohicket Marina, located on John’s Island south of Charleston.
The last time three blue marlin were weighed in during one day in the series was in the 2005 Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament according to Amy Dukes, S.C. Governor’s Cup coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Game On weighed in the largest blue, a 500.2-pounder that measured 109 1/2 inches from the tip of the lower jaw to fork of the tail.
Home Run’s blue marlin weighed 438.4 pounds and measured 109 inches while Rare Breed’s blue weighed 412.8 pounds and measured 106 inches. All three boats hail from Charleston area marinas.
The federal minimum size limit for blue marlin to be landed is 99 inches, but they must measure 105 inches to be eligible for Governor’s Cup competition.
Bad Becky and Gryphon both released two blue marlin on Thursday to take the points lead after one day with 1,200 points (600 per blue marlin released).
Fishing continued Friday and Saturday with boats allowed to fish two of the three days.
Dukes said most of the marlin were caught in the vicinity of the 226 Hole, 380 Hole and Ammo Dump, with the Georgetown Hole also producing some fish.
Marlin Quay Carolina Slam
The meatfish tournament out of Marlin Quay Marina in Murrells Inlet opened Friday with the first of nine days of fishing, concluding on May 20.
For more information, call 843-651-4444.
Georgetown Meatfish Slam
The event was postponed but has been rescheduled for June 8 out of Georgetown Landing Marina. For more information, call 843-546-1776.
Gregg Holshouser: wholshouser