The tug boat, Apollo, was dropped on the Little River Offshore Reef on January 12. Photo Courtesy Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina
BY GREGG HOLSHOUSER
For The Sun News
Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources are teaming together to rapidly enhance artificial reef sites off the Palmetto State coast.
Since 2010, five additions to reef sites within South Carolina’s Marine Artificial Reef Program have been deployed by CCA SC and S.C. DNR, which manages the program through the Marine Resources Division.
“This is now the fifth major artificial reef construction project we’ve completed with CCA’s assistance,” said Robert Martore, S.C. DNR’s artificial reef coordinator. “They’ve helped with near-shore reef deployments along the entire South Carolina coastline, and we hope to continue this partnership well into the future.”
The latest addition was put in place on a reef site off Little River just nine days ago when Permitted Area-02, better known as the Little River Offshore Reef, was the recipient of a decommissioned 42-foot tugboat named Apollo. The substantial structure, placed in approximately 50 feet of water within the permitted area, has been named CCA-Little River Offshore Reef.
“Recreational fishermen along the Grand Strand are excited to have a new near-shore site with easy access for fishing and what we feel will offer excellent fishing opportunities for many species,” said Murrells Inlet resident Andy Ricks, of the local Waccamaw CCA Chapter and CCA state board member. “The vision of our reefing effort is to create near-shore sites that aren’t just a one-time project, but a continuous effort to reef the entire area.”
The Little River Offshore Reef is located 10.5 nautical miles south-southeast of Little River Inlet, on a compass bearing of 156 degrees. The new structure will soon hold numerous species such as black sea bass, sheepshead, spadefish and flounder, plus will attract pelagic species such as Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, cobia and barracuda in the spring, summer and autumn.
The Little River Offshore Reef is just as well known for diving. In fact, one adjacent area of the reef is named Barracuda Alley, with Coastal Scuba in North Myrtle Beach aiding in creating it. Coastal Scuba uses the spot for dive trips and diver-training excursions.
There is plenty of other reef material within the boundaries of the Little River Offshore Reef site, one of the oldest in South Carolina waters. The earliest structure was added in the 1970s and over the years S.C. DNR has worked with the area’s diving community to add numerous armored personnel carriers, barges and concrete culvert.
Earlier this week, bluefin tuna moved into the area off Wilmington, N.C., area beaches, specifically off Kure Beach and Carolina Beach southward toward Frying Pan Shoals.
The bluefin tuna season opened on Jan. 1 and anglers began catching them farther north, out of Morehead City, N.C. But late last weekend, the giant tuna moved south and within reach of boats fishing out of Brunswick County.
Capt. Brant McMullan of Ocean Isle Fishing Center in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., reports approximately 15 fish were caught in the vicinity and more than 30 hooked up from Sunday through Wednesday.
“There have been some really big ones, up to 106 inches,” said McMullan, who noted some of the fish have been brought in to Southport. “(The bluefin bite) has been super slow for the last three to four years but this is breathing a little bit of life back into it.”
The tuna have been found around right whales that are migrating through the area, and feeding on schools of menhaden.
“If you’re looking for anything to find the fish it would be whales,” said McMullan. “The formula is find the whales, which means bait and birds, gannets, are around.”
The fish have been found very close to the beach, some within a half-mile offshore in only 25-35 feet of water, as anglers trolled horse ballyhoo to catch them. The bite slowed a bit on Thursday, but boats continued to search for the monster tuna on Friday.
“(Thursday) everything disappeared,” said McMullan. “They’re still somewhere, we’ve got to figure out where they went. We all were fishing the same area but now we’ve got to start looking around.”
Dr. Brian Rabon and Dr. Jason Rosenberg display black sea bass, vermilion snapper and red porgy caught on Wednesday’s trip aboard Painkiller out of Murrells Inlet. Dr. Jason Rosenberg Courtesy photo
Crew’s fishing trip turns into debate over what kind of shark was caught and released
BY GREGG HOLSHOUSER
For The Sun News
The weather along the coast has been on an amazing January journey over the last week.
Last weekend featured snow flurries with high temperatures in the lower-to-mid 30s, before a fling of spring-like weather arrived a few days ago, with temps as high as the mid 70s along the coastal plain.
Of course, few fishermen ventured out during the Arctic blast, but they were ready to go at mid-week when the weather turned nice.
Conditions were good for the regular Wednesday fishing trip with friends hosted by Dr. Jason Rosenberg aboard his 32-foot Contender, Painkiller.
A bottom-fishing excursion was in the works this time as Rosenberg and Capt. Jay Sconyers hosted Jimmy Kaminski of Pawleys Island, Dr. Brian Rabon of Aynor and Justin Scott Witten of Ambush Sport Fishing.
The crew headed out in three-foot seas to a bottom area south-southeast of Murrells Inlet in 85 feet of water.
The surface water temperature was a chilly 56 degrees but the bite was torrid, as the anglers dropped cigar minnows and fresh cut baitfish down to the hard-bottom area.
“It was excellent,” said Rosenberg. “The fish were plentiful. We reeled up hundreds of fish, two at a time off the bottom. We had no problem filling our limit.”
Rosenberg and company loaded the box with five-angler limits of black sea bass (13-inch minimum, seven per person) and vermilion snapper (12-inch minimum, five per person), plus red porgy, triggerfish and white grunts.
The action didn’t stop there, though. They also caught and released three red snapper and three grouper. Red snapper are off-limits in the South Atlantic region indefinitely and must be released, and the annual Shallow-water Grouper Spawning Season Closure went into effect on Jan. 1 and continues through April 30.
But there was even more action.
“Sharks were all over,” said Rosenberg. “We had to reel up our catch quickly or a shark might get it.”
Rosenberg said Atlantic Sharpnose were the main shark species roaming the reef. At one point all five anglers were hooked up with an Atlantic Sharpnose.
Atlantic Sharpnose wasn’t the only shark species encountered, however.
Sconyers had a lengthy battle with a large shark in the 8-foot range. The shark was tail-hooked, and the crew never got a good enough look at it to positively identify it before the release.
At first glance, the shark appeared to be a blacktip as it had black-tipped fins. But, Rosenberg pointed out, the shark appeared to easily be bigger than the 163-pound, 14-ounce and approximately 6-foot long state record blacktip caught out of Hilton Head in 2009.
“Is it a blacktip?” said Rosenberg. “The state record blacktip was caught in the summer months, and the shark we had on the line was much larger than six feet and 163 pounds.”
Rosenberg was left wondering what species it was and considered other possibilities to be spinner shark, juvenile thresher or juvenile great white shark.
Rosenberg did notice one more distinguishing characteristic before the shark was released.
“That shark, the belly was so white,” said Rosenberg.
Check out video of the shark by searching for great white vs. blacktip on youtube.com
Bird Sanctuary Forum
Murrells Inlet 2020 is hosting a public forum on Jan. 26 to discuss designating Murrells Inlet as a bird sanctuary.
The forum will be held at the Murrells Inlet Community Center, located at 4450 Murrells Inlet Road, beginning at 6 p.m.
Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, introduced a bill to create a bird sanctuary in the inlet in April of the 2016 state legislative session.
Brief cold snap, swift warm-up allows anglers to dodge bullet
The Sun News | MyrtleBeachOnline.com
Brothers-in-law Abraham Delange and Brent McCord take their children fishing at Cherry Grove Pier last year. The Sun News File photo
BY GREGG HOLSHOUSER
For The Sun News
Look For: Black drum, red drum, spotted seatrout, flounder, sheepshead, tautog.
Comments: Arctic cold fronts like the one experienced in the Carolinas earlier this week can drastically drop the water temperature and really slow down the estuary fishing for several species, including spotted seatrout and red drum. Local anglers dodged the bullet this time, as the cold weather wasn’t prolonged and was followed by a quick warm-up. The drop in water temperature did get fish grouped up in their winter mode, though, as Capt. Lee Thomas of Fish On Charters out of Georgetown Landing Marina found out on Tuesday. Thomas and a three-man crew including Capt. Eric Heiden had a super day, catching a limit of black drum and red drum in the Winyah Bay vicinity. “They were also tagging fish – they had about 30 tags – and they ran out of tags,” said Ed Keelin, Operations Manager of Georgetown Landing Marina.
Look For: Black sea bass, weakfish, black drum, tautog, flounder, whiting, croaker.
Comments: Winter water temps have black sea bass grouped up on the near-shore reefs within 10 miles of the beach. Be aware of the minimum size limit of 13 inches and daily bag limit of seven fish per person for the species. Cut bait such as mullet, shrimp or squid is the best bait. Look for sheepshead, weakfish, tautog and flounder on the reefs also. Action has been slow on Grand Strand piers with the water temperature dropping below 50 for the first time this winter. Ronnie Goodwin of Cherry Grove Pier reports the ocean water temperature dropped to 49 degrees on the surface and bottom on Monday. By Wednesday afternoon, Goodwin said the surface temperature was up to 53 degrees and 50 on the bottom. Goodwin reported negligible catches from the pier.
Look For: Wahoo, blackfin tuna, grouper, vermilion snapper, black sea bass, porgy, triggerfish, grunts, amberjack.
Comments: The sea turned nice on Wednesday and the crew of Dr. Jason Rosenberg’s Painkiller including Capt. Jay Sconyers had a superb bottom fishing trip. The crew fished in depths of 85 feet with a water temperature of 56 degrees and caught a five-man limit of black sea bass and vermilion snapper, plus landed triggerfish, white grunts and red porgy. They also caught and released red snapper and grouper as red snapper are off-limits in the South Atlantic region indefinitely and must be released, and the annual Shallow-water Grouper Spawning Season Closure went into effect on Jan. 1 and continues through April 30. The grouper closure means no recreational and commercial harvest or possession of gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, and yellowmouth grouper is allowed for the four-month period. Also, tis the season for trolling for wahoo with blackfin tuna also available.
Look For: Bream, crappie, bass, catfish.
Comments: The winter storm dumped plenty of rain along the coast, and, more importantly, snow in the upstate and mountains of the Carolinas, causing a rise in the rivers. With cold weather early this week and water levels up, angler activity has been down says Ronald “Catfish” Stalvey of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle in Conway. “The weather over the weekend shut them down,” said Stalvey. “The water has (risen) up a little bit and the rivers are close to flood stage. High water scares a lot of people away. (The fish) are on the bottom (now) so it doesn’t matter how high the water is. That’s what I try to tell ‘em.” Crappie are hitting medium shiners and bream are hitting red worms and nightcrawlers lead-lined on the bottom. Eels and shiners are producing catfish.