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The Dog Days of Tarpon Fishing

image: men fishing
Fishermen line the public fishing dock at Cherry Grove Park at 53rd Avenue North in North Myrtle Beach. JASON LEE
July 20, 2017 5:31 PM
Fishing report: The dog days of summer have arrived, and so has a bounty of tarpon

By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News


Look For: Flounder, spotted seatrout, black drum, red drum, sheepshead, bluefish, tarpon.

Comments: Late July has arrived, and so have tarpon in local estuaries. “Tarpon are here pretty strong,” said Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service in Georgetown. McDonald reports Capt. Rod Thomas, better known as “Capt. Ponytail,” caught and released a tarpon in the range of 60 to 70 pounds earlier this week in Winyah Bay. Smallish Little River Inlet doesn’t attract tarpon as well as sprawling Winyah Bay, but Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters had an interesting tarpon encounter this week. “We had a tarpon hit a live shrimp under a popping cork, and he showed himself (by jumping),” said Kelly. “It was on 20-pound test – didn’t last long.” Kelly estimated the tarpon was in the 50-pound range. Kelly has noticed unusually large menhaden in the Little River area and thinks the tarpon are following those into the estuary. McDonald had a solid day early this week in the Winyah Bay vicinity, catching 15 red drum and three flounder using cut shrimp, plastic grubs and live finger mullet. Kelly had a busy day on a Thursday trip fishing several spots in the Little River vicinity. Kelly produced spotted seatrout, red drum, black drum and flounder, with most fish on the smallish size except for a 24-inch red.

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

Comments: Spanish mackerel action has been excellent in the vicinity of near-shore artificial reefs this week. Case in point, Capt. Jeff Maples’ outing Thursday aboard his charter boat – Reel Salty. On a morning trip, Maples trolled mackerel trees tipped by Clark spoons on a No. 1 planer in the vicinity of Paradise Reef, located three miles off Murrells Inlet. Maples’ customers kept 17 Spanish ranging in size from 15 to 20 inches for a fish fry. Earlier this week, Maples caught a 26-inch king mackerel on the same rig. After Spanish fishing, Maples fished the bottom on the reef’s structure and has been catching mainly flounder and black sea bass. “It’s been 10 shorts to one keeper (for flounder),” said Maples. South Carolina’s minimum size limit for flounder is now 15 inches with a daily bag limit of 10 per person per day with a maximum boat limit of 20 flounder per day. Spadefish are also available on the reefs. Best catches of king mackerel are on bottom spots in 55 to 90 feet of water. Whiting, croaker and black drum are the main catch on Grand Strand piers with scattered catches of flounder, red drum, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, sheepshead, spadefish and trout. The ocean water temperature was a bit cooler than normal, at 80 degrees on the surface and 77 degrees on the bottom, at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Apache Pier.

Look For: Blackfin tuna, wahoo, dolphin, sailfish, vermilion snapper, triggerfish, white grunts, red porgy, black sea bass, grouper, amberjack.

Comments: The Dog Days of Summer are approaching but there has been some productive trolling near the break. Ed Keelin of Georgetown Landing Marina reports the Painkiller had a super trolling day out of Georgetown, catching blackfin tuna, wahoo and dolphin for a Meatfish Slam. Sailfish action is good further out in the Gulf Stream with some being encountered near the break, also. Bottom fishing continues to be excellent, particularly in 100-plus feet of water. Look for plenty of vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, red porgy and grunts along with grouper and amberjack. Anglers should be aware that cobia cannot be harvested in 2017 in South Carolina waters (to three miles offshore) or federal waters (beyond three miles) and must be released. Also, red snapper must be released in the South Atlantic region.

Look For: Bream, catfish, bass, crappie.

Comments: River levels continue to be very good on the Waccamaw and Little Pee Dee, and the fish are responding. “The bream are flat out chompin’,” said River Squires of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle. Squires reports shop owner/operator Ronald “Catfish” Stalvey personally hit the water this week to catch a nice mess of bream on the Waccamaw in the Cox Ferry Lake vicinity. “He caught over 20 good-size eaters, but he had to go through 40 to get those 20,” said Squires. Stalvey was fishing crickets in four feet of water on the edge of a grass bed. Squires reports live bait – specifically black salties – are producing good catches of blue catfish on the Waccamaw. “(The bass fishing is) off and on,” said Squires. “They’re catching a lot of fish but the ones with size are hard to come by.” Squires recommends using a Bang-O-Lure or buzz baits for bass, especially early and late in the day.