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Effects of cold weather linger

Swamps near Conway are covered with a sheet of ice last week in the wake of Winter Storm Grayson. Under the ice, the welfare of various fish species remains a concern. JASON LEE jlee@thesunnews.com
Outdoors
Fishing report: Optimism, lots of cold water left in wake of historic Arctic blast

By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
January 11, 2018 07:12 PM

Updated January 11, 2018 07:31 PM
Estuary

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

Comments: Capt. Dan Connolly of O-Fish-Al Expeditions fished Murrells Inlet Tuesday and Wednesday and came back with good news for anglers concerned about impacts from the recent spate of cold weather. “I’ve not seen any dead or stunned fish, thank God,” said Connolly. “I think a lot of these fish made it out on the reef and are hugging on the reefs in 30 to 80 feet of water.” Connolly caught only red drum in the inlet, and hasn’t seen any spotted seatrout or black drum. As of Wednesday, the water temperature remained very cold. “The water’s still super cold,” Connolly said. “It was 40 degrees in the morning on a lower tide and when the tide came in it heated up a little bit to 43-44 (degrees).” The reds Connolly caught sluggishly ate cut shrimp and mud minnows fished on the bottom. Joseph C. Ballenger, assistant marine scientist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), reports the only dead fish found from Georgetown to Little River were mullet and menhaden on the north end of the Grand Strand near the beginning of the cold weather spell. Ballenger has received scattered reports from areas further south of dead red drum, spotted seatrout, sheepshead and black drum along with menhaden and mullet. Ballenger notes small brackish water impoundments have been hit especially hard. Anglers are encouraged to release any spotted seatrout caught this winter.
Inshore

Look For: Black sea bass, weakfish, tautog, sheepshead, flounder, whiting, croaker, black drum.

Comments: The ocean water remains very cold, as Steve Gann of Cherry Grove Pier reported a reading of 45 degrees Thursday at 3:30 p.m. Gann says a few whiting and perch were caught earlier in the week, but nothing in the last few days. Anglers have been scarce, too. In early January, Gann reports two spotted hake were caught off the pier. The members of the cod family are usually found more to the north and rarely encountered in South Carolina waters. For the rest of the winter, the best bet in the inshore waters will be black sea bass on near-shore artificial reefs. Anglers are reminded black sea bass have a 13-inch minimum size limit with a daily bag limit of seven per person. Weakfish, tautog, sheepshead and flounder are also possibilities on the reefs.
Offshore

Look For: Wahoo, blackfin tuna, king mackerel, grouper, vermilion snapper, triggerfish, porgy, black sea bass, grunts.

Comments: Mid-Town Bistro owner Jeff Martini and his crazy crew aboard Dirty Martini headed out from Little River to see what fishing held in store on the heels of the historic Arctic blast. Trolling in the vicinity of the Winyah Scarp and McMarlen Ledge, the crew was hoping for a solid wahoo bite but found only amberjack and king mackerel. Martini noted another boat trolling in the vicinity caught a few blackfin tuna and, surprisingly, released several sailfish. The Dirty Martini hit the bottom further offshore and caught a commercial 200-pound limit of snowy grouper. When conditions allow, bottom fishing is good for vermilion snapper, black sea bass, triggerfish, porgy and grunts. The annual Shallow-Water Grouper Spawning Season Closure is in effect through April 30. The Greater Amberjack Fishery is closed for recreational anglers until March. Red snapper are closed in the South Atlantic region and must be released.
Freshwater

Look For: Crappie, bream, bass, catfish.

Comments: Even with a few warm days this week, the cold water isn’t going away soon. “The water’s still frozen in a lot of places, in the creeks and the coves,” said Ronald “Catfish” Stalvey of Stalvey’s Bait and Tackle in Conway. “Places like Kingston Lake and Cox Ferry Lake, there’s still ice all the way across.” Angler activity has been at a minimum also. “I’ve had a handful of people go,” said Stalvey, who reports good catches of crappie on minnows in the Ricefields and Samworth WMA area. With some ice still on the edges and in the swamps, bass action has been slow. “I’ve had one person tell me he caught five (bass), barely keepers,” said Stalvey. “It’s been tough, tough fishing.”