Fishing Report 4-5-2020

By Gregg Holshouser

For a balmy Sunday morning in late March, it was strangely tranquil as Capt. Dan Connolly awaited his crew for the day at the Murrells Inlet Public Boat Ramp.

With the effects of the coronavirus, well, ramping up across South Carolina and the rest of the United States, there was only one other boat launching at 8:30 a.m., at what is regularly one of the busiest boat ramps in the Palmetto State.

Connolly, along with a stiff southwesterly breeze, greeted Murrells Inlet residents Bryan Cox, Nick Stewart and myself as we stepped into the 18-foot Key West center-console skiff.

Soon, Connolly, owner-operator of O-Fish-Al Expeditions, zipped through the inlet to his first stop of the day, the Murrells Inlet jetties.

Connolly used Minn Kota’s nifty i-Pilot trolling motor to position the skiff over just the right spot, mere yards off the jetties, and hit the anchor button to effectively hold the boat in place.

The main target here was black drum and a day earlier, Connolly had found a hot bite at the same spot. But the water was very murky for an incoming tide, thanks to about 24 hours of relentless southwest wind at 10-25 mph, with some higher gusts.

The rod holders on one side of the console held three Fin-Nor spinning reel/Lew’s rod combos rigged with Carolina rigs featuring a short fluorocarbon leader and circle hook. On the other side were identical combos, except rigged with a slip-float, fluorocarbon leader and treble hook.

The windy, choppy conditions and murky water were possible explanations for the slower bite as we dropped fresh cut shrimp down on the Carolina rigs. Over an hour later, we had caught three black drum including one 16-inch keeper within the 14-27 inch slot limit and one red drum in the middle of the 15-23 inch slot limit.

Connolly moved to a different spot on the jetties and after another hour, at late morning and near high tide, we had only added one nice whiting to the box.

“Well, let’s go see if we can catch a trout,” Connolly, perplexed at the lack of action from the drum, said.

And we did.

The captain headed back into the main creek and, after rounding a few turns, pulled up along a Spartina grass-lined bank dotted with patches of oyster shell.

Again, once he got to the right spot and the right distance off the bank, Connolly deployed the i-Pilot. He hit the anchor button and the skiff set up according to the i-Pilot’s internal GPS. No anchor, no power pole to disturb the bottom, just instant positioning at the touch of a button.

Soon, the three anglers deployed live shrimp on the slip-float setups as the tide was at high and just beginning to fall. Between adjusting the depth of the floats and the distance off the bank, the shrimp were positioned just off the bottom. Over the next 90 minutes, we got several bites from spotted seatrout cruising just off the bank in depths of about five feet and wound up with five trout, all solid keepers over the 14-inch minimum size limit, in the box.

The highlight at the spot was a 4-plus pound, 25-incher – a true gator trout – landed by Stewart, and a 16-inch bonus flounder boated by Cox.

After the bite dwindled and the tide was almost halfway through the fall, the captain was ready for another change of scenery.

“Let’s go try to catch a redfish,” said Connolly.

And we did.

Connolly eased well up another creek and again set the i-Pilot, this time within short flippin’ distance of a certain, secret dock.

Here we used the slip-float rigs to flip live shrimp right next to the pilings and dock, letting the swiftly falling tide drift them down to entice the redfish meandering underneath.

Three reds couldn’t resist the temptation of darting out and grabbing the shrimp and were caught, but all were released. Two measured on the lower end of the slot, and once again Stewart caught the lunker. Stewart battled a stout 26-inch over-slot red, taking a few minutes to work it out from under the dock and then the short distance to the boat.

Connolly was exceptionally careful with his pet redfish, which had made it through slot size and into the all-important breeding stock for the species.

After the fish struggled a few moments in the net and on the deck of the boat, the captain unhooked it and revived it in the water at boatside before Stewart held it up a few moments for a photo op.

Connolly quickly returned it to the water for another revival and moments later the red gave a hard flick of the tail and zoomed off toward the bottom.

Despite less than ideal conditions on the day, Connolly’s relentless work resulted in a Carolina Grand Slam – catches of black drum, red drum, spotted seatrout and flounder – for the trip.

“It was a super tough bite with the wind howling and poor water clarity,” said Connolly.

On the ride home on Business Hwy. 17 through Murrells Inlet, it was a surreal scene on what normally would be a bustling time of year – a nice Sunday afternoon in the spring. The Marshwalk and adjacent parking lots were practically deserted, save for a bit of carryout activity from the restaurants.

It was certainly an eery ending to a beautiful day on the inlet during these unprecedented times.