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.”