Outdoor Report 3-22-2020
How Grand Strand charter fishing operators are dealing with coronavirus obstacles
MARCH 20, 2020 07:29 PM
Spring arrived officially on Thursday, and as usual the saltwater fishing action along the Grand Strand from Georgetown to Little River is beginning to ramp up right along with the water temperature.
At the same time, mid-March typically marks a big increase in tourism as the Myrtle Beach area awakens from the winter doldrums. Charter fishing operators anticipate an increase in trips, and a much-needed boost in revenue on the heels of the slow winter months.
Like so many other industries in a tourist-driven area, the charter fishing business is taking a big hit from the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the past 14 years, Capt. Jason Burton has built his business and reputation running charter trips inside Murrells Inlet and in the adjacent near-shore waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Having earned the nickname, “Flounder Pounder,” Burton is now the owner-operator of Murrells Inlet Fishing Charters with a fleet of six charter boats run by eight captains and 15 total employees.
A robust economy in the past few years and the continuity of his business had Burton looking forward to a banner year in 2020. But then the virus showed up to virtually put a halt to tourism not only along the Grand Strand but across the country.
“We were on pace to have the best March in the history of our company,” said Burton on Thursday. “It is killing us. We’ve had 20-plus cancellations for the month of March and April. We’re still getting a few charters here and there and the bad part is fishing is amazing … (with) lots of trout, lots of flounder.”
Capt. Dan Connolly of O-Fish-Al Expeditions, a one-man show aboard his 18-foot Key West center console operating out of the inlet, has seen a similar effect.
“My business is probably 80 percent tourism-based and without anyone coming in to town, we’re pretty much all out of business for the moment,” said Connolly. “Some of us still have a few trips here and there but I’d say we’ve probably lost about 75 percent of our business because of it. The problem is we’re just getting started with this whole thing. It’s bad, man.
“I (had) a trip (last) Thursday and Friday and then nothing until mid-April.”
Capt. Danny Carey of Careyon Charters specializes on offshore trips for wahoo, tuna and dolphin, plus king mackerel in his 30-foot Sea Hunt. Carey’s business is feeling the effect too.
“We keep getting cancellations – 10 trips lost in three days,” Carey said on Thursday. “It’s gonna be bad. The tourism industry is going to take a beating here early on.”
To try to drum up trips, some local charter operators are offering discounts, and locals may benefit. Connolly is offering any South Carolina resident a 25 percent discount on charters with children 12 and under able to fish for free.
Cancellations, postponements and closings are the order of the day, and there are plenty for South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ events and facilities.
Most notable among the cancellations is the Palmetto Sportsmen’s Classic, originally scheduled for March 27-29 at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds in Columbia. The classic has traditionally been a mecca for antler-scoring sessions.
In addition, S.C. DNR offices statewide are no longer accommodating in-person transactions at customer service centers until further notice.
For a full list on closings and cancellations, visit http://dnr.sc.gov/.
*CCA South Carolina: The Waccamaw Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association has traditionally held its fundraising banquet in March in Murrells inlet. This year, the event has been postponed to June 13 at Sunnyside Plantation. For more information, call 843-455-0371 or e-mail email@example.com.