Capt. Jeff Maples of Reel Salty Charters and other anglers found that Spanish mackerel have arrived for the season early this week. Photo courtesy Reel Salty Charters
It’s on as Spanish mackerel, dolphin show up for the spring
By Gregg Holshouser
For The Sun News
As April arrived, Capt. Jeff Maples had a hunch it was time for the initial springtime push of Spanish mackerel into area near-shore waters.
But the weather just wasn’t cooperating, with relentless windy, even cool, conditions in late March and early April.
Maples, owner/operator of Reel Salty Charters out of Murrells Inlet, found a little break in the weather on April 3 to slip out to the Paradise Reef, located three miles east of the inlet.
Maples caught weakfish and plenty of bluefish on the quick trip, but saw Spanish mackerel jumping and feeding on glass minnows.
“I got a good visual on them,” Maples said. “You can see the schools of glass minnows being pushed up by the Spanish.”
After an extremely windy cold front on April 6 and 7, conditions turned superb and have been most of this week – exactly what area anglers have been waiting for.
On Monday, Maples went on a charter trip armed and ready for the Spanish and – bingo – they were there and ready to bite.
Maples finished the day with 10 Spanish, all easily keepers above the 12-inch minimum size limit and some measuring in the 20-24 inch range.
With the great weather on hand, Maples has stayed on the Spanish daily, trolling mackerel trees finished with Clark spoons on No. 1 planers and catching an excellent grade of fish.
“Some are at least 20-24 (inches), and Wednesday was the first day I had to measure to see if they were over 12,” said Maples. “Monday it was five blues to every Spanish, Wednesday it was straight up Spanish. I picked up the trolling speed to five mph and I was getting nothing but Spanish.”
During the warm, relatively tranquil week, Maples has seen a steady increase in water temperature.
“We’re getting paid back finally (weather-wise),” said Maples. “The water temperature was 67 at Paradise (Reef) Wednesday. With that south wind all week, every day that water’s gotten another degree warmer. I think it’s here, I think it’s on.”
For Maples this week it’s been, just another day at Paradise.
King or Spanish
As of Wednesday, Maples said juvenile king mackerel were mixing in with the Spanish, a tricky situation anglers should be wary of.
Spanish mackerel have a minimum size limit of 12 inches to tail fork and for kings the minimum size is 24 inches.
Juvenile kings near or below the minimum size of 24 inches tend to have gold spots just like Spanish do.
Anglers need to be sure the fish is a Spanish or king before making the important decision between releasing it or putting it in the cooler.
There are two distinguishing characteristics to look for, one identifying a Spanish and one a king.
Spanish mackerel have a black spot on the front portion of the dorsal fin. To see it better, gently pull the front of the dorsal fin forward toward the fish’s head.
Both fish have a lateral line that runs along the body of the fish toward the tail but on king mackerel, the lateral line makes a distinct drop, similar to a step. The lateral line on Spanish has no such drop.
In short, if you catch a mackerel that has gold spots and is under 24 inches, you’d better be sure it’s a Spanish before you add it to the cooler, or pray you don’t run across a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources enforcement officer on the way in.
In the offshore waters in the vicinity of the Continental Shelf and the meandering Gulf Stream, wahoo and blackfin tuna have been, as usual, available through the winter and into early spring for trolling boats. Mid-April into May is when fishing crews look to add dolphin, or mahi mahi, to the mix and come home with a Carolina Slam of all three species.
During super sea conditions this week, anglers found that dolphin have made their first real appearance of the spring in areas such as the Winyah Scarp and Georgetown Hole.
Numerous boats have caught at least a few dolphin to go with wahoo and blackfin tuna this week, and Ed Keelin, Operations manager of Georgetown Landing Marina, notes that one boat caught five dolphin and “slung off” another five.
With relatively warm weather in the forecast and no impending cold fronts, expect dolphin catches to really take off in the very near future.
“This is maybe the forward edge of the fish coming, they are starting to show up,” said Keelin. “I really think in the next two weeks they will show up (in numbers). The water’s plenty warm, the flying fish are there. The next report might be they are out there everywhere.”
GSSWA Flounder Tournament
Catches of flounder in the creeks of Murrells Inlet are picking up and the calendar reads April, meaning the Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Flounder Tournament is fast approaching.
The 16th annual event will be held next Saturday in the inlet with the Captains Meeting and registration set for Friday at 5:30 p.m. at the Beaver Bar.
All flounder weighed in must measure a minimum of 15 inches, and only one flounder can be weighed in per angler. All competing fishermen must attend the Captains Meeting.
The largest flounder weighed in will earn $1,500 and any angler catching the flounder that was tagged for the tournament will earn $1,500. Entry fee is $45 for adults and $20 for youth anglers. For more information, contact Ed Skowysz (843-450-8218) or Chick McDaniel (843-651-2076).