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The top five outdoors stories from 2016

Most homes were surrounded by river water after the Waccamaw River rose at Jackson Bluff from the effects of Hurricane Matthew.
Janet Blackmon Morgan
For The Sun News

It was a busy season for the outdoors scene in 2016. Here are the top five stories of the year:

1. Hurricane Matthew
For over a week residents of coastal South Carolina watched and hoped, even prayed, as Hurricane Matthew meandered through the Caribbean and took a northward turn toward the Bahamas.

The turn out to sea residents were looking for never happened, and on Oct. 8 Matthew made landfall near McClellanville. The storm continued northeast, straddling the coast before finally heading east at North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

Matthew’s storm surge caused tremendous beach erosion and a 2-to-4 foot storm surge wreaked havoc along the beachfront and on waterfront property. Fishing piers along the Grand Strand were damaged, with the Surfside Pier and Springmaid Pier both sustaining heavy damage.

The effects of the storm were just beginning to be felt on the day of landfall. Matthew dumped a devastating deluge of rain in the watershed of rivers such as the Waccamaw, Little Pee Dee, Great Pee Dee and Black.

Flood damage was rampant along the rivers, and nine days after the storm moved through, the Waccamaw River crested at 17.9 feet in Conway to set an all-time record.

After the storm, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources temporarily closed areas along the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee River drainage systems to hunting due to the flooding.

Long-time residents recognized Matthew as the worst hit from a hurricane in the greater Myrtle Beach area since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

2. Low Dissolved Oxygen Event
The ongoing issue of critically low levels of dissolved oxygen in ocean water in close proximity to the beach made another dramatic appearance along the Grand Strand, creating concern for many observers but a frenzy for flounder fishermen.

In mid-to-late August, Dr. Susan Libes, Professor of Marine Chemistry at Coastal Carolina University, very closely monitored ocean water conditions from data stations at three Grand Strand piers – Cherry Grove Pier, Apache Pier and 2nd Ave. Pier.

“This past week we have seen water dissolved oxygen drop below that two milligram per liter threshold which is technically hypoxia,” said Libes, who is Program Director of CCU’s Environmental Quality Lab. “(The dissolved oxygen level dropped) below four milligrams per liter on Aug. 14, and the recovery happened (Aug. 23). The very lowest oxygen was on Aug. 19 – .4 milligrams per liter. I’m not sure our sensors can even detect the difference between .4 and 0.”

In the last 12 years there have been three other events where oxygen levels dropped near or to a state of hypoxia – lack of oxygen in ocean water – and flounder catches increased dramatically each time. The previous events occurred in 2004, 2009 and 2012.

Anglers headed to the piers, and even the surf, to take advantage of easy catches of flounder, which readily took baits such as mullet, mud minnows and shrimp.

3. Hooligan
Capt. Joe Winslow and crew aboard Hooligan, a 34-foot Yellowfin, had a record-breaking king mackerel fishing season in 2016 while competing in the Southern Kingfish Association’s Division 9.

Winslow is a professor of instructional technology at Coastal Carolina University and calls on current and alumni members of CCU’s Saltwater Angler Club to make up his crew in SKA tournaments.

The Hooligan crew fished all five tournaments in the division, winning the East Coast Got ‘Em On event on July 10 in Carolina Beach, N.C. In the other four tournaments, the crew finished second, fourth, seventh and 22nd.

In all, Hooligan set a new division record of 110 points, which combines the weight of the top three fish weighed in, an average of 36.7 pounds per king.

“We’re very excited about it,” said Winslow. “It’s always a goal for any team to be the top regional winner.”

Winslow has won nine SKA Division titles over the years and pointed out this is the first season he has used all CCU students or alumni for the crew.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for the students,” said Winslow. “I’m happy to have them on board for this. This one was very special because it’s the first time the team was composed of all students. They’ve fished hard, they’ve learned a lot and they’re great teammates.”

In mid-November, at the SKA Nationals in Ft. Pierce, Fla., Winslow was inducted into the SKA Hall of Fame.

4. Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament
When it comes to seeing a blue marlin at the dock, the Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament is the place to be among the tournament venues in the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series.

For the second time in the last four years, two blue marlin were landed in the 49th annual tournament at Georgetown Landing Marina, both on May 27, the final day of fishing in the tournament.

To put that into perspective, the last year more than two blue marlin were landed in the entire Governor’s Cup series was in 2005, when nine were landed in the series including three at Georgetown.

In the 11 years (including 2016) since that banner year in 2005, a total of nine blue marlin have been landed in the series – seven of them at Georgetown.

Victor “Bubba” Roof’s Game On crew, based out of Toler’s Cove Marina in Mt. Pleasant, landed the larger of the two blue marlin, a 477.2-pounder, and released two more blue marlin – all within a span of five hours – to win the points and cash award portions of the tournament.

Big Sky, owned by Georgetown’s Jim Johnston, brought in the other blue marlin, a 460.1-pounder. Johnston docks the 59-foot Paul Spencer Yacht at Georgetown Landing Marina.

5. SKA Runner-Up
Chris Bryan of Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., and his On A Mission/OIFC Fishing Team ventured south to compete in the SKA Nationals in Ft. Pierce, Fla., in November.

A local entry from nearby West Palm Beach, Team Tuppens/Garmin, weighed in a 62.33-pound king mackerel on the first of two fishing days, virtually relegating the rest of the field to battle for second place.

“I thought it was going to be virtually impossible to beat that,” said Bryan. “In the back of my mind I knew the entire field was fishing for second place after they weighed the 62-pounder.”

Team Tuppens/Garmin easily won the championship with a 99.78-pound two-fish aggregate.

Bryan and crew were in 16th place after the first day of fishing but brought a 51.67-pound king to the weigh-in on the second day. The crew’s 74.22-pound aggregate earned them second place among 113 boats competing in the prestigious championship tournament.

“We were real excited,” said Bryan, the real estate sales manager at Coldwell Banker Sloane Realty in Ocean Isle Beach. “It’s a very surreal experience to finish second amongst that level of competition. The camaraderie at the SKA National Championships is second to none. I’ve forged relationships with fishing teams throughout the Southeastern U.S. that have turned into lifelong friendships.”