With South Carolina’s shrimp baiting season exactly one week away, Tropical Storm Hermine came roaring through the lowcountry last Friday, dumping a quick deluge of rain along its path.
According to WPDE Meteorologist Ed Piotrowski, Myrtle Beach received 7.68 inches of rain through 9 p.m. the day of the storm. Other rainfall totals were Georgetown with 6.11 inches, Florence with 7.30 inches and Surfside Beach topping the list with 10.07 inches.
Such large amounts of rain in early September can be a virtual nightmare for avid shrimp-baiters, especially in Georgetown County estuaries such as Winyah Bay and the Santee Delta vicinity. In such cases, the rush of rainfall down the rivers can flush – and in previous similar events has flushed – the shrimp out of the estuaries and into the ocean.
But 16 days before the storm, on Aug.17, the South Carolina State Climatology Office updated the Palmetto State’s drought status. All 46 counties in the state were in some stage of drought, with seven Upstate counties in a moderate drought. The remaining 39 counties were experiencing incipient drought conditions.
According to Dean Cain, a regional marine biologist for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and a Georgetown resident, the river levels have risen, but not too high.
Cain does sampling and water testing for S.C. DNR in Georgetown County estuaries, pulling a 20-foot try net, essentially a small otter trawl with one-inch stretch mesh. Cain headed out Thursday to do sampling in Winyah Bay and North Santee Bay and had done the same a week earlier.
“We got the rain we got but from what I can tell, the river bed absorbed a lot of the water,” Cain said. “The salinity in Winyah Bay (on Sept. 1, the day before the storm) was 30 parts per thousand, which is very high for the bay. It had been relatively dry here before the rain hit. (Thursday) the salinity was half of that, around 14 parts per thousand.”
Cain feels the water conditions – and the shrimp – he found could bode very well for this fall’s population of white shrimp.
“The salinity has dropped and that will push shrimp from up river down into the bay,” said Cain. “It doesn’t mean they’re going to be flushed out into the ocean, but some will. I would imagine it would improve the prospects of the shrimp baiters by pushing more shrimp by volume down into the lower bay.”
The numbers of shrimp Cain found in his sampling Thursday were promising.
“We found shrimp pretty much everywhere we went,” Cain said. “In Winyah Bay and in North Santee Bay the numbers were real good. Shrimp seem to be plentiful, but they’re smaller than usual, which you would expect. The more animals you have, they’re going to be a little smaller. In normal years you have fewer shrimp and they would be larger.”
The shrimp-baiting season in South Carolina opened at noon on Friday and will kick into high gear this weekend. Cain expects the shrimp-baiters to find plenty of shrimp on the bait around their bait poles.
“They’re going to be relatively small and mixed, small-to-medium shrimp in the cast nets in Winyah Bay and North Santee Bay. Bulls Bay and Cape Romain generally have larger shrimp,” he said.
The stage is set for a banner year along the South Carolina coast, especially in areas from Charleston and south.
“Given the relatively mild water temperatures we experienced this past winter, the high abundance of white roe shrimp we started the season with, and the very encouraging results of our ongoing inshore crustacean monitoring efforts, the shrimp fishery this fall has all the makings of a very productive one,” said Mel Bell, director of S.C. DNR’s Office of Fisheries Management.
“This will be good news for both the commercial fleet who work in our near-shore waters as well as the recreational shrimping community fishing in shallower estuarine waters. If all of the current trends hold this could be a very good year for shrimping in South Carolina.”
Shrimp-baiters dodged the proverbial bullet with Hermine’s passing, but the peak of the hurricane season still looms as a threat to the current promising conditions.
“It can change anytime with a good storm coming through, with significant rainfall especially in Winyah Bay and the Santees with the five rivers flowing in,” Cain said. “That’s always the question, whether we have a storm. It seems it happens more often than not. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”
Rumble In The Jungle
The second of three tournaments in the Southern Kingfish Association Division 3 – South Carolina will be held next weekend out of Harbourgate Marina in Little River.
Registration for the 12th annual tournament, staged by the Little River Salt Water Fishing Club, is Friday, Sept. 16 from 3 to 9 p.m. Captains Meeting is at 7 p.m.
A shotgun start opens the only day of fishing on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. with weigh-in beginning at 3 p.m.
For more information, visit rumblekmt.com.
Registration for the Student Angler League Tournament Trail will be held Tuesday at Gander Mountain in Myrtle Beach from 6-7 p.m.
Student anglers of middle or high school age that are registered in a public, private or home school can compete in the series, which has separate divisions for bass and red drum.
Each angler’s boat driver, a parent or guardian 21 years of age or older, must be in attendance. The boat driver must provide a current copy of boating insurance.
For more information, visit SALTTFishing.com.
Lowcountry Tarpon Tournament
Fishing in the tournament will be held in the Georgetown area Sept. 16-17 with the Captains Meeting set for Thursday, 6:30 p.m., at The Big Tuna Raw Bar in Georgetown.
The event’s awards banquet will be held Saturday, Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m.
For more information, visit lowcountrytarpon.org.
*Fall Pier King Mackerel Tournament: Registration for the tournament opens Saturday with fishing in the event scheduled for Sept. 24-25 on four Grand Strand piers - the Myrtle Beach State Park Pier, Springmaid Pier, Apache Pier and Cherry Grove Pier.
Entry fee of $40 must be paid in cash at the pier the angler is fishing from by a deadline of noon on Sept. 22.
Gregg Holshouser: email@example.com