Every local offshore angler worth his salt knows May is prime time for offshore trolling off the Carolina coast, when the Gulf Stream ushers in northward migrating dolphin of the biggest numbers and largest size of the calendar year.
The opportunity is there to battle the feisty, colorful species and put plenty of superb-eating fish, along with blackfin tuna and wahoo, in the box.
Such a trolling trip is exactly what Garden City Beach resident Dr. Jason Rosenberg had in mind for this week’s edition of Fishing with Friends Wednesday aboard his 32-foot Contender, Pain Killer.
When a moderate westerly wind was blowing at mid-morning Wednesday, there was a hint of disappointment in the air as the crew of five knew it would be difficult to make the run on limited time to the “pretty water” where the meat fish, particularly dolphin, could be found.
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Capt. Jay Sconyers, owner/operator of Aces Up Fishing, has been at the helm of Rosenberg’s Wednesday excursions for seven years, and headed past the Murrells Inlet sea buoy in a south-southeasterly direction, albeit in choppy 3-5 foot seas.
A day earlier, Sconyers had to venture 57 miles offshore to find pretty water and dolphin on a charter trip, and such a run just wasn’t feasible with the sea conditions and a late morning departure time.
Plan B was a pretty nice option though – bottom fishing in 90-115 feet of water on ledges around 40 miles offshore. A little over 30 miles out, a lengthy weed line was spotted, observed and noted for later.
About 90 minutes after departure, Sconyers pulled the engines back, maneuvered on top of the spot and the crew, also including Earl Fender of San Diego, Jimmy Kaminski of Pawleys Island and myself, dropped down cigar minnows and fresh cut bait 115 feet to the bottom.
For the first few minutes, the only bites were from small fish nibbling at the bait. After about 10 minutes, the bite of vermilion snapper, known locally as beeliners, turned on, and the catches were consistent.
There was plenty of variety on the reef, though, and soon a mix of triggerfish, grunts and black sea bass, along with a red hind (strawberry grouper) came over the gunwale. A scamp (grouper) measured just under the 20-inch minimum size and was released.
There were some big bites too. Red snapper, called genuines by locals, made a good showing, with four caught on the day. Two of the red snapper were in the 5-8 pound range, one in the 10-12 pound range, and I was the lucky angler who battled a 20-pound beauty to the surface.
But after each red snapper was caught it was the same old drill – they had to be released per NOAA Fisheries’ ban on the species, which has been in place in the South Atlantic region since 2010.
Sconyers carefully vented the fish and sent them on their way back to the bottom. Whether the fish survived the ordeal of being reeled up 115 feet, no one will ever know.
Rosenberg speaks for a multitude of recreational anglers with his thoughts on the issue.
“I think we catch (red snapper) on every trip we go bottom fishing,” said Rosenberg. “It should be reasonable to restudy the population and allow us one fish to take home per trip.”
A couple more big bites brought hookups with a pair of large sharks, including a massive sandbar shark, also known as a brown shark, that was an estimated 8-feet long, weighed over 200 pounds and caused a huge tangle of lines.
With a limit of beeliners (12-inch minimum size, 5-fish per person) in the box but only a few black sea bass, Sconyers headed back in for a spot in about 90 feet of water to target more bass.
On the way, we stopped at the well-defined weed line and switched to trolling ballyhoo. The line was perfectly formed and was active, but after nearly an hour of trolling we knew it wasn’t holding any dolphin.
On to the bottom spot in depths of 90 feet, where a few more black sea bass were caught. But this area was heavily patrolled by numerous Atlantic Sharpnose sharks, and tackle tangles got old quick.
As the afternoon wore on, the wind had slowly died down and the seas were a much more manageable 2-3 feet on a comfortable ride home at over 40 knots. A very nice end to another superb edition of Rosenberg’s Fishing with Friends.
S.C. Governor’s Cup
The 2017 South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series opened on Thursday, with the first day of fishing in the first of five tournaments in the series – the Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament.
The opening day produced some of the best blue marlin action in the history of the series.
Twenty-eight boats out of the field of 29 fished the first day, with 16 blue marlin caught and released and three more brought to the dock at Bohicket Marina, located on John’s Island south of Charleston.
The last time three blue marlin were weighed in during one day in the series was in the 2005 Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament according to Amy Dukes, S.C. Governor’s Cup coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Game On weighed in the largest blue, a 500.2-pounder that measured 109 1/2 inches from the tip of the lower jaw to fork of the tail.
Home Run’s blue marlin weighed 438.4 pounds and measured 109 inches while Rare Breed’s blue weighed 412.8 pounds and measured 106 inches. All three boats hail from Charleston area marinas.
The federal minimum size limit for blue marlin to be landed is 99 inches, but they must measure 105 inches to be eligible for Governor’s Cup competition.
Bad Becky and Gryphon both released two blue marlin on Thursday to take the points lead after one day with 1,200 points (600 per blue marlin released).
Fishing continued Friday and Saturday with boats allowed to fish two of the three days.
Dukes said most of the marlin were caught in the vicinity of the 226 Hole, 380 Hole and Ammo Dump, with the Georgetown Hole also producing some fish.
Marlin Quay Carolina Slam
The meatfish tournament out of Marlin Quay Marina in Murrells Inlet opened Friday with the first of nine days of fishing, concluding on May 20.
For more information, call 843-651-4444.
Georgetown Meatfish Slam
The event was postponed but has been rescheduled for June 8 out of Georgetown Landing Marina. For more information, call 843-546-1776.
Gregg Holshouser: firstname.lastname@example.org