Saturday is the day that will provide some semblance of relief for South Carolina’s beleaguered population of flounder.
Hounded by hook-and-line anglers by day and giggers by night, there is arguably more pressure on flounder than any other species that inhabits salt-water estuaries in the Palmetto State, especially in Horry and Georgetown counties.
Even when flounder move to near-shore reefs in the Atlantic Ocean to spawn, the species is greeted by the same hook-and-line crowd from above the surface and spear fishermen below the surface.
The number of anglers is intimidating – in 2016 well over 400,000 people had some sort of saltwater fishing license for South Carolina waters.
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On Saturday, a new law will go into effect that increases the flounder minimum size limit one inch to 15 inches and decreases the daily bag limits to 10 per person and 20 per boat.
South Carolina’s old limits were a 14-inch minimum size limit and daily bag limits of 15 per person and 30 per boat.
“I think that’s fantastic,” said Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters in Little River.
Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina teamed with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to get the changes in flounder limits in motion during the recently completed legislative session.
“The Coastal Conservation Association came to S.C. DNR a couple of years ago with concerns about the state’s flounder population – just as S.C. DNR scientists were examining survey data that indicated the flounder population was in decline,” said David Whitaker, assistant deputy director of the agency’s Marine Resources Division. “We’ve been working since then to develop recommendations for the legislature to address the decline in the state’s flounder population.”
In the end, the bill easily passed the S.C. Legislature, including a rare unanimous 108-0 vote by the House of Representatives, before Gov. Henry McMaster signed it into law on May 19.
The minimum size limit for flounder has long been 15 inches in North Carolina waters, which makes life a little easier for Kelly.
“We fish in both states, and now that makes it easier coming and going in the two states with the same size limit,” said Kelly. “(In the past), if you caught a 14-inch (flounder), you had to stay in South Carolina.”
With both states having the same minimum size limit, anglers will no longer have a reason to head south from the Tar Heel State to take advantage of a smaller size limit in South Carolina waters.
According to Mel Bell, Director of S.C. DNR’s Office of Fisheries Management, female flounder first mature at 14 inches and begin substantially contributing to the spawn at 15 inches.
S.C. DNR officials are optimistic the new limits will substantially reduce the total number of flounder removed from the population annually.
“Our assessment of the new limits indicates that about 30 percent fewer fish will be taken in the first year or two,” said Whitaker. “But with time, we hope the population grows and that total catch will increase as more spawners are available to provide more young fish.”
The third leg of the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series concluded last weekend with the Carolina Billfish Classic at Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina.
“The fishing was phenomenal,” said Amy Dukes, coordinator of the Governor’s Cup for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “We had excellent effort, with more than two fish (released) per boat.”
The field of 38 boats accounted for 88 released billfish, including 78 sailfish, nine blue marlin and one white marlin. The tournament also was reduced to a two-day event thanks to a Small-Craft Advisory last Saturday.
Toast, a 57-foot Dean Johnson out of Ocean Reef, Fla., had an incredible two days of fishing, releasing two blue marlin and seven sailfish to claim the win.
Ron Martin owns Toast, which is captained by Charleston native Newt Cagle.
Series regular Micabe, out of Ripley Light Marina in Charleston, was second after releasing one blue marlin and five sailfish. Palmetto Guard, also out of Ripley Light Marina, finished third, releasing two blue marlin and one sailfish.
Sportsmann weighed in the largest dolphin, a 44.9-pounder, High Maintenance caught the largest tuna, a 25.0-pound blackfin and Home Run landed the largest wahoo, a 29.7-pounder.
Hope Bentley of Home Run released one blue marlin and three sailfish to earn Lady Angler honors. Chandler Griffin of Gryphon was the leading Junior Angler, releasing five sailfish.
Gryphon leads the Governor’s Cup standings after three events with 3,675 points followed by Toast with 2,625 and Chasin third with 2,450.
The fourth leg of the series is the MEGADOCK Billfishing Tournament, set for Wednesday through Saturday out of Charleston City Marina. The five-tournament series concludes with the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament July 19-22
Conway Bassmasters Tournament
The Conway Bassmasters Annual River Fest Bass Tournament will be staged on July 8 out of Bucksport Marina.
Entry fee is $120 per two-person team, with one adult (18 years or older) required to be on each boat. Guaranteed first-place prize money is $1,400. For more information, call Chris Jones at 843-333-8010.
Gregg Holshouser: firstname.lastname@example.org