The dogwoods are blooming, and the water temperature is in the 60s in estuaries from Georgetown to Brunswick County, N.C., plus the calendar is approaching mid-April.
All signs point to one of the true rites of spring – the start of the flounder bite – getting underway.
Each spring in April, flounder that departed the estuaries for the Atlantic Ocean as the water temperature cooled in the fall return to their warm-weather haunts for about the next seven months.
Some flounder stay in the estuaries year-round, but the majority head for the ocean for the winter.
Each estuary along the Grand Strand has its own unique characteristics, and the returning flounder don’t show up at the same time in all of them.
Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters in Little River hasn’t specifically targeted flounder during his three charter trips during the last week, but his fishing methods are such that if he encounters flounder he should get the bite.
Kelly uses the Berkeley Gulp swimming minnow and/or shrimp for artificials and mud minnows for live bait, which can produce bites from numerous species including red drum, black drum and spotted seatrout along with flounder.
As of a Wednesday trip in Tubbs Inlet, the captain, a 14-year veteran of running charters in the Little River area, simply had yet to catch any flounder.
“We’ve been catching a few reds and small trout but we haven’t caught a flounder yet,” said Kelly Wednesday evening. “I stopped at a couple spots I feel are good flounder holes but didn’t have any luck.
“Murrells Inlet, Cherry Grove, Pawleys Island, those [inlets] usually fire off first and then Tubbs [Inlet] is right behind. Usually we catch a few by now but we haven’t yet.”
There indeed have already been some double-digit catches of flounder in Murrells Inlet and a few catches in Cherry Grove. Kelly surmises a cool water temperature could be playing a role in the lack of catches in Tubbs Inlet during this spring, when everything seems to be happening late.
“I was marking 63 degrees Wednesday, but I’d like to see the upper 60s,” said Kelly. “It’s still down a little bit. We’re usually catching fish a little better by now. It’s that time of year where it’s gonna pop off any day now.”
Anglers are reminded flounder regulations are different in the area from Pawleys Island to Murrells Inlet than the rest of South Carolina’s coastal waters. The limits for both hook-and-line fishermen and giggers in these waters are half of the limits for the rest of the state – 10 flounder per person per day and 20 per boat per day.
The limits for the rest of the state are 20 per person per day and 40 per boat per day.
Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Flounder Tournament
The arrival of flounder in Murrells Inlet is good news for the 13th annual Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Spring Flounder Tournament, which will be held April 26 in the inlet.
All competing fishermen must attend the captains meeting and registration, which will be held at 6 p.m. on April 25 at the Beaver Bar in Murrells Inlet.
Entry fee is $45 for the adult division and $20 for the youth division. Early-bird mail-in registration, postmarked by April 16, is $35 for adults, $15 for youth.
Fishing begins at 6 a.m. on April 26, with weigh-in to follow at the Murrells Inlet boat ramp from 4 to 5 p.m.
The largest flounder weighed in earns $1,500.
Cash prizes for the 2nd through 8th-place finishers have been increased for the 2014 event, plus the top 10 finishers will receive a cash prize. Previously the top eight finishers received cash prizes. There will be no aggregate flounder category.
This year’s tournament will include an optional – and unique – red drum category, which anglers can enter for an additional $10. Anglers can enter a red drum that measures within South Carolina’s slot limit of 15 to 23 inches, and the fish with most spots wins.
For more information on the tournament call Bill Cash at 843-237-9987 or Chick McDaniels at 843-651-2076.