After considering about 15 columns from the past 12 months, here are my top five outdoors stories of 2017:
Heckuva ‘Hoo: Capt. Danny Juel of Fish Screamer Charters was fishing a bottom spot 45 miles southeast of Little River in 90 feet of water the last day of April for the typical reef species such as grouper, vermilion snapper, black sea bass and triggerfish.
As usual, Juel and his mate for the day, fellow Capt. T.J. Nixon, also deployed what Juel called a “light line” for any marauding pelagic species attracted to the action around the boat.
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“We had that light line out for whatever would eat it,” said Juel.
When something did eat the dead sardine used for bait on the light line a little before 10 a.m., Juel immediately knew this wasn’t your ordinary pelagic.
“He took about every drop of line I had (on the reel), 150 yards or more,” said Juel. “I told T.J. that has to be a wahoo, that’s the only fish that will run like that.”
A member of Juel’s crew for the day took the rod and the battle was on, with the fish on an Avet reel loaded with 40-pound line on a Shakespeare rod, a standard set-up for king mackerel.
Although Juel had a good idea what he was hooked up with, it was over an hour before he knew for sure.
“We fought the fish for an hour and five minutes when he rolled up behind the boat,” recalled Juel. “We said ‘Whoa man, that’s a heckuva wahoo.’ We got lucky and got him.”
Juel gaffed the fish but quickly realized he needed help from Nixon getting it over the gunwale. That afternoon at Juel’s home marina - Hurricane Fleet Marina in Calabash, N.C. - the wahoo weighed 115 pounds even on certified scales.
The South Carolina state record for wahoo is a 130-pound, 5-ounce fish landed by R.J. Moore out of Murrells Inlet in 1998.
Fisheries: Important fisheries to South Carolina saltwater anglers were open, closed and had limits changed in 2018.
On July 1, a new law went into effect that increased the flounder minimum size limit one inch to 15 inches and decreased 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,” Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Fishing Charters in Little River said at the time.
Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina teamed with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources to put the changes in flounder limits in motion during the 2017 legislative session.
For the first time in three years, anglers in the South Atlantic Region were able to harvest red snapper. A mini-season for the species was opened, consisting of six days over the first two weekends in November.
Only one of the six days featured decent fishing weather, however, and the species was opened to harvest another weekend - Dec. 8-10. A cold front blew out that three-day stretch also, with minimal red snapper caught.
In late January, NOAA announced the recreational harvest of Atlantic migratory group cobia would be closed for the remainder of 2017 in federal waters (beyond three miles offshore), from Georgia to New York.
Since 1996, South Carolina has automatically adopted regulations and closures put in place for federally managed species, meaning cobia couldn’t be harvested in South Carolina state waters either in 2017. State waters extend out to three miles offshore.
However, North Carolina anglers were able to harvest cobia in state waters, adding to the frustration of Palmetto State anglers.
50th Annual: The 50th annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament - the oldest billfish tournament in the state of South Carolina and one of the oldest along the East Coast - was staged out of Georgetown Landing Marina in May.
Long-time local big-game angler Jim Johnston fished the tournament aboard his 59-foot Spencer custom-built yacht, Big Sky, and has fished in all 50.
“I’ve had a few close calls where it looked like I was not going to be able to fish but somehow pulled it off,” said Johnston. “I never had 50 on my mind but now that I’ve gotten to 50, I’m thinking 60.”
While Johnston and crew were the sentimental favorites, the Artemis crew out of Charleston won the tournament.
Rough seas shortened the tournament to a two-day event, with three boats - Artemis, Anticipation and Chasin - tied at the top after each released two blue marlin, one on each day of fishing.
Artemis was declared the winner by way of releasing its blue marlin the earliest on the final day of fishing.
Deer Law Changes: South Carolina’s antiquated white-tailed deer hunting laws were revamped in 2017, as the Palmetto State became the final state in the nation to institute a state-wide limit on the harvest of bucks.
The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources put in place a first-time tagging system which required all deer harvested – bucks and does – to be tagged at the point of kill, joining most other states with similar systems.
The new laws are the result of well over a decade of input the agency has received from hunters interested in improving the quality and quantity of bucks available in the Palmetto State.
Hunter input along with approximately a 35-percent decline in the state’s deer population since the turn of the century forced the S.C. Legislature into action.
“It’s been in the works since 2003,” said Charles Ruth, Big Game Program Coordinator for S.C. DNR. “Clearly it was something hunters initiated and it gained momentum over time. Our deer population changed noticeably during the same period of time to get where we are. (The population decline) added fuel to what changes we were already talking about.
“It wouldn’t ever have gotten to the level where the Legislature was interested in it if the hunters at the local level had not continued to bring it up. Then the legislature said they really wanted to see some changes. That’s when it all started to come together.”
Jessica Hill: For over a decade, Jessica Hill was the face of Perry’s Bait and Tackle, a Murrells Inlet landmark that has been in operation since the mid 1950s and at its current waterfront location on the north end of the Marshwalk since 1971.
Hill was murdered on Sept. 29 in a manner that was unfathomable and heinous, and absolutely devastating to her family, including her three children, and many friends, near and far.
With her departure, a part of the personality and charm of the little fishing village is gone too.
Customers, from the most experienced local old salt to the tourist fishing in saltwater for the first time, were drawn to Perry’s for Jessica’s welcoming personality, local fishing knowledge and of course her beautiful smile.
It can be difficult for visitors to find local fishing knowledge, but Hill made many an inexperienced tourist feel right at home in the little inlet, helping them catch fish with her expertise.
“When she tied (a rig or knot), she explained why it worked and she was teaching valuable knowledge for anybody, from a nine to an 80-year-old,” said Capt. Jason Burton of Murrells Inlet Fishing Center. “She made a lot of people who weren’t very good at fishing experts overnight.”
Gregg Holshouser: email@example.com