Gregg Holshouser’s Outdoors Column | Carriers to be dropped on reefs

In just over two weeks, on June 23, another round of material will be dropped on a pair of popular artificial reefs located off the Grand Strand to create more reef habitat.

PA-09, known locally as Paradise Reef or Three-Mile Reef, is located about 3 miles east of the Murrells Inlet jetties while PA-10, known locally as the Ten-Mile Reef, is located about 10 miles southeast of Murrells Inlet. Both reefs are a part of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Marine Artificial Reef Program.

Now this is some big structure being added, in the form of 50 M113 armored personnel carriers. The two permitted reef sites are scheduled to receive 25 of the Vietnam-era carriers each on June 23. The carriers are 17 feet long, about 9 feet wide and about 9 feet tall.

“The total combined amount of material is pretty substantial,” said Bob Martore, S.C. DNR Artificial Reef Coordinator . “[The carriers] have literally been sitting in fields over the course of time.”

As Martore points out, each reef site is one large area permitted to receive artificial reef material, but patch reefs are established by organizations or in honor of individuals within the reef sites.

The Ten-Mile Reef area features the Bruce Rush Reef while Paradise Reef contains the H.P. Springs Jr. Reef, the Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Reef and the Winston Perry Memorial Reef.

Prior to the structure being dropped, a dedication ceremony hosted by the Grand Strand Saltwater Anglers Association will be held at Spuds Waterfront Dining in Murrells Inlet. The structure-dropping event is part of Reef-Ex 2012, a cooperative effort between DNR and the South Carolina Army National Guard in which material such as the personnel carriers and shipping containers are added to reef sites within the artificial reef program.

While DNR’s program handles a total of 45 reef sites along the South Carolina coast from Hilton Head to Little River, the most popular ones are right here off Horry and Georgetown counties coasts.

A study conducted in 2006 determined the top three most visited artificial reefs in the program were, in order, the Jim Caudle Artificial Reef located three miles off Little River, the Paradise Reef and the Ten-Mile Reef. In October 2006, the Caudle Reef was the recipient of 35 similar armored personnel carriers.

Martore noted the impact the artificial reefs have on the local and statewide economy is significant. A recent economic impact study determined the reefs in the program help contribute $83 million to the economy statewide.

One of the biggest benefits the reefs provide is habitat for perhaps the most important reef fish found in South Carolina waters – the black sea bass.

“They are fish homes, and our artificial reefs are like little black sea bass factories,” Martore said. “They provide extremely important black sea bass habitat. A lot of people were surprised at the [black sea bass] closure because they see so many on our artificial reefs.”

Black Sea Bass

After a 7 1/2-month closure, the recreational fishing season for black sea bass opened June 1, and boy is it ever on. As expected, catches have simply been excellent over the last week, especially in 40 to 100 feet of water.

“The sea bass are thick as thieves out there,” said Capt. Steele Park of the Ocean Isle Fishing Center. “The average size is 15 inches and guys are coming in daily with six pound fish. They eat your live baits for grouper. You think you’ve got a small grouper on the line until it comes up and you see this green glow [from the head of a large black sea bass]. The further offshore you go the bigger they are. I’ve never seen black sea bass as big as they are.”

Currently, the daily limits for black sea bass for recreational fishermen are five fish per person with a minimum size limit of 12 inches. On July 1, the minimum size will increase to 13 inches for recreational anglers.

Jolly Mon King Classic

The Yellowfin/Yamaha Jolly Mon King Classic is upcoming next weekend out of Ocean Isle Fishing Center. The tournament is sanctioned by the Southern Kingfish Association and is the opening event of SKA’s Division 9.

Following the summer of 2011, when catches of king mackerel were slower than normal off the Carolina coast, the jury is still out on what 2012 has in store.

“It’s been sporadic so far,” Park said of king fishing thus far. “When you find ‘em they bite, that’s the long and short of it. There has been a scattered bite near-shore in 35-40 feet of water and a more consistent bite in 85-100 feet. The pogys [menhaden] have been pretty thick. This last rain dispersed them a little bit but they should be back in plenty of numbers by this weekend. I think we’re finally, finally getting into our summer pattern.”

The Jolly Mon Classic is scheduled for June 16-17 with boats allowed to fish one of the two days. Entry fee is $215 until Sunday, $250 after. The heaviest king mackerel weighed in could earn over $25,000, depending on the number of boats entered and including tournament-within-a-tournament prizes. Registration is from noon to 9 p.m. June 15, featuring dinner at 6 p.m. and the Captain’s Meeting at 7 p.m. For more information, call 910-575-3474.