Gregg Holshouser’s Outdoors Column | King mackerels scarce on Grand Strand piers

Where, oh where, have the kingfish gone?

Another pier king mackerel tournament has come and gone along the Grand Strand, but missing a key ingredient – king mackerel.

Two king mackerel tournaments are staged on Grand Strand piers from Garden City to Cherry Grove each year, a spring event in June and a fall event in September.

The Fall Pier King Tournament was held last weekend, Friday through Sunday, with no kings caught by approximately 75 fishermen on six piers (The Pier at Garden City, Surfside Pier, Myrtle Beach State Park Pier, Springmaid Pier, Apache Pier, Cherry Grove Pier). The first cold front of late summer/early fall blew through to kick up the seas in untimely fashion for the tournament, but the lack of catches is nothing new.

There have been no kings caught in the last five pier king tournaments, starting with the fall tournament in 2010. Furthermore, it appears only four kings total have been caught off all Grand Strand piers during the entire 2012 fishing season, including three in the last nine days.

Pat Owens of Charlotte, N.C., caught a 27-pound, 4-ounce king on September 5, two days before the tournament started. Earlier this week on Wednesday Steve Pugh caught a 31-pound, 1-ounce king and Don Christy caught a 15-pound, 8-ounce king, both on Apache Pier.

The lack of king catches has developed just three years after 160 kings were caught on Cherry Grove Pier alone in 2009.

“I don’t have an answer – I know it has effected everybody,” said Steve Gann, Cherry Grove Pier Operations Manager. “It seems to be a problem from one end of the state to the other and parts of North Carolina. We had 10-12 people fishing for kings every day all summer long [in 2009] and we were putting two or three on the deck a day.”

Since the banner year in 2009, king catches on the Cherry Grove Pier have plummeted, to 85 in 2010 and 5 in 2011. The king caught by Owens was the first one landed on the pier this year.

The scenario isn’t much better on the south end of the beach according to Faye Skipper, who has worked in the Surfside Pier’s tackle shop the last 16 years.

Surfside Pier hit a high point of 20 kings caught in 2007, then produced 3 kings in 2008, 8 in 2009, 2 in 2010 and 8 in 2011. No kings have been caught off the Surfside Pier this year.

“The first year I ever king fished here was in 1996 and we caught 120-something kings that year,” Skipper said. “I have no idea what’s happened. I’ll be honest with you, fishing is not what it used to be. It’s sad.”

Shrimp Baiting Season

The 2012 shrimp-baiting season in South Carolina waters opens at noon Friday. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division in Charleston advises baiters not to have bait or poles in a boat that is in the water before noon. The season remains open until noon on Nov. 13.

Mild winter weather allowed good numbers of overwintering white shrimp to spawn in the spring, producing at least average numbers of shrimp available for fall harvest.

Recreational shrimpers who purchase a shrimp-baiting license can legally cast their nets for shrimp over bait during this season. Licenses are $25 for South Carolina residents and $500 for non-residents. The catch limit is 48 quarts of shrimp measured heads-on (29 quarts heads-off) per boat or set of poles per day, and each boat is limited to a set of 10 poles. When taking shrimp over bait, no cast net may be used having a mesh smaller than one-half inch square measure or one inch stretch measure.

Post-season mail surveys conducted every year since 1988 indicate that recent total catches have been less than 1 million pounds per season (heads on) after peaking at more than 3.6 million pounds in 1997. Despite the decline in total catch, catch per trip has remained relatively stable, averaging about 20-22 quarts per trip since 2001.

The stable catch-per-trip suggests that shrimp abundance has remained relatively good, but fewer licenses and shrimping trips are resulting in a lower overall harvest.

Red Snapper Season

The extremely limited red snapper season for recreational anglers opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday and runs through 12:01 a.m. Monday. The commercial red snapper season opens at 12:01 a.m. Monday and runs through 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 24.

NOAA Fisheries and state partners from South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida are looking to fishermen for help with red snapper data collection during the openings.

Data collected will provide much needed information for the 2014 red snapper stock assessment.

Data collection is scheduled to happen in a number of ways and at a number of locations throughout each state. A summary of data collection efforts is provided in detail on the following NOAA Fisheries Web page: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/2012SARedSnapperSeason.html.

The bag limit is one fish per person per day with no minimum size limit during the recreational red snapper season. During the commercial season, the trip limit is 50 pounds gutted weight with no minimum size limit.