Gregg Holshouser’s Outdoors Column | Gator hunters get surprise visitors

A pair of avid gator hunters, Adam Kirby and James Gagnon of Pawleys Island, managed to snag a permit for South Carolina DNR’s Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Alligator Hunt back in the summer.

So in late September, the duo was in the Santee Coastal Reserve WMA just south of the South Santee River at the Georgetown-Charleston County line in a 14-foot jon boat, huntin’ gators.

They were puttering along in the jon boat, powered by a 25-horsepower Yamaha, searching for gators, bumping the outboard in and out of gear, when something unexpected happened.

“Every time we’d kick the boat in and out of gear, baby tarpon would jump in the boat,” Gagnon said earlier this week. “There were actually tarpon jumping in the boat.”

Gagnon estimated a total of 25-30 juvenile tarpon in the 6-to-7 inch range jumped in the boat during the gator hunt.

“They’re breeding right in there, someone needs to pay attention,” Gagnon said.

About a week later, Gagnon took note of the column in The Sun News where I documented catching a foot-long tarpon in a cast net in Murrells Inlet and gave me a call to share his experience.

Unlike myself, Gagnon and Kirby, who both toil at Bistro 217 in Pawleys Island, had a camera handy – intended for the gator hunt – and snapped a few photos of the tiny silver kings, so now we have photo evidence.

A few miles away, on Oct. 3, angler Jarrett Holt of Murrells Inlet was throwing a cast net for bait near the intersection of the North Santee River and the Intracoastal Waterway. Holt also caught a juvenile tarpon in the 6-to-7 inch range, and noted it was the second time in two years he has caught such a tarpon in his cast net.

It seems clear that adult tarpon are spawning locally during their annual migration from and back to more southern waters.

Now, guess what was caught in Charleston Harbor recently?

Writer/photographer Jeff Dennis reported another surprising catch on his blog at www.lowcountryoutdoors.com a week ago. Dennis confirmed that mangrove snapper were caught in Charleston Harbor by an experienced local angler while fishing for sheepshead.

For those unfamiliar, mangrove snapper are common in the inshore waters of Florida, particularly the central and southern areas of The Sunshine State.

And consider, it has been documented that the number of manatees migrating northward for the summer months has been up along with anecdotal reports that adult tarpon are being observed, caught and, hopefully, released in much larger numbers in recent years.

In a nutshell, what’s going on here?

I’m not a big believer in the global warming concept, but with S.C. waters taking on quite a few Florida characteristics during the summer and early fall months, it makes you wonder. Of course, one reasonably cold winter and every tarpon and mangrove snapper that tries to overwinter in local estuaries will be history.

Gator haul

Oh, by the way, the Kirby-Gagnon gator hunting duo did cash in on their gator tags.

The tags were for up to two alligators 4 feet or greater in length from the Santee Coastal Reserve WMA, only one of which could exceed 7 feet in total length.

They subdued an 11-footer and a second gator in the 7-foot range, using a huge treble hook with 150-pound braid on a Penn spinning reel with an Ugly Stick to get the gators boatside before dispatching them.

Coastal Bear Hunt

Applications for the coastal black bear season, set for Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties, are available online at www.dnr.sc.gov/bearhunting/. Applicants can also stop by any regional S.C. Department of Natural Resources office or by calling (803) 734-3886.

Ten tags will be issued for each county and those receiving the tags will be selected by computer drawing. The application deadline is Nov. 2.

The coastal black bear season is set for Dec. 1-15. The nonrefundable application fee is $10. Hunters receiving a tag must also purchase a bear tag, $25 for residents and $100 for nonresidents.

The tag will only be valid for one of the three counties so applicants should rank the counties in order of preference. Selected hunters will be allowed to hunt on Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) in the county selected but must have a valid WMA permit.

Bears may be taken on private land as long as the hunter has the permission of the landowner or person holding the hunting lease to hunt there.

Waccamaw Audubon Society

The Society’s annual Big Sit will be held Sunday on the Carriage Path at Huntington Beach State Park.

This is an all-day bird watching event from the one location. Interested persons are welcome to participate. The goal is to identify as many species as possible. Contact Dave Matt dmatt6070@gmail.com or Reggie Daves rd6222@sccoast.net for more information.