Gregg Holshouser’s Outdoors Column | Spotted seatrout numbers up after two difficult winters

The winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11 were easily colder than normal along the South Carolina coast, and cold winters always bring the possibility of damage to the Palmetto State’s population of spotted seatrout.

In the aftermath of the back-to-back cold winters, in the spring of 2011, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources released a statement that said “sampling from nine South Carolina estuaries shows a consistent and dramatic decrease in the number of spotted seatrout.”

The agency went on to encourage anglers to not harvest trout through the summer of 2011 to allow them to spawn and begin recovering from the freeze. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries went a step further, banning harvest of spotted seatrout until June 15 of that year.

Fortunately, the next winter (2011-12) was just as extremely warm as the previous two were cold.

The good news is spotted seatrout first spawn when they are only a year old, so the species is capable of bouncing back quickly, and, my, have the trout bounced back along the Carolina coast.

By all accounts, trout fishing has been very good in local estuaries this fall, as the winter solstice arrives on Dec. 21.

“They are rather plentiful – we’re thankful for that,” said South Carolina DNR biologist Wallace Jenkins. “They spawn when they’re one year old so apparently enough animals made it through the year after the freeze to spawn and we’re seeing the results.”

The returns are the same along the entire Grand Strand, from Georgetown to Brunswick County, N.C. – the trout fishing has been fabulous this fall.

“It’s pretty incredible no doubt about it – good size and good numbers,” said Capt. Patrick Kelly of Captain Smiley Charters in Little River of the trout fishing. “I guess the mild winter last year helped and maybe the regulations, asking [anglers] to throw them back in South Carolina, and in North Carolina we couldn’t even keep them. Whatever happened it’s pretty cool that we’ve got a lot of trout. I want to say it’s the best I’ve seen in the 12 years I’ve been in the charter business.”

Likewise on the south end, where Capt. Mike McDonald of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service has had a grand time catching trout, along with red drum, black drum and flounder in the Winyah Bay/North Inlet vicinity.

“It’s phenomenal – everybody’s catching fish,” McDonald said. “The more experienced fishermen are catching big numbers but it’s not that hard for someone less experienced to go out and catch a limit right now.”

The limits for spotted seatrout are a 14-inch minimum size and 10-fish per person daily bag limit. McDonald points out trout can shrink a bit when put on ice and advised anglers to keep only fish that are easily over 14 inches in length to avoid a problem with your local DNR law enforcement officer.

McDonald and other anglers will have their fingers crossed for a mild winter.

“If we can make it though this winter without a big freeze, a fish kill, we may have one of the best years it’s ever been around here next year for trout fishing,” McDonald said. “But that’s all assuming we don’t get a freeze and the water doesn’t get below 45 degrees for any length of time.”

CCA Oyster Roast and BBQ

The 2nd annual Lowcountry Oyster Roast and BBQ Dinner, put on by The Beaver Bar and the Waccamaw Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association South Carolina, will be held Saturday at 4 p.m. at The Beaver Bar in Murrells Inlet.

The $25 admission for those attending includes local oysters, a BBQ dinner and fixings provided by The Beaver Bar and an open bar (beer and wine). The event is sponsored by Williams Knife Company and Pawleys Island Outdoors.

The event exemplifies the S.C. Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) program in action. One of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ oyster shell recycling trailers will be on site for the leftover shell from the oyster roast to be piled on and then returned to a local estuary. Proceeds will benefit CCA S.C. and in turn the SCORE program.

For more information, contact Chris Hawley at 843-455-0371.

Black River stocking

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources utilized a specially equipped fish hauling truck to stock 30,000 redbreast sunfish fingerlings at Red’s Landing on the Black River between Williamsburg and Georgetown counties on Nov. 29. All of the fingerlings were produced at the Dennis Wildlife Center Fish Hatchery in Bonneau.

The DNR Freshwater Fisheries Section annually stocks from seven to 10 million fish in state waters, including striped and hybrid bass, largemouth and smallmouth bass, channel and blue catfish, bluegill, redbreast, redear sunfish (shellcracker) and rainbow, brook, and brown trout.

The Black River flows through the Palmetto State’s Coastal Plain with the headwaters originating in Lee County south of Bishopville. The river flows southeasterly through the counties of Sumter, Clarendon, and Williamsburg for 150 miles as it makes its way to join with the Great Pee Dee River in Georgetown County.

Youth Coon Hunt

A Youth Coon Hunt, sponsored by Hell Hole Coon Hunters Association, will be held Saturday near Georgetown.

The hunt is one of several regional qualifying events for the State Championship Youth Hunt. The non-kill youth hunts are designed to teach ethics and sportsmanship through low-intensity competitive events.

The top two hunters in each age bracket (6-12 and 13-17) and Sportsmanship winners will qualify for the annual South Carolina Youth Raccoon Hunting Championship at the Webb Wildlife Center in Hampton County, scheduled for Feb. 23, 2013.

For more information, call Floyd Lambert at 843-264-8093.