The west-southwest wind was howling, but it takes more than that to keep Dr. Jason Rosenberg from his weekly Wednesday afternoon outdoors extravaganza.
Rosenberg, a board certified neurologist and pain doctor at SC Pain & Spine Specialists in Murrells Inlet, is owner of the appropriately named 32-foot Contender, Painkiller.
The doctor always has designs on a saltwater fishing trip or a hunting trip and most every Wednesday he can be found fishing aboard the Painkiller or hunting in the woods. On this day in the fall, Rosenberg had what he dubs “surf and turf” in mind – a fishing trip followed by a hunting trip.
On this Wednesday, a stiff west-southwest wind nixed the idea of heading offshore for some trolling action for wahoo, or blackfin tuna and dolphin. Even targeting king mackerel in the 10-20 mile range seemed a little dicey.
But with the calendar reading early October, there was plenty of activity on the beach to turn to. With Rosenberg and Capt. Jay Sconyers taking turns at the helm, Painkiller was headed north along the beach once we cleared the Murrells Inlet jetties about noon.
Sconyers had a hard-bottom spot in mind about a mile off the north end of Surfside Beach. He zeroed in on the spot, dropped the anchor and dipped into the live well for finger mullet.
Along the way, we spotted fish – likely Spanish mackerel and bonito – crashing schools of bait. We stopped a few times to catch plugs into the bait but to no avail.
Fall is the season that mature red drum, better known as bull reds, congregate near and inside inlets and along the beaches on a spawning mission, and that is what Sconyers was after on the bottom spot.
The anglers, including Jan Whitaker of Sumter, Tripp Hutto of Georgetown, Rosenberg and myself, dropped down Carolina rigs baited with either live or cut finger mullet on spinning tackle in 25 feet of water.
A little over 30 minutes later, the only bites had come from black sea bass just under the 13-inch minimum size limit, and Sconyers decided it was time to make a move.
Sconyers moved the short distance to the midst of the traditional fall fishing spot just off Surfside Beach, a sprawling area of hard-bottom especially known to hold weakfish this time of year.
Again, Sconyers dropped the anchor and the anglers dropped the mullet on Carolina rigs in 18-20 feet of water. We caught several weakfish, also known as summer trout, and a few more undersized black sea bass in the next 30 minutes or so.
Then, Whitaker and Rosenberg both were suddenly hooked up with what we were after – a doubleheader of bull reds, also known as a Chinese fire drill.
For the next 10 minutes, Whitaker and Rosenberg battled the bullish reds before Sconyers first netted Whitaker’s fish and laid it on the deck, then Rosenberg’s.
The two fish, in the 35-to-40 inch range, were then quickly held up for a photo op before Sconyers returned them to the water as carefully as possible.
After the release, Sconyers kept his eye out to make sure the fish didn’t turn belly up and float to the surface, in need of further reviving.
Another 30 minutes or so of fishing produced a few more weakfish and black sea bass. Most of the weakfish were under the 12-inch minimum size limit (one per person per day) and all were released.
At mid-afternoon, the “surf” portion of Rosenberg’s day was over and the doctor moved on to the “turf” excursion – a few hours of dusk deer-hunting at Bark Landing near Andrews.
Rosenberg later noted he saw several small bucks and also a three-pointer, but decided to wait for a bigger and better buck another time.
All in all, it was a typical Wednesday for the avid outdoorsman, from surf to turf.
The two red drum caught on the trip were typical of what is available to anglers along the Carolina coast in the fall.
The adults of the species move in from the ocean from about early September through early November to spawn in local estuaries and can be encountered on hard-bottom areas near the beach, at jetties and around area inlets.
The fish are also fattening up for the winter on the prolific amount of bait that is present in the inlets and along the beach.
South Carolina’s slot limit on red drum is 15 to 23 inches, and all of the mature red drum easily measure above the slot and must be released.
Male red drum reach sexual maturity at about 3 years of age and at 27-28 inches in length, while it takes the females longer – about 4-to-5 years and 31-33 inches.
Red drum can live over 40 years, thus the oldest and largest adult fish could be members of the spawning population for well over 30 years.
Red drum are considered to be South Carolina’s most popular inshore saltwater game fish and their value to saltwater anglers and businesses near the Palmetto State’s coast is immense.
While it is great angling action to catch these long-lived members of the spawning population, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to carefully release them and be sure they are fully revived after undergoing the stress of being caught.
The future of South Carolina’s red drum population depends on it.