The cold spell the Carolina coast has been under since the day after Christmas, culminating in a layer of ice and snow left behind by Winter Storm Grayson on Wednesday, is likely having a deadly impact on the population of spotted seatrout.
With ice forming in local marshes, the water temperature has taken a drastic plunge, which spells big trouble for the saltwater species of trout, and potentially red drum.
Spotted seatrout become lethargic and potentially die when the water temperature is below 45 degrees for a prolonged period of time, and the area is in what the National Weather Service terms a “long duration extreme cold event.”
Over the 10-day stretch from Dec. 26 through Jan. 4, the high temperature reached only 50 degrees on one day (Dec. 30) according to National Weather Service daily weather data for North Myrtle Beach, and five of those days the high stayed in the 30s.
Through Thursday night-Friday morning, the low temperature had been below freezing for eight straight days, all but one in the 20s or upper teens.
And the well-below-normal cold isn’t over yet. The temperature isn’t expected to get above 40 degrees until Monday, when a high in the mid-50s is forecast.
On Friday afternoon, Capt. Jerry Condenzio, Jr. of Capt. Crumb’s Outpost in Myrtle Beach reported a water temperature of 41 degrees in Murrells Inlet.
At the Customs House on Charleston Harbor, the water temperature dropped to 42 degrees on Friday morning and at Pawleys Island’s Hagley Landing, located just north of Winyah Bay on the Waccamaw River, the water temperature dipped to 38 degrees.
“The fish were biting good before this,” said Capt. Dan Connolly of O-Fish-Al Expeditions in Murrells Inlet. “I don’t know what’s going on out there now.”
North Carolina quickly announced a closure of spotted seatrout for all anglers, both recreational and commercial. Beginning Friday at 3 p.m., it became unlawful to possess, transport, buy, sell or offer for sale spotted seatrout taken from coastal and joint fishing waters of North Carolina until the fishery re-opens on June 15.
The closure was implemented by a proclamation by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF).
“The public is asked to not target (trout in South Carolina waters),” said Wallace Jenkins of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division in Charleston. “They (NCDMF) have proclamation authority, we don’t have that. We know that temperature reading from the Customs House is pretty serious. That’s pretty hard on the trout.”
Jenkins has observed salt marsh areas in the aftermath of the storm, which dumped a historic 5 inches of snow in the Charleston vicinity.
“The marsh was covered with snow at low tide,” said Jenkins. “When the water comes back in, it’s like slushy super-chilled water. I’m sure they’re not doing well. We don’t have any (trout) mortalities we can document. I’m sure we’ll be getting reports.
“Hopefully this hasn’t impacted the (red drum) because they already were not doing great but the trout will be impacted.”
Residents are urged to report any cold-stunned or dead fish to S.C. DNR’s Joseph Ballenger at email@example.com.
Gregg Holshouser: firstname.lastname@example.org