The South Carolina coast has a well-established population of migratory tarpon, as the Silver Kings, the king of saltwater sportfish, move up from Florida typically in May as the water warms well into the 70s and head back south sometime in September as fall arrives.
Juvenile tarpon measuring a foot or less are occasionally caught in cast nets in South Carolina estuaries.
That is one renowned species hailing from Florida that frequents South Carolina estuaries from late spring through the summer. Could there be another?
Fishing buddies Bob Seganti and David Kingsland of Pawleys Island are convinced by firsthand experience that there is indeed another highly prized south Florida species showing up in South Carolina estuaries.
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The pair went fishing in Winyah Bay about a month ago aboard Kingsland’s 21-foot Sea Hunt, and were cast-netting bait on the bay’s south bank adjacent to the Georgetown Lighthouse.
“We got a mixed bag, shrimp, mullet, perch,” recalled Seganti. “I pulled (the net) out and there were some perch mixed in. I said ‘I don’t think that’s a perch.’ David said ‘That looks like a snook.’ “
Sure enough, there it was, a little 5-6 inch long fish with the upturned lower jaw, protruding out farther than the upper jaw. And then there was the distinct black stripe on the lateral line, thus the snook’s nickname, lineside.
They didn’t think to take a photo before releasing the fish, but Kingsland and Seganti headed out again on Nov. 18 and hit the same area once again for bait. Once again, a juvenile snook showed up in the cast net, and this time they took the time for a photo op.
“There’s no shortage of interesting things that come up in a cast net,” said Seganti. “You never know.”
A quick check with Dr. Joey Ballenger of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources shows there has been an uptick in the number of snook showing up in sampling done in Palmetto State estuaries by the agency.
S.C. DNR biologists use trammel net sampling and electro-fishing, where electricity is used to stun fish temporarily, to check on what species are present and in what numbers in South Carolina estuaries.
“We do see snook at times in our monitoring program, in low salinity areas in Charleston, Winyah Bay and the Ace Basin,” said Ballenger. “We see some of the larger ones in the fall in our trammel net surveys, to six inches maybe eight inches long.
“This year we’ve seen quite a few of those in Winyah Bay, the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor. They seem to be more frequent and more common this year than any year in the survey.”
Ballenger doesn’t know much about the presence of snook, whether the common snook or swordspine snook, in South Carolina waters, but he’s plans to learn more.
“At least some of them are spawning offshore to where the eggs and larvae are moving in (to estuaries along the coast),” said Ballenger, theorizing where the juvenile snook originate.
“We don’t know a whole lot about the ones that occur here. They seem to be getting more common in our area. We’re collecting data so we can start investigating.”
Ballenger isn’t aware of any adult snook that have been encountered in South Carolina estuaries.
“I’ve never heard of anybody catching any adult snook,” said Ballenger. “All the reports from folks around here have been in cast nets.”
Speckled Studs Tournament
The 3rd Annual Speckled Studs Trout Tournament will be held on Dec. 8 (Saturday) in Murrells Inlet.
The Captains Meeting is set for Friday at 5 p.m. on the Marsh Walk at Murrells Inlet Fishing Center.
Entry fee is $100 with two anglers allowed per boat. Proceeds of the tournament will benefit Student Angler League Tournament Trail (SALTT).
For more information, call 843-241-7022.