Here are the top five outdoors stories along the Grand Strand from 2018:
1. Hurricane Florence
The story of the year occurred when Mother Nature unleashed her fury on the eastern Carolinas in the form of Hurricane Florence in September.
The storm approached as a major Category 4 cyclone but weakened and stalled as it neared the coast just south of Wilmington, N.C.
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Florence made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, N.C., on Sept. 14 and then went on an agonizingly slow crawl for the next three days across Brunswick County, Horry County and then central South Carolina.
Copious amounts of rain were dropped, especially in eastern North Carolina, topped by 35.93 inches in Elizabethtown, N.C. The remnants finally moved to the northeast but the damage was done.
Many area rivers, particularly the Waccamaw in Horry County, saw the worst flooding in recorded history with devastating loss of homes and property.
The Waccamaw crested at 21.2 feet in Conway on Sept. 26, nearly doubling the flood stage level of 11 feet.
The Waccamaw also incurred a major fish kill, especially in the Conway area, the impact of which has yet to be determined. Scores of dead fish were seen in late September along the edges of the flooded river, in parking lots, yards, woods, roads — virtually any area adjacent to the floodwaters.
For a few weeks after the storm, the near-shore waters in the Atlantic Ocean along the Grand Strand took on the look of the rivers, dark, dingy and polluted thanks to floodwaters spewing out of the Cape Fear River just south of Wilmington.
2. Ice, ice, baby
One of the coldest prolonged stretches of winter weather in memory hit South Carolina as the calendar turned to 2018.
For eight straight days culminating on Jan. 5, the low temperature dropped below freezing, all but one in the 20s or upper teens.
On Jan. 3, Charleston received 5 inches of snow while Horry and Georgetown counties received predominantly a significant ice storm with sleet and freezing rain.
Cold stuff for coastal South Carolina, and especially cold for the Palmetto State’s population of spotted seatrout, which can become lethargic and potentially die when the water temperature is below 45 degrees for a prolonged period of time.
Only sporadic dead fish were reported in the Grand Strand area, a dead trout in Murrells Inlet and a few trout and sheepshead in Pawleys Island.
From Bulls Bay in Charleston County and points south, reports of fish kills were more dramatic.
Dr. Joey Ballenger of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources noted dead red drum, trout, sheepshead and black drum along with forage fish menhaden and mullet were found, especially in small brackish water impoundments.
In response, the SCDNR urged anglers to practice catch and release of all spotted seatrout through the end of September.
In retrospect, damage to the trout population appeared to be minimal. The 2018 fall trout fishing season, which is currently spilling over into winter thanks to warm water temperatures, has been superb, with excellent numbers of fish caught.
3. Hot Mister Pete
The crew of Mr. Pete started out the 30th annual South Carolina Governor’s Cup on fire, and finished with a record-setting flourish.
The 58-foot C&L, owned by brothers Bob and Rusty McClam of Chapin with Capt. Alan Neiford at the helm, won the first two tournaments of the series at Bohicket Marina and then the Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament out of Georgetown Landing Marina.
But heading into the final day of the final tournament at Edisto Marina, the tournament and overall series titles were still up for grabs.
Mister Pete proceeded to release four sailfish and a blue marlin for a final-day tally of 1,400 points to win the tournament and the series.
In all, Mister Pete won three of the five legs of the series and accumulated 7,875 points, well ahead of Sportin’ Life with 6,275.
Mister Pete’s point total set a new Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series record, breaking the previous record of 7,475 set by Gryphon in 2017.
4. Snook Showing
On two fishing trips in November, fishing buddies Bob Seganti and David Kingsland of Pawleys Island cast netted for bait on the south end of Winyah Bay.
Both times, a little 5-6 inch long fish with an upturned lower jaw, protruding out further than the upper jaw, and a distinct black stripe on the lateral line showed up among the mullet, shrimp and perch.
A quick check with Ballenger of the SCDNR showed there has been an uptick in the number of snook showing up in sampling done in Palmetto State estuaries by the agency.
“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 6 inches maybe 8 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.”
5. Strange Doe
When the 2018 white-tailed deer season opened on Aug. 15, Timmy Williamson and his son, Bryan, of Socastee had their eyes on a prize on the private land they hunt in the Trio area of Williamsburg County, just outside of Andrews.
While watching video from a camera set up on the property, they noticed a large deer with a sizable rack roaming the area.
“We’d been watching it probably since June of this year,” said Timmy Williamson. “We’ve been monitoring it.”
After multiple hunting trips and getting close to the deer during archery season, Bryan Williamson’s diligence paid off when, while hunting with his dad, he bagged what he thought was the buck on Sept. 2.
When the Williamson’s approached the deer and began to put the required tag in place, they didn’t notice any testicles.
“We got to looking and thought ... unreal,” said Timmy Williamson. “We had no idea it was a female.”
The large 11-point white-tailed deer, which weighed 204 pounds, was, indeed, a doe.
Roper Wilkes of 707 Deer Processing carefully skinned the deer so a full body mount could be done, and confirmed the animal had no male sex organs present.
Charles Ruth, Big Game Program coordinator for SCDNR, rarely sees or hears of such a deer harvested in the Palmetto State.
“It is very unusual,” said Ruth. “We have on the average one of these antlered does a year.”
Ruth notes the annual deer harvest is South Carolina has run between 180,000 to 200,000 a year in recent years.