Redfishing the Grand Strand 101

July 23rd, 2010

The Grand Strand area stretches from Little River, SC and terminates at Winyah Bay, SC. Summer tourists, snowbirds, college students and families take advantage of the many attractions. One lesser-known adventure is fishing for redfish. Anglers do not have to travel to Florida or Louisiana to chase this popular game fish. Some of the best fishing can occur in the cooler months of the year and right into March and April. As water begins to warm, hungry redfish are eager to chomp on artificial lures and flies. The colder than usually winter has fishing forecasts looking very good, very soon.

Redfish have many names as far as fish go but in this area, spotted bass seems to be most popular because of the distinguishing dark spot located on the tail region. Many times there may be multiple spots resembling an eye in attempts to fool predators. The inlets around the Grand Strand create creek channels leading to back country areas characterized by tidal marsh, mud flats, spartina grass and oyster bars. The spot tail bass thrives in this habitat, as does the forage it loves to eat.

Prey can be anything from grass shrimp, mud crabs, swimming crabs and smaller baitfish like menhaden and mullet. With such a large selection on the menu, redfish are opportunistic feeders. For savvy anglers it means a variety of methods will work and work 365 days a year. Still all anglers have a favorite go-to lure tied on to start any day.

Some of the more popular ones are gold spoons, lead head jigs with curly grubs, minnow plugs and my personal preference – flies. Fly choices include seaducers, shrimp patterns, crab patterns, Clousers and a few baitfish patterns. Weedless flies can reduce hang-ups.

Lure and fly selection is not all that critical. What is critical is to present lures out in front of feeding or active fish without spooky them. Many times fish are in very shallow water in the backcountry, which is where the food is and flipper is not. As a general rule to keep things simple, match the color of the lure to the bottom you are fishing over. If fish refuse it, go smaller. The rule applies for many saltwater scenarios.

New gear is not necessary, as most bass outfits will work fine. Braided or fluorocarbon lines will aid in casting distance as well as protection against the abrasive saltwater environment.  Longer cast help keep fish unaware of your presence. Any moderate priced 8wt fly rod with matching reel/drag system rigged with a floating line and 15 lb tapered leaders will suffice.

Tides play an integral role in the salt and anglers need to pay attention to the cycles of moving water to achieve success. Tides constantly are draining and filling the marshes. The tide moves the food and the redfish follow. During the cooler months, redfish tend to school in groups for feeding and protection. Low tide from 10a to about 2p in the cooler months allows for good sight-fishing conditions and maximizes warmth. Warmer months find fish spread out more and moving into the grass flats on high tide. New and full moons have greater high tides and flood flats with enough water for fish to move up into areas that are not typically covered. Fish aggressively feed and dig for fiddler crabs. Many times only a tail breaking the surface in a few inches of water reveals a feeding fishes location. Hence the term tailers or tailing tides. This fishing situation is an adrenaline rush and anglers travel far and wide for it. Remember when searching for redfish, they can almost always be associated with grass flats at anytime of the year and at any tide cycle.

With a constantly changing environment from the tides, anglers are recommended to hire a guide to get the lay of the land. Hitting hazards or running aground can make for a long wait in the mud. Plus good guides can make a good day on the water a great day. Plenty of guides specialize in redfishing and are familiar with tidal conditions.

In SC, redfish are classified as a game fish and cannot be bought or sold. Be sure to consult possession and size limits if you are harvesting a fish to take home. Only take what you can sensible use. It is a right to fish and every right comes with responsibility. Redfish are vulnerable to over harvest even from recreational anglers. To ensure future generations this opportunity practice catches and release for this wonderful game fish.

Capt Paul Rose is a fly fishing guide for bass, redfish, trout and carp. His website is www.carolinabonefishing.com

Come for the Day at Spud’s

July 23rd, 2010

'Eb & Flo's Steam Bar

Looking for a waterside spot with great local seafood? You’ll find that – plus entertainment enough to last from lunch to the wee hours at Spud’s Waterfront Dining at the southernmost end of the Marshwalk in Murrells Inlet.

Part of the Crazy Sister Marina complex, Spud’s occupies the point of a peninsula, so there’s a great water view on three sides. Bifold doors open most of one wall of the inside dining room, lending a fresh outdoor flavor even indoors. “The place has a very open, casual feeling,” says general manager Seth Williams, whose family owns the marina complex. There’s also an outdoor dining room, plus bars outside and in, which give Spud’s dining space for 120 plus another 50 or so at the bars. That means it’s big enough for large events, and catering is available.

The complex includes the marina itself plus Captain Dick’s water sports store, where you can rent boats and jet skis, go parasailing, and connect with charters for fishing and marsh and ocean exploring.

At Spud’s (named for Seth’s childhood nickname), you’ll find a half-dozen or more fish offered fresh daily, depending on what local fishermen are catching. “We’ve introduced a mix and match thing, which seems to be very popular,” says Williams. “You choose the fish you want, and decide how you want it cooked – blackened, Mediterranean style, stuffed with crab or fried.” You’ll also find the traditional fried seafood platter, as well as steaks, chicken, shrimp and crabmeat primavera and a unique twist on shrimp and grits. For lighter fare there’s a complete range of salads and sandwiches including po’ boys, crab cake, French dip, chicken and burgers. The Crazy Sister house wine gets good reviews, and desserts include key lime pie, chocolate cake and cheesecake.

Spud’s is open for lunch and dinner at 4123 U.S. 17 Business in Murrells Inlet. Happy Hour from 4-7 p.m. features half-price appetizers and drink specials. There’s entertainment in summer – acoustic soloists during the week, full bands on the weekends, and occasional fire and hula shows. “The best entertainment is the place itself,” says Williams. “It’s a fun, lively atmosphere. There’s always something going on. You can watch boats coming and going at the marina, watch people clean fish on the dock, and rent jet skis or parasail from Captain Dick’s. We have some people who come for lunch, stay all day, then come back to eat, drink and listen to music at the Tiki bar. That’s what makes it fun.”

Georgetown Landing: More Than a Marina

July 23rd, 2010

Stop by the Georgetown Landing Marina one weekday afternoon and you’ll see why this venerable Grand Strand landmark is more than just a marina. It’s a Low Country blend of general store, community center, fishing hole and corner tavern. Most days, a group of locals will be gathered around the dockside gazebo, stopping by after their workday to see who’s caught what. It’s a cozy, friendly scene, played out in front of the sunny second-floor observation deck above.

In fact, that’s how general manager John Horton happened to come to work there a few months ago. “I’d worked in the marine industry for eight years, and I always enjoyed being here and seeing the fish,” he said. “I knew these people, and when the opportunity came up to work here, I was glad to join them.”

At 432 Marina Dr. and mile marker 403 on the ICW, Georgetown Landing sits just off U.S. 17 at the Black/Pee Dee River Bridge on Georgetown’s northern end. It’s the area’s largest full-service marina, with 175 slips and 1,300 linear feet of dock space. Built in 1982, the marina immediately established itself as a fishing destination by hosting the Georgetown Blue Marlin tournament, part of the S.C. Governor’s Cup series. The tournament has been there ever since. “We have sailboats and cruisers, too, but we’re known as the fishing marina in Georgetown,” said Horton.

Further evidence of Georgetown Landing’s fishing credentials is the S.C. state record blue marlin mounted on the dock near the gazebo. Weighing in at 881 pounds and 12 ounces, it was caught by Corky Taylor aboard Norman Pulliam’s “Rascal” with captain and crew Mark Rogers and Dennis Williams in June 2005.

With its mantra of “good old-fashioned service and Southern hospitality,” the marina takes pride in welcoming visitors and meeting their every need. “The people are great,” said Capt. Mike McDonald, owner of Gul-R-Boy Guide Service, a local fishing charter operation. “It’s fun to go by and see what boats have come in off the waterway and just hang out. But it’s definitely an upscale family place where you can turn your kids loose without worrying about them – not a beer joint.”

“We have more staff than most,” said Horton. “We’re one of the older marinas, and we make up for that by offering really great service.” From transients to liveaboards, boaters can find virtually everything they need:  dockside electricity and fresh water, haul-out, ethanol-free gasoline and diesel, free Wi-Fi, spacious restrooms and showers, laundry facilities with a “take-one, leave-one” library, and fish cleaning and pumpout stations. The ship’s store offers snacks, drinks, tackle, frozen baits, cleaning supplies, clothing and accessories, as well as FedEx, UPS and mail service. There’s no in-house service operation, but a half-dozen boat captains work at the marina for private boat owners, so help with repair, cleaning or moving is readily available.

The marina shares ownership with the adjacent Hampton Inn and Quality Inn Suites, making it the perfect spot for transients ready for a break. A reciprocal agreement gives marina customers discounted rates, and the Land’s End seafood restaurant, soon to re-open after renovations, offers a good meal to long-distance boaters weary of eating from their galley.

The motels and restaurant also make Georgetown Landing a prime location for fishing tournaments. The 43rd annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament is set for Memorial Day weekend, May 26-29. Last year it drew 48 boats. The second annual Georgetown Meatfish Slam, June 2-5, which offers more than $11,000 in prizes, raises funds for college scholarships through Kids’ Chance of South Carolina. The 15th annual Tailwalker’s Offshore Challenge, scheduled for June 11-13, last year rewarded fishermen with more than $70,000. The Carolina Billfish Classic, set for June 23-26 at three S.C. ports including Georgetown Landing Marina, offers up to $46,000 in prizes, including a $10,000 purse for its 40-feet-and-under smaller boat division. In addition, the marina will host the J.J. Heiden Children’s Bottom Fishing Tournament in June and an inshore tournament (details to be announced) in September.

That’s a ton of fishing, major bucks and a swirl of activity for this unpretentious Georgetown marina that locals love. “It’s nothing fancy – just a dockhouse,” said Horton. “But it’s a place of hospitality, with great service and a definitely Southern feel, and we’re proud of that.”