Grand Strand Fishing Report April-May 2021
Mike Marsh’s book, Fishing North Carolina, shares his best-kept secrets for fishing 100 lakes, rivers, ponds, sounds and piers.
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What to expect when you head out to fish the Grand Strand over the next few weeks. Get a clue from noted outdoor writer Mike Marsh.
Capt. Larry Horowitz (Voyager Deep Sea Fishing and Dolphin Cruises, 843-626-4900) said all of his boats would be running wide open, catching all available sportfish species from the inlets on out to the Gulf Stream.
"In April and May, the blue water trolling will really turn on," he said. "We will be catching some really great fish along the continental break, with the Winyah Scarp, Blackjack and Steeples some of the best places to fish."
Anglers will be catching wahoo, blackfin tuna, mahi and other tuna species. The best lures are flashy Islander trolling skirts rigged with ballyhoos or strip baits.
The bottom fish action will be on fire at 110 to 130 feet to the Gulf Stream ledges. When the season for grouper opens, everyone heading out to the live bottoms and ledges wants to catch them. They are big fish that fight hard and offer some great eating. Besides the more common species - red, gag and scamp grouper – some of the less common species will be swinging over the side. Some of the oddball bottom fish species are yellowmouth, yellowfin and black grouper, rock and red hind, and hog snapper. Good old standby bottom fish that will also fill anglers' stringers for some good eating are redmouth, white and other grunts, red and jolthead porgy, spottail pinfish, black sea bass, rudderfish, beeliners, snappers, gray and queen triggerfish as well as huge amberjacks that will hit anything dropped down on a hook and pull hard all the way up from the bottom. Parents should be sure any kids who ride along on a bottom fishing trip sit near one of the stern corners of the boat, where the mates will be setting out light line rigs with live baits that will entice king mackerel, cobia, amberjack, sharks and mahi.
The inshore trolling action also ramps up, with anglers trolling Clarkspoons for Atlantic bonito, Spanish mackerel and bluefish tangling with schools of these tasty fish. King mackerel will start biting at the end of May with the best places 15 miles out at the Jungle, 55-foot Hole and Shark Hole. Best bets for kings are Drone Spoons and frozen cigar minnows rigged on trolling skirts.
The Voyager fleet includes the 100-foot Super Voyager III, 100-foot Continental Shelf, 70-feet Starship and Voyager 44-foot sport fisherman. Super Voyager runs a 12-hour bottom fishing trip every Tuesday and Friday. The Continental Shelf Runs a 12-hour trip every Tuesday. The Starship runs 1/2-day bottom fishing trips every day and three dolphin cruises each week. The Voyager runs trolling trips dependent on the weather and offshore bookings.
Apache Pier, Myrtle Beach
Calvin Dickerson (Apache Pier, 843-497-6486) said the Spanish mackerel action would heat up the onset of warmer water temperatures.
"Spanish mackerel and blues will be schooling around the pier in April," he said. "The king mackerel will move in at the end of May and we will have our one-day king mackerel tournament May 22."
Whiting will be biting well into April. Flounder will move in by late April. Black drum and sheepshead will hit the pier in May.
Pier anglers cast Mackerel Trees, Got-cha lures and jigging spoons to catch Spanish mackerel and bluefish. When the fish are schooling near the pier, anglers can jig a spoon or lure up and down rather than making long casts. The best times to fish for Spanish mackerel and bluefish are early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the fish are jumping near the end of the pier.
Anglers use trolley rigs to catch the biggest Spanish mackerel and king mackerel. There are many variations of a trolley rig, but it requires two rods – a fight rod and an anchor rod. The live bait slides to the water on the line of the anchor rod, which holds it in place. The best baits for king mackerel are bluefish and pinfish and the pier has a live bait tank for holing them at the of the pier.
The universal bait for most of the bottom fish species is shrimp. However, anglers will have good luck by using cut fish as well. Sheepshead and black drum will also bite fiddler crabs and barnacles fished beside the pier pilings. Flounder will bite mud minnows best.
The pier sells live mud minnows, night crawlers, red worms and blood worms. Also available from the pier house are frozen mullet, sand fleas and squid. Fish Bites shrimp and bloodworm scented strips, as well as strips in other flavors and colors, also work for catching many species.
Springmaid Pier, Myrtle Beach
After having been closed for four years in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, Springmaid Pier (843-315-7156) reopened last summer. The pier is its original length of 1,068 feet, but some changes are still ongoing. It costs $3 to walk the pier and $12 to fish with two rods. Pier Master Lucas Unger said fish are always biting at the pier.
"As the water temperature increases the fishing will liven up," Unger said. "By April, we will have some flounder and pompano coming in. A lot of slot reds will be caught in the surf. Other great fish that will be biting in April and May are gray trout (weakfish) croaker, sheepshead and black drum."
The last week of April will have menhaden and mullet showing up. Therefore, the first week of May typically hosts the first king mackerel catch as the big predatory fish move in after the baitfish schools. While tarpon can't be landed on the pier, anglers who hook them can walk their rods to the pier house, down to the beach and release them in the surf. Most of the tarpon are hooked by anglers casting big big-lipped Rapala X-Raps for Spanish mackerel, but anglers who fish with king mackerel rigs may hook them as well.
After its long hiatus, Springmaid Pier will also be participating in the Grand Strand Fishing Rodeo along with Cherry Grove, Apache and Myrtle Beach State Park piers on June 5-6.
The tackle shop expanded its offerings ten-fold so it is now a full service, one-stop tackle bonanza. Unger said that fishermen never need to stop anywhere else to shop before they walk out on the pier and that if they lose, break or forget anything for catching fish replacements are readily available at the tackle shop. The bait supply has also been expanded and now includes salt clams, sand fleas (mole crabs), mullet, squid, shrimp, blood worms and Fish Bites artificial strips.
Capt. Jay Baisch (Fishfull Thinking Guide Service, 843-902-0356 and Baisch Boys Bait and Tackle, 843-651-1915) said there's nothing sheepish about sheepshead fishing up in fire April.
"The sheepshead will come back to the jetties where they hit barnacles and fiddler crabs fished on bottom rigs," he said. "A few black drum will also bite the same sheepshead rigs."
As the nasty grass that fouls angler's hooks in early spring dissipates with warming water temperatures and changing current, the fishing will grow easier for flounder, which will be hitting mud minnows fished on bottom rigs. Redfish and black drum will also hit shrimp and clams hooked on bottom rigs.
Speckled trout will strike jigs with soft plastic trailers. When the bluefish show up, anglers have to switch to hard lures because the toothier blues bite off the tails of soft plastics.
Spanish mackerel will swarm the tips of the jetties and nearshore reefs in April, where anglers who troll spoons will fill their coolers with them. Weakfish will strike jigs, jigging spoons and baited bottom rigs at the three-mile ledges and reefs.
By May, the ledges and artificial reefs will be teeming with king mackerel and cobia, which will strike trolled live baits and frozen cigar minnows on light tackle rigs. Kings will also hit trolling spoons. Anglers can also cast big jigs for cobia on sight-fishing expeditions, looking for fish near baitfish schools, ray schools, flotsam and hard structure areas. Flounder fishermen will also catch flatfish using live baits and jigs at the artificial reefs and ledges.
Capt. Mike McDonald (Gul-R-Boy Guide Service, 843-546-3625) said everything will be biting.
"Red drum, black drum, flounder and trout will be biting," he said. "If you can name the fish, you can't go wrong with using fresh shrimp for bait whether it's on a float rig or a bottom rig."
The best places to fish are the edges of the grass beds and oyster beds. All of these fish will also strike live mud minnows and mullet. However, anglers who specifically want to catch black drum may find their luck is better by sticking with the crustacean baits.
When specifically targeting red drum with live or cut baits on bottom rigs, anglers should use circle hooks to prevent deep hooking the fish. Speckled trout anglers may have their best luck by fishing with rattle float rigs.
Speckled trout and puppy drum will also strike jigs with Haw River twisty tail trailers. Any color combination with a green or pink tail will attract attention. Speckled trout and puppy drum will also torpedo topwater walk-the-dog lures such Rapla Skitter Walks with vengeance.
CAPT. MIKE McDONALD, GUL-R-BOY GUIDE SERVICE