• February 2014 - Volume 9, Number 2


    Hunters from pre-teens to senior citizens put tags on great trophies.

    Another season has come and gone for South Carolina deer hunters, but not without considerable bloodshed and a collection of fine bucks on their way into the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ record book. Regardless of roller-coaster weather, the 2013 season left plenty of happy hunters across the state. This past season produced a pile of high-quality bucks for hunters from a wide range of demographics: men, women, children — even our “most experienced” individuals.  

    From neophytes to those collecting Social Security, killing trophy bucks is catching on across the ages and genders.  

    Tanner Herndon claimed the youth spot at a lively 12 years old with a huge 240-pound, 9-pointer he killed early in the august season in Dorchester County before bucks began to split off from their bachelor groups. 

    Find deep-water structure and baitfish, and plenty of gamefish await your jigging spoon at Lake Russell.

    February gives fishermen the opportunity for a 3-for-1 special on Lake Richard B. Russell. Action on big striped bass is excellent on the lower end of the lake, especially early in the morning. Fishing for spotted bass and largemouth bass is outstanding with jigging spoons, and the middle of the lake holds a buffet of hungry gamefish.

    Guide Wendell Wilson of Elberton, Ga., said the only problem is the rigging, tackle and techniques required for each is different.

    Jigging, plugging or trolling, bluefins are there for the taking.

    Bluefin tuna is the species that has driven the largest paradigm shift in the recent history of North Carolina’s saltwater big-game fishing. When it was discovered that they spend a good portion of their winters in the waters off the Tarheel State, efforts to target them immediately extended the fishing season into the cold-weather months.  

    First found by fisherman targeting striped bass off of the beaches on the Outer Banks, the giant tunas — vying for the same menhaden as the rockfish — would occasionally grab a plug launched on spinning or casting gear in the direction of a striper, then immediately destroy the angler’s tackle. It didn’t take long before boats were targeting them with gear more suited to handling their size and power.

    In the early days of the fishery, the mid- to late-1990s, virtually all bluefins were targeted by chunking; they were drawn to the stern of large sportfishing boats by chunks of butterfish and herring turned into a chum slick. When the tuna showed, a hook was baited and allowed to float down through the slick.  It usually wasn’t long until a reel started screaming and the angler was hooked up. 

    Big baits usually mean big fish on Lake Wateree in February.

    February may be considered a slow time for many fish species, but that’s not the case for blue catfish at Lake Wateree. Certainly, the air is likely to be cold and the water temperature near its lowest point of the year, especially early in the month, but that doesn’t seem to bother blues, because the action for big fish is as good as any time of the year. 

    Reports from expert anglers back that up. Action can be fast-paced, but it can also be slower, with a bite here and there on occasion. But in February, the odds that the next bite might be a 40-pound or larger catfish is as good as they get on this lake.

    Fish low end of tide when sun has warmed shallows.

    Cold and red is an excellent combination in Brunswick County. At least that’s what Capt. Mark Stacy thinks when winter sets in along North Carolina’s southernmost coast.

    Stacy, who operates Ocean Isle Fishing Charters in Ocean Isle, has a fascination for the rivers, the Intracoastal Waterway and numerous small creeks that form the estuary system between the Shallotte River and the South Carolina line. When he doesn’t have a charter, he’s often out scouting for places to fish; over the years, he’s found a lot of fish — especially winter redfish — in places that are well hidden in the marsh or so obvious that other anglers ride past and wonder why he is there.

    One February morning last year found him heading down the waterway to harass a school of redfish holed up in a deep spot in a creek well back in the marsh behind Sunset Beach. As he rounded a bend, a wake built and surged forward for a handful of yards just off the bank.

    State’s special program has 33 bodies of water in 18 western counties.

    The late Lee Wulff, a master fly-fisherman, once wisely stated, “Gamefish are too valuable to be caught only once.” That goes directly to the heart of delayed-harvest trout fishing, a system that serves the catch-and release-fisherman as well as the angler that desires to keep his catch for a nice fish dinner. 

    Personally, I enjoy fishing in the fall, winter and spring on delayed-harvest streams because of the possibility of constant action. In addition to the numerous fish in the 10- to 12-inch range, the occasional brood fish that is stocked or a holdover from previous stockings can add the element of surprise. Several occasions come to mind when these large fish responded, making the day special.

    Look for speckled trout in deep holes close to shallow water for best winter results.

    A typical inshore fishing report in March or April might comment that, “The trout fishing is starting to crank back up” after the winter. Fall reports have touted ample available catches of speckled trout “until the water cools off.”

    News flash, folks. Unless an extreme cold snap results in a cold-stun and fish kill, plenty of trout are around to be had through the winter and especially in February — you just need to know where to look for them.

     To learn how to find and catch them, you turn to an expert like Jeff Yates of TyJo Knot Charters in Mt Pleasant.

    “Once the water temperature drops below 60 degrees, that’s what ushers in what I consider to be the free-lining season, the time I free-line an artificial bait deep and slow,” Yates said. “Prior to that, it’s still live-bait season and all the ways you present live bait, but the way I free-line an artificial bait is different. It’s a subtle presentation that works in part because the trout aren’t moving as fast and because the trash fish that would normally hit the bait first are gone.”

    Square-billed crankbaits, jigs, jerkbaits are weapons for Lake Norman’s early bass.

    February is the month marked by Valentine’s Day, and it’s when bass pro Bryan Thrift of Shelby loves Lake Norman. But it’s not a roses and chocolates thing; rather, the second month of the year offers a tremendous opportunity to catch some of the biggest bags of bass of any time.

    This is prespawn time. Big, ripe females with bulging bellies are preparing for their shallow move, but first, they’ll undertake a serious feeding binge.

    “This is one of the best times of the year to catch a big bag of fish on Lake Norman,” said Thrift, a past Angler of the Year on the FLW Tour. “Usually, this time of year, the fish are a lot fatter and healthier. Some of the biggest bags I’ve seen on Norman have come in February.

    Troll or cast in shallow, clear White Lake, and there’s no telling what might bite back.

    For the past several years, Butch Foster of Southport has been making regular fishing trips to White Lake. Normally, Foster specializes in taking saltwater anglers far out into the ocean — he owns Yeah Right Charters — but he is also an avid freshwater fisherman, using a skiff to access some of the inland lakes in southeastern North Carolina.

    “I come to White Lake because it reminds me of the lakes I used to fish when I lived in the Piedmont,” he said. “It doesn’t have the numbers of bass of High Rock and doesn’t have any crappie. But the bass are big and fat, and the yellow perch take the place of the crappie I loved to catch.

    “I hope we catch some yellow perch. They are one of the best eating fish in freshwater.”

    Wild hogs cover much of South Carolina, offering plenty of hunting opportunties.

    Don Houck and another hunter crouched together just around the corner of a food plot and peered into the pre-dawn darkness. The full moon and high-powered optics allowed the pair to scan the far end of the green patch in search of the quarry. 

    “Just to the right of the corn pile,” Houck said. “It’s a big black ’bo hog. See if you can slip around there and get a shot at him.”

    A little maneuvering, a little slipping, and the big hog was centered in the crosshairs, soon to receive a healthy dose of ballistic tipped lead. At the report, the boar shuddered from the impact of the .308 slug and charged into the undergrowth before mortality caught up with him and put him down just out of sight.

    Fishing vertically around reef structure can produce plenty of sheepshead.

    If Mother Nature turns off the fan and lets the bumpy seas subside, Murrells Inlet anglers can cure cabin fever right on their doorsteps. All those sheepshead that make inshore waters home most of the year are living around a handful of artificial reefs in sight of the Myrtle Beach skyline, and they won’t be their normal, finicky selves.

    With their spring spawn on the horizon, sheepshead that move into the ocean as the water cools in the fall will eat just about anything they can get in their mouths. And while some of them will be around reefs in 100 feet of water, the majority will stay close to shore, hanging around the massive schools of lunker black sea bass that move in to take over nearshore reefs during the winter.

    Still-hunt, stands, dogs and traps can help North Carolina hunters put the slam on wild ham.

    Even though North Carolina’s deer season ended a month or so ago, big-game hunters looking for a different target can find plenty of action close to home with one of the meanest animals roaming the countryside, the wild hog. And one thing special about them is, hunters can utilize a wide range of creative tactics to bring home the bacon.  

    Wild hogs, aka feral swine, are becoming abundant across the state. Nearly half of North Carolina’s 100 counties have distinct populations, but hogs have not always been a part of the ecosystem. 

    February is big-fish month for fishermen who target blue catfish on Lake Wateree. We'll show you how to do it.