by Rick Stringer
I last wrote about the fact that great white sharks frequent the area when the water temperature drops. This was suspected for many years but now is factually verified through satellite tagging. Since our local warm water shark population leaves the area during this time the question of food source for the great whites comes to mind.
In November 2008 a 13 foot long female great white shark stranded and died on Morris Island. The biologist who examined the stomach contents stated that it contained large amounts of scales from a large fish my dad and his friends called channel bass.
The scientific name for this fish is Sciaenops ocellatus, but it has many common names, including redfish, red drum, spotail, and the stated channel bass.
In the 1950s and 60s my dad, Ed Stringer and his friends in their small mostly wooden boats would go to Morris Island to fish the surf for channel bass. They all had their own boats and would make a day of it, fishing and later cooking on the beach. I wasn’t very old but they let me come along a few times.
It was quite a sight with 6 or more boats roaring down the Folly River towards Morris Island. Some of the names I remember included Charlie Yarnell, Herman Hagen, Mr. Hiott, Mr. Barnes, Homer and Thurmond Wood, and Mr. Robinson. I’m sure I’ve left some out.
At that time the lighthouse was still operational and painted black and white. We would pull up the boats behind the island and then walk across to get to the surf to fish. For a young boy it didn’t get much better.
Most of the men would spread out close to where we walked over, but Mr. Barnes, the oldest in the group, always walked a mile or two down the beach. He also nearly always seemed to catch the most.
They caught large channel bass and they brought them back to eat. At the time it seemed like the thing to do because there were plenty to catch. This changed later but today, after some regulation they have made a nice comeback.
Back then, after they were done fishing, they would go back down the river and cook a meal, usually a stew, on the banks of whatever island they picked. Sometimes it would be a small island surrounded by a large mudflat (low tide).
To get to the island they would run the boats full speed, sliding up the mud bank to the island. Burger beer may have been somewhat involved, but at the time I thought it way cool! [Ed.: What is Burger beer? RS: A now extinct brand of beer.]
Mr. Hagen was one of dad’s more colorful friends. He always had the fastest car and the fastest boat. He was the first to buy a fiberglass boat and powered it with the biggest motor that Mercury at the time made. Unfortunately it decided not to start one time. Finally, exhausted and fed up, Herman took his shotgun and blasted it. At least that was what Thurmond Wood told me when I saw him towing Mr. Hagen back in.
Anyway, getting back to the channel bass, in more recent years blackened redfish became a delicacy and overfishing depleted the population. As a result it became illegal to keep the larger fish. For many years now the regulations have only permitted keeping fish that are between 15“ and 23“.
The results have been overwhelmingly positive and now channel bass are caught regularly in the 25 to 35 pound range, and, of course, released to be caught again. As a side note, the largest caught in South Carolina was a 75 pound fish caught back in 1965 at Murrells Inlet.
Every year I catch a few while shark fishing around Folly and in the Stono inlet. They seem to fill the same niche in the food chain that sharks do in the warmer months. I’ve caught them using shrimp, crab, fish and even shark for bait.
They give a good account of themselves on spinning tackle and this can be attested to by my grandson Bret Nettles who is pictured. He’s about the same age as I was when I hung around my dad’s gang back in the day. I’m very glad the channel bass are still around for kids like Bret and hope that will be the case for many generations to come.
To read the next article in the series, click here.
Rick Stringer is our Ocean Correspondent and an attorney at Stringer and Stringer, Attorney’s at Law.