The 24th season of the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfish Series kicks off this May and continues through July. The first event gives a nod toward history since the Georgetown Landing Marina Blue Marlin Tournament will celebrate its 45th anniversary. A major rules change for 2012 that will allow for the fishing rod to be passed one time has an eye on the future with hopes of promoting more youth and female angler involvement.
The SC Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series is a program of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and was established to promote the conservation of billfish species. Amy Dukes is the SCDNR Tournament Director for the Series, which consists of five separate tournaments along the entire SC coast. Points are accrued at each event and overall winners are recognized at the Governor’s Mansion later in the fall.
“We are committed to continuing our strong traditions of camaraderie and excellence in offshore fishing,” said Dukes. “New for 2012 is a rules change to promote increased family participation, by allowing the rod to be passed once as soon as possible after the fish is struck.” IGFA rules stipulate that the passing of the rod would not allow the fish to qualify as a record, but the Governor’s Cup Advisory Board voted to go ahead and make this rules change.
“We are very excited about the 2012 season since the 2011 Series experienced the highest billfish catch rate ever, and we fully expect for reels to be screaming with regularity again this year,” said Dukes. “The winter was very mild and all of our tournament anglers will be watching to see how the Gulf Stream, and the billfish bite, might be positively affected.”
The SC Governor’s Cup Series promotes the live release of billfish, although blue marlin are eligible to be brought to the docks given certain size restrictions.
“Sailfish and white marlin must be released at all times, but if a blue marlin measures or exceeds 105-inches then it may be weighed in,” said Dukes. “The last blue marlin to be weighed in at a Governor’s Cup event was in 2010 when a 515-pounder was brought to Bohicket Marina.
How do anglers measure a live blue marlin? The fish is brought alongside the boat and a streamer that is pre-measured at 105-inches is thrust into the water on a pole. “Anglers must measure from the tip of the lower jaw to the fork of the tail,” said Dukes. “Our size limit exceeds the federal government’s established legal size limit by five inches to send a strong message of conservation to our bluewater anglers.”
“Larger marlin like the ones that exceed 105-inches are always female marlin,” said Dukes. “Our state record blue marlin is 881-pounds, and if a blue marlin comes to the scales, myself and our fishery scientists will take lots of biological samples for research purposes. We share this data with NOAA’s highly migratory species research and the National Marine Fisheries Association.”
The SCDNR’s data for pelagic species like tuna, dolphin and wahoo, and their billfish records extends back to 1977, making it the longest data set in the Southeast. With this proud heritage in place, the SCDNR staff take pride in running a top notch series of tournaments where it is not uncommon to see sportsmanship in it highest form where anglers on individual sportfishing boats respect each other’s efforts.
The first tournament of the Series begins in Georgetown on May 23, and each event provides anglers a chance to fish two out of three days. A Captain’s meeting will be held on a Wednesday, with fishing held on Thursday through Saturday. The Georgetown Blue Marlin Tourney is the longest running offshore event in SC and owes its start to Wallace F. Pate who owned two charter vessels in 1968 and wanted to promote offshore fishing.
“Pate was a conservationist at heart and encouraged the live releases of billfish long before it was thought necessary to preserve their stocks,” said Dukes. “While Pate passed away in 1993, we have now established the Wallace Pate Fund which helps support research, education and the development of marine conservation projects.”
The Georgetown Landing Marina makes it easy for offshore anglers to fish the north coast formations like the Southwest Banks and the Georgetown Hole. Boats that are serious about fishing in all five Governor’s Cup events will be raring to go since an early points lead can sometimes be the key to overall success. The Reel Passion went out during the first event of 2011 and released a Grand Slam of billfish, and went on to finish as Best Billfish Boat for the entire Series.
The second leg of the Billfishing Series will be held on John’s Island at the Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament. This location offers access to the south coast of SC and is a good representation of a sea island fishing outpost. The third leg of the Series is held in Mount Pleasant, out of Toler’s Cover Marina. The newest of the five tournaments, the Carolina Billfish Classic offers a strong outreach program, working towards the funding of the SC Memorial Reef.
Historic Charleston is the centerpiece of the MegaDock Billfishing Tournament held at the City Marina in downtown Charleston. Fishing teams all find dockage together on one very long dock, and then they find great hospitality under the MegaTent just onshore. The final leg of the 2012 Gov. Cup Series is the Edisto Marina Billfish Tournament, which is held at this classic southern beach town.
To find out contact information for each tournament of the series, or to view the archives that document the tournament’s billfish releases for the past decade, visit govcup.dnr.sc.gov. Check back in with All At Sea Southeast for all of the results and exciting developments from the 2012 SC Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series.
Jeff Dennis is an outdoor writer and photographer who grew up on a creek in Charleston, loving the saltwater. He now writes regular fishing reports, works with charter captains, and is out on the water, all on a freelance basis. He will be a regular contributor with All at Sea Southeast.