The S.C. Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series is an official program of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The brainchild of former S.C. Gov. Carroll A. Campbell, it consists of five privately run billfish tournaments. The 2012 Series set a record with 300 billfish releases, and a fleet of sportfishers hope to swamp that benchmark in the 25th season.
Gov. Campbell was passionate about offshore fishing, and his family kept a second home on the coast at Murrell’s Inlet. The nearby port of Georgetown served as home base for their 35-foot Bertram, the Second Lady. “Our mother, Iris Campbell was the first lady of S.C.,” said Carroll Campbell III. “The very first Governor’s Cup tourney was fished out of Georgetown, but they already had a long established blue marlin tournament. The offshore fishing network in S.C. back then was small. Size limits on blue marlin were practically unheard of and people were killing billfish, even if it was only good for second or third place.
“My father’s idea was to try and replenish the billfish stocks with the new format of awarding points for each billfish release,” he recalled. “If you consider the total number of billfish releases now off of South Carolina each year, the success percentage is way up.”
Campbell III runs a small business, and he still fishes the blue water on his 26-foot Sailfish center console. “Looking back, the times spent together offshore fishing with my father are some of my fondest memories.”
Like a lot of families, they learned something new on each fishing trip, fighting with king mackerel and then amberjack, and graduating to the pelagic species.
“This summer we will be celebrating, because 25 years ago Governor Campbell’s vision for billfish conservation became a reality. Offshore anglers, marine biologists and the citizens of South Carolina are all grateful for his efforts,” said Series Tournament Director Amy Dukes, who works closely with senior biologist and Series Program Coordinator Wallace Jenkins.
“The series encourages youth and lady angler participation, and many of these anglers catch and release their first billfish during one of our tournaments,” Dukes added. “The top anglers are invited to the governor’s mansion in Columbia each fall for our annual awards reception.”
The state record blue marlin was caught during the 2005 Charleston Harbor Resort Governor’s Cup Tournament. Angler “Corky” Taylor, fishing aboard Rascal, reeled in the 881.8-pound billfish.
“While the Governor’s Cup staff feel fortunate to be a part of a longstanding bluewater fishing tradition in S.C. with a data set going back to 1977,” said Dukes, “we are also excited to share South Carolina’s immense billfishing opportunities with others, and we regularly welcome boats from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida to our tournaments.”
The 2013 tournaments are:
• May 22-25 the 46th Annual Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament.
• June 5-8 the Bohicket Marina Invitational on John’s Island.
• June 19-22 the Carolina Billfish Classic with weigh-ins at Toler’s Cove and Georgetown Landing marinas.
• July 10-13 the Megadock Billfishing Tournament based out of Charleston City Marina.
• July 24-27 the Edisto Island Marina Billfish Tournament.
Each day of fishing concludes with a weigh-in for meatfish in the dolphin, tuna and wahoo categories. Spending time on the Governor’s Cup docks with the anglers is a great way for supporters to spend a summer afternoon. Look for more folks to take the bait and become involved with the future of the Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series.
Jeff Dennis is an outdoor writer and photographer who grew up on a creek in Charleston loving the saltwater, and he contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com