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Chanticleer team takes 1st place in fishing tournament

November 7, 2008

Captain Jack Orr of the "New Inlet Princess" was on the phone to Dave Sears, a fellow boat captain, last Thursday night: "Have you been getting any kings?"

Sears replied that he was about to call Orr and ask him the same thing. Neither had been out for a fortnight and each wanted some help catching king mackerel for their fares. It had been windy with rough seas and nobody had been landing any fish lately.

Orr was running his beamy head boat out of Captain Dick's Marina in Murrells Inlet for collegiate anglers from Clemson University, the University of South Carolina and Coastal Carolina University (the host school), participants in the 35th annual Coastal Carolina Invitational, the oldest college fishing match in the world. It is a unique sporting event that allows male and female students to compete on equal terms, that is if they can avoid mal de mer, the bane of mariners throughout history.

In the pre-dawn dark, cold coaches and students loaded their king mackerel tackle on board and Orr guided his boat out into the sunrise. Murrells Inlet was still, but a few of the many hundreds of spot fishermen who would greet the collegians upon their return from offshore were already launching their skiffs and pontoon boats.

Orr headed offshore into four-foot swells from the northeast, a bit rough but definitely fishable. Some 20 miles offshore he slowed the Princess for a drift. Anglers began jigging Sabiki rigs, small hooks with feathers and live bait. Bryan Cox of Coastal Carolina jigged a bright metal lure for kings and had a strike from what may have been an amberjack. No kings hit any of the frozen baits.

Orr then took the boat out another 10 miles to cleaner water. Capt. Ryan Powers and Dr. Joey Sanders, both Coastal alumni, were coaching one of the two Coastal Carollna teams. Professor Erin Burge of Coastal Carolina's Department of Marine Science was reduced to a one-man team of Powers and his jigs after one of his marine science students found the seas a bit upsetting.

For the 35th year Richard Moore, recently retired Coastal Carolina marine science professor, judged the event. Moore, the author of three books on the fishes of the Gulf of Mexico, has been an indispensable member of the Invitational committee since the match and seminar began in 1974. (One year there were two matches, which accounts for the math.)

"Dr. Moore is not only judge but keeper of order over these four decades," noted tournament founder and director, Professor Donald Millus, a member of the Coastal Carolina English faculty. "He apportions places at the rail and sorts and weighs the catch to ensure fairness. We could not do without this calm voice of authority."

(Total weight of the catch for each team, excluding sharks, determines the standings. The winning team gets an asterisk next to its name on the permanent trophy for the Invitational, which dates back to 1974. It's like hockey's Stanley Cup, only without names.)

Adding to the excitement of this year's tournament was a 10-foot tiger shark that invaded the chum streak chasing after a king hooked by Powers. Like a good charter boat captain, Powers got his king out of harm's way, or at least away from the hungry shark.

Sean Hord and Alan Hickman of Coastal Carolina's B team took top awards for kings with a pair of 10-pounders, followed closely by Trey Franklin of USC.

Professor Jeff Isely of Clemson and Jerry Hilbish of USC tied for the largest king caught by a visiting professor, and Professor David Lincoln of USC took honors among retired professors.

Coastal Carolina took advantage of its home court to take first and second place, the Coastal B team edging the Coastal A team, 106 to 58. USC took third place. Clemson was a gracious fourth-place finisher.

Chef Eric at the Hot Fish Club did a magnificent job with amberjack appetizers and blackened king steaks and grilled fillets for dinner. Dr. Joey Sanders of Conway not only coached the winning Coastal Carolina team, but was in charge of fish cleaning and banquet management.

"Dr. Sanders even picked up our sandwich lunches at a Subway the night before and made sure they were wrapped individually for the hungry anglers on a rocking boat," said Millus. Millus also pointed out that this was the hardest year ever for getting prizes donated. "The recession has definitely hit the tackle industry, but we still managed to have prizes for all the student anglers," he said.

The major sponsor for the event was the Coastal Educational Foundation. Invitational shirts were donated by Conway National Bank. Tackle and prizes came from Ande Line, Fisherman's Headquarters, Plano Tackle Boxes, Gerber Legendary Blades, Pawleys Island Outdoors and Wright & McGill Co.