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College Fishing Match nearing middle age

October 9, 2002

By the end of a day of deep-sea fishing, the New Captain Bill, an 85-foot headboat out of Murrells Inlet, and the college students on board may smell fishy. But that's just the way they like it for a college competition that will never get in trouble with the NCAA. On October 25, the Coastal Carolina Invitational, an intercollegiate fishing match and seminar, nears the completion of three decades of salt-water fishing competition on the South Carolina Coast with its traditional trophy re-discovered.

The 29th annual Invitational will feature the usual cast of competitors and coaches with teams from Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, Francis Marion University, and Coastal Carolina University, the host school in the oldest intercollegiate fishing competition in North America. FMC and CCU held the first deep-sea fishing competition in 1974.

Captain Jack Orr takes the college anglers out from Captain Dick's Marina 20 to 35 miles offshore to find the clean water so essential to good king mackerel fishing. Not counting the two years when the collegians had to fish for trout, spot and blues in the Inlet due to windy weather, these men and women students average some 25 kings per trip, usually the best catch of the year for any single boat sportfishing for kings on the South Carolina coast.

Orr's method is to find a hard bottom or reef and drift over it, with half of the student anglers fishing on bottom for black sea bass, and the other half drifting live baits or frozen herring for the predatory kings. Dolphin, amberjack, shark, triggerfish and grouper are also taken on these trips that sail before dawn and return to the dock in late afternoon.

After the weigh-in, students and coaches clean their catch for the awards dinner at the Hot Fish Club in Murrells Inlet. King mackerel steaks have dominated the menu, but saltwater trout, spot and even bluefish have fed the hungry anglers.

The Coastal Carolina Invitational is sponsored by Coastal Carolina University with the cooperation of Captain Dick's Marina and numerous tackle companies that contribute rods, reels, line, tackle boxes and fishing knives as prizes. The winning team also receives an asterisk next to its name on the permanent trophy of the Invitational, donated by the South Carolina Wildlife Department before it changed its name to Department of Natural Resources. (The trophy, "lost" for 14 years in a student government closet, was found last summer with a few scratches, some screws loose and a covering of cobwebs and dust, but otherwise in good condition.)

The Coastal Carolina Invitational is the successor to the Intercollegiate Fishing Match started in the early 1950s in Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, to accompany the International Tuna Cup matches held there annually. When the big herring runs in late summer deserted Nova Scotia waters in the 1970s, both the tuna anglers and their collegiate counterparts called off their annual events. Coastal Carolina, which participated in the Wedgeport matches in 1975, has kept collegiate fishing alive and well on the Carolina Coast. Competing teams have come from Japan and Canada, as well as from Ivy League schools such as Yale. All the current competitors are South Carolina teams since the Invitational was cut back from three days to one in the early 1990s.

Richard Moore, professor of biology at Coastal, is in charge of judging. (One point per pound of fish, sharks excluded.) Donald Millus, professor of English at Coastal, is the tournament director and founder.