October 28 will mark the 32nd renewal of a college fishing match and seminar that students, coaches and judges have enjoyed through four decades. That's every year since 1974 with two thrown in for one year! Like a lot of good ideas, it wasn't original.
The origin of Coastal Carolina's college fishing match lies in the chilly waters off Wedgeport, Nova Scotia, where big bluefin tuna stopped habitually for a late summer snack on massive schools of herring. Sport fishermen with big Penn reels started fishing for them in the 1930s using herring for bait. They boated monster bluefin ranging toward the half-ton mark.
Since some of the anglers involved had graduated from Ivy League schools and the major universities of Canada, the next step was to form an International Intercollegiate Fishing Match and Seminar with schools such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Western Ontario universities sending teams up before school started in late September. Ed Migdalski of Yale ran these tournaments for years. (He later brought teams down to Murrells Inlet until the Coastal Carolina Invitational went to a one-day format.)
It seemed a natural for Coastal Carolina to run its own intercollegiate fishing match, invite some of the participants from the International and, in return, get an invitation to the Wedgeport event. The plan worked, and a team from Coastal Carolina drove and took a ferry to Nova Scotia in the late 1970s to fish for cod and pollock. What happened to the tuna? They had left Nova Scotia waters when the herring quit running off Wedgeport.
Since no good deed goes unpunished, Coastal was left holding the bag for the only intercollegiate fishing match and seminar in the world. A few imitators have run college fishing matches over the years, but no one has a 30-plus year streak going.
Aside from Hurricane Hugo running us out of town one year, the tradition of intercollegiate fishing has survived on the Carolina coast. Students and their coaches have fished from the piers and from small boats in Murrells Inlet when offshore conditions have gone to small craft warnings. Anglers from Coastal, Francis Marion, USC and Clemson fish every fall from one of the big headboats out of Captain Dick's Marina in Murrells Inlet. (One year there was even a team from Japan!) Half the competitors fish bottom for seabass, grouper (rare) and amberjack (less rare). The other half drift live baits for king mackerel and sailfish (one strike in 32 years for the latter!).
For the last few years, the Hot Fish Club restaurant has broiled and grilled up the kings and fried up the blackfish fillets for a delicious awards banquet. Prizes come from major tackle companies. Local people like Mitch Godwin of Conway National Bank, Lyn Smith of Captain Dick's Marina, and captains Tommy Swatzel and Jack Orr of Murrells inlet have been enthusiastic supporters.
English professor Donald Millus of Coastal Carolina University is the founder and director of the Invitational. But he gives credit to a lot of people: "Without the efficiency of chief judge Dr. Richard Moore of Coastal Carolina University over four decades, the event would never have run so smoothly. Of course, Patricia Millus's culinary masterpiece hero sandwiches for lunch have won her praise from generations of college students and their teachers."
Past tournaments have been held in honor of South Carolina's former Governor Carroll Campbell and the late professors Don Kelley of Francis Marion, Tom Trout and Jim Michie of Coastal Carolina, and John Scalf of UNC-Wilmington.
Coastal Carolina is defending champion, thanks to a giant amberjack landed by a red-shirted member of the football team who was a last-minute addition to the 2004 fishing roster.