There were no last minute heroics this year as the Coastal Carolina University sport fishing team attempted to defend its national championship against the Gamecocks of the University of South Carolina in the 32nd Annual Coastal Carolina Invitational. A determined ground attack by USC consisting of some 60 points of black seabass and grunt made the difference in the event, which was fished out of Captain Dick's Marina in Murrells Inlet.
Both teams had four king mackerel and a large grouper on a good fishing day on the Capt. Bill III skippered by Captain Tommy Swatzel of Murrells Inlet. It was the first time in the history of the Invitational that teams fished on Sunday. Three previous attempts at Friday trips had been thwarted by predictions of north winds of over 20 knots. (Only one match in the Coastal Carolina Invitational had ever been cancelled and that was when Yale, Western Ontario, Francis Marion and Coastal anglers had to get out of Myrtle Beach just ahead of Hurricane Hugo.)
There was also a last minute substitution for the Coastal angling squad. Alumnus Captain Ryan Powers, a professional charter boat skipper, took over the direction of the Coastal team from another alumnus, Dr. Joey Sanders, who was already committed to singing in the local Episcopal Church choir when the weather forced postponement of the Veterans Day match. Powers, who led the Coastal anglers to three national championships as an undergraduate, inherited a veteran team including Darryl Davis and Danye McFadin, plus sophomore walk-on Grant Kline.
The wind was blowing at a gentle 10 knots as the college anglers reached the Murrells Inlet jetties just after sunrise. Captain Swatzel headed for some hard bottom 25 miles off the coast. Students and coaches were ready to fish by 8:30 a.m. as the boat was positioned over a rocky bottom in 60 feet of water.
USC, which had drawn the bow position, went to work with determination, boating some three-dozen fat grunt and black seabass in the first 30 minutes of competition. Davis, who letters in Coastal's football and fishing teams, was looking to repeat his last-minute heroics of last year's match when he boated a 40-pound amberjack to deprive Clemson of the national championship.
Kline's 20-pound grouper drew cheers from the whole boatload of anglers, not for putting Coastal in the lead, but because the traditional awards banquet at the Hot Fish Club at the conclusion of each year's Invitational features the catch of the day. USC quickly countered with a grouper just slightly smaller, but they matched Coastal's catch of four king mackerel with four of their own and ran up an impressive margin in the ground fishing, which improved markedly over the last few weeks as the inshore waters cooled.
Retired Army General Chuck Swannack, who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in the fighting around Baghdad, was scheduled to be the guest of honor on Veterans Day, but was thwarted by an unbeatable foe, the weather. Due to a speaking engagement over the weekend, he was not able to fish with the college anglers on Sunday, but he vowed to return next year. His brother-in-law, Richard Lee, substituted for him as coach of the Coastal "B" team of Dan Yost and Miles Groff.
The event was sponsored by the Coastal Educational Foundation. Additional sponsors included Ande Line, Berkley Line, Buck Knives, Conway National Bank, Daiichi Bleeding Bait Hooks, Mann's Bait Company, O. Mustad and Son, Plano Tackle Boxes, Sea Striker, Shakespeare Fishing Tackle, and Eagle Claw Hooks. Coastal Carolina English professor Donald Millus directed the event, which he founded in 1974. CCU biology professor Richard Moore of Coastal was the head judge of the Invitational, and the lunches were catered by Patricia Millus of Conway.