Almost two decades ago, Hurricane Hugo wiped out Coastal Carolina University's annual intercollegiate fishing match and seminar. Hugo sent teams from Western Ontario, Yale, Francis Marion and UNC-Wilmington running for home on the first full day of the Sixteenth Annual Coastal Carolina Invitational. Participants were looking forward to two days of fishing in the Gulf Stream, but waves were already 20-feet high out there as a killer hurricane headed for South Carolina.
Students and coaches breakfasted that day in the restaurant at the head of Springmaid Pier. It was the last meal anyone would have there, at least before it was re-built after a pounding by the winds and waves of the edge of Hugo that night. The end of the pier was completely destroyed, as it would be again by a nor'easter a few years later.
Of course, if Hurricane Hugo had come ashore at Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, or even Georgetown, Springmaid Pier would have been totally destroyed, along with much of the Grand Strand. But Hugo hit at McClellanville and only snapped its skirts at the Grand Strand, destroying some beach houses, but not creating the devastation seen farther south toward Charleston.
This year the Coastal Carolina Invitational will be observing its 35th year as this nation's oldest intercollegiate fishing match and seminar. On Oct. 31, student anglers will be fishing for king mackerel and black sea bass on the New Inlet Princess out of Captain Dick's Marina in Murrells Inlet. In the past Captain Jack Orr has had to run up to 35 miles off the beach to find the kings, but in some years the kings have been in as close as 12 miles.
If the student anglers and their "coaches," faculty members who like to fish, get out there (weather is always problematical), they catch fish. At this time of year the king mackerel move closer to the beach, and drift fishing produces catches of kings in the eight to 20-pound class. Anywhere from 10 to 75 kings have been taken on frozen herring and live baits such as cigar minnows and lizardfish. (Yes, kings love lizardfish, even for Halloween.)
Last year 39 kings were boated to be steaked, blackened and grilled for the awards dinner at the Hot Fish Club in Murrells Inlet. Student anglers also bottomfish for blackfish (black sea bass), and the constant up and down of baits and smaller fish attracts more kings. The blackfish are filleted and served for hors d'oeuvres at the banquet.
The major sponsor of the annual event is the Coastal Carolina Educational Foundation. Tournament shirts are donated by Conway National Bank, thanks to vice-president Mitch Godwin. Each of the participants receives boxes of hooks from Eagle Claw (Wright and McGill Co.), O. Mustad and Son, and Daichi, and spools of line from Ande. Prizes for the largest fish include gift certificates from Boaters World in Myrtle Beach and fillet knives from Buck Knives and Gerber's Legendary Blades, as well as tackle boxes from Plano.
Over the years, intercollegiate fishing has attracted the attention of magazines such as Salt Water Sportsman and Field and Stream and major newspapers such as the New York Times and, more recently, The Wall Street Journal. (The last was particularly interested in the possibility of big-money college competition, not on head boats but on expensive bass boats. Between the problems of Wall Street and the price of gas on Main Street the more humble ambitions of the Coastal tournament seem more practical.)
Participating schools for 2008 will include Clemson University, Coastal Carolina University and the University of South Carolina. Retired Coastal Professor Richard Moore will be judging the competition as he has done every year since 1974. Professor Donald Millus will be organizing and directing the Invitational for the 35th time, assisted by Professor Erin Burge of Coastal's Department of Marine Science, Dr. Joey Sanders of Conway and Captain Ryan Powers, a Coastal alumnus. Patricia Millus will provide the catered lunch, traditionally hero sandwiches.
Coastal Carolina University is the defending champion, having dethroned the University of South Carolina by a score of 100-96 in last year's match. The public is invited to the weigh-in at Captain Dick's Marina at 4 p.m. on Halloween.