The "thunder chickens" are gobbling away in the Lowcountry woods, and blackfin tuna are rocketing out of offshore waters as they bust schools of flying fish.

I've been lucky enough to witness both of these scenes in the past few weeks - sure signs to me that spring has finally arrived here in the Lowcountry.

There's no better time for a little cast-and-blast action.

Tuna time

We've got a few weeks before the dolphin arrive en masse offshore, but that's no reason to cool your heels back on the hill.

Though recent reports seem to indicate a lukewarm wahoo bite, anglers are still managing to catch some of these blue-striped torpedoes.

But most of the folks I tend to fish with are fired up about blackfin tuna ... and for good reason. Spring is the best time to catch these amazing fish, and despite reports to the contrary, they are superb table fare (especially when pan-seared with a crust of sesame seeds.)

After receiving an invitation to join an experimental tuna trip with Bill Freeman, owner of Freeman Boat Works, I played hooky from work last week and headed out with a great group of anglers to the Georgetown Hole.

Before leaving the dock on one of Freeman's custom-built, 37-foot, high-performance catamarans, we stripped the boat of most of its trolling equipment, including its outriggers.

We were going to fish exclusively with deep-dropping knife jigs and large surface poppers. Courtland Babcock, who's widely seen as the Lowcountry's resident expert on offshore jig-and-pop techniques, had driven up from Hilton Head that morning to jump on board and give us all a lesson.

Over the course of the day, we hit the tuna pretty hard, even though some boats trolling around us seemed to be struggling.

We'd mark one of the Hole's many fish-holding drop-offs, run upwind and drift back over while casting out surface poppers and dropping down those heavy, flat jigs.

Over the course of 7 or so hours of hard fishing, there were few moments when a line wasn't peeling out drag. Sometimes it was tuna on the end, but more often it was a 40-pound amberjack or 10-foot shark.

By the end of the trip, we had landed 10 hefty blackfin, including one over 34 pounds, and lost a dozen or so more to those massive sharks, sometimes right as we were about to gaff the tuna.

It was a wild trip that, for me, marked the real beginning of the 2014 offshore season.

So, if you see a good weather window and can score some time off work, don't hesitate - the fish are out there.


My turkey hunting season started out with a big bang this year.

My brother and I have been chasing these birds with varying degrees of success for at least 15 years. We hunted together on our first hunt this year on the day after the season opened on private lands. For the first time, we both bagged a bird on the same morning . though our hunts unfolded much differently.

My brother had birds gobbling all around him, close in, from first light. Three gobblers flew down in front of him and proceeded to put on quite the show: strutting, fighting, flying off and coming back. My brother eventually picked one out and bagged his first bird of 2014.

I, on the other hand, had a tougher time at the opposite end of the property.

I heard very few gobbles, and pushed one bird out of its roost after deciding to move closer to a gobbling tom after first light.

Figuring I had boogered up my hunt, I sat down on the side of an old logging road and made a few calls. After a half-hour or so, I heard my brother shoot. I made a few more half-hearted calls and sat there for another 20 minutes, silent and still. I had just about made up my mind to walk out and help him clean his bird when my peripheral vision caught movement.

I cut my eyes hard left in time to see a gobbler arch its red head out from behind a tree a mere 10 feet from where I sat. Apparently, the bird had zeroed in on my calls, even though I had stopped long before he materialized.

He never made a peep, and I never heard him coming.

I froze, immediately, afraid to even move my eyeballs. We stared at each other for a second, then the gobbler cocked its head, turned around and walked back into the brush out of sight.

I eased my shotgun up a bit and waited.

Sure enough, he circled around through the woods and stepped out onto that logging road about 20 yards away. He never made it across.

Both of our birds were 2-year-olds, about 16 pounds apiece. Young birds, with 8-inch beards and maybe three-quarter inch spurs. No boss toms, but we were glad to have them.

Turkey season continues through April 30, including in the Francis Marion National Forest and other public hunting lands.

If you're new to turkey hunting, keep my story in mind when you're out there.

The presence of turkeys may be obvious on some hunts, as it was with my brother's. They may be booming all over the place, both in the roost and after they fly down to strut.

Other times, you might not hear a sound. But they're there. You have to trust in a hunter's most valuable assets: confidence, patience, camouflage and stillness.

Contact Matt Winter, editor of Tideline magazine and manager of niche content and design for The Post and Courier, at or 843-937-5568.