Tournament fishing and social distancing go together like oil and water. Yet that was the story of South Carolina's 2020 offshore tournament fishery.
Three of the four South Carolina Governor's Cup Billfishing Series tournaments were canceled because of COVID-19 and the fourth, the Carolina Billfish Classic, was conducted with a virtual captain's meeting and social distancing.
The S.C. Wahoo Series, the Mahi Series and the Fall Classic king mackerel tournaments also were conducted with virtual captain's meetings and socially distanced awards ceremonies with only the award winners on hand.
Needless to say, the people who participate in those events are eager to get back to a more normal situation.
"It was beyond depressing for me," said Amy Dukes, tournament director for the S.C. Governor's Cup Billfishing Series. "The Governor's Cup is really my life in the summer and it fills my tank. It allows me to interact with some amazing people who have experienced unbelievable offshore fishing in South Carolina. The camaraderie, the sportsmanship I didn't get this year because we weren't on the docks.
"When we were on the docks, for the Carolina Billfish Classic, it was different. It was weird. We were wearing masks. We were practicing social distancing. We didn't have the big socialization we always have. We were contained. That sense of family, sense of community was lost."
Dukes said having to cancel the Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament, the Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament and the Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament was heart-wrenching.
"We had multiple conference calls to discuss options to postpone or punt it down the road but it just didn't pan out," Dukes said.
Still, the tournaments that were held were successful and recreational fishing was good.
The Carolina Billfish Classic drew 47 boats that caught 10 blues and released 54 sailfish. Winning the tournament was Grander, owned by Terrell Rhye, with one blue marlin and four sailfish releases. Mister Pete, owned by Bob and Rusty McClam, and Reel Hook Up, owned by Michael Carter, took the next two spots, each with six sailfish releases.
Making big news throughout the community was basketball legend Michael Jordan's participation in his boat, Catch 23.
"They had a good time and they said they're coming back next year," Dukes said.
The trio of events put on by Marc Pincus of Hilton Head that focus on the state's wahoo, dolphin and king mackerel fisheries also drew big numbers.
The South Carolina Wahoo Series saw 151 boats participate with Exception, owned by Morris Beck of Johns Island, winning with a two-fish aggregate of 147.8 pounds, including a 98.3-pound wahoo.
There were 105 boats participating in the South Carolina Mahi Series with On the Fly, captained by Brian Bell, winning with a two-fish aggregate of 66.1 pounds.
David Yates of Mount Pleasant and his Yates Sea fishing team beat out 100 boats to win the South Carolina Fall Classic with a three-fish total of 118.9 pounds.
And don't forget Bryan Baxter's XTRATUF fishing team winning their 32-team division in the Kingfish Elimination Series.
"As an agency, we do monitor saltwater tournaments that are ongoing, both inshore, nearshore and offshore. Most of them were, in fact, canceled. The ones that went forward were later in the fall months and it was mostly king mackerel tournaments. But several of them were canceled as well," Dukes said.
"General fishing, recreational fishing I would say was on an increase. I don't know how good (captains) were doing reporting billfish catches. Most of it was captains calling me and telling me about epic days and great catches and complaining that we weren't having tournaments.
"But we definitely had a lot of people fishing From a (Department of Natural Resources) perspective, we had a greater number of licenses sold this year than in years past. I think people were fishing. It was one of the only outlets people had during the shutdown, go and enjoy our natural resources."
Dukes said Governor's Cup sponsors were understanding and supportive of the Series, despite the cancellations. They understood that there were operating expenses and allowed the Governor's Cup to retain the sponsorship and most indicated "they will come right back at the same level in 2021."
"We are excited that in 2021 we will be back at our full five-tournament field," she said with the announcement that the Megadock Billfishing Tournament. The tournament was not on the schedule in 2019 and 2020 because of renovations to the Charleston City Marina.
The 2021 Governor's Cup Billfishing Series is:
• May 5-8 — Bohicket Marina Invitational Billfish Tournament
• May 26-29 — Georgetown Blue Marlin Tournament
• June 23-26 — Carolina Billfish Classic
• July 14-17 — Megadock Billfishing Tournament
• July 21-24 — Edisto Invitational Billfish Tournament
America's Boating Club
America’s Boating Club Charleston will hold boating safety classes on Jan. 9 and Feb. 6 at 1376 Orange Grove Road, Charleston. The classes begin at 9 a.m. and end around 4 p.m. Successful participants earn the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Boater Education Card. The cost is $25 for adults, ages 12-18 are free. Call 843-312-2876 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.