The South Carolina Coast conjures up images of beaches with grassy dunes, pungent marshes, remnants of the old world plantations, and shrimp boats lumbering along the coastline. Now we have a few new images to add to the library of the mind. Paddle through the blackwater under the shade of ancient cypress trees, watch the dogs work the fields and pine forests for quail, and ease your conscience back on track with some cycling (on flat ground…).
[dropcap]N[/dropcap]o doubt, this is not the time of year where you can work up a sweat just by reclining in the shade just to end up cooling off by taking a dip in the ocean. However, the gray and somber tones of the mid-winter mountains can become oppressive to the mind, leaving those that reside in Western North Carolina (year-round) moody and in need of a change, however brief. When the opportunity arises, aid the mind with a little change of scenery, without having to empty a wallet worn thin from the holiday season. Especially when the so many “off-season” coastal-towns are only a few hours away, we prefer to avoid the lines for food, crowds on the streets, and prices to match. As you may have noticed by the Leisure & Libations section this month, we shuffled down the mountain to Georgetown County, South Carolina, to see what things may be.
Fishing in January
Considering our usual catch is with small mouth bass in the French Broad, or perhaps some native rainbow trout pulled from a honey hole in some stream to be named only on one’s deathbed, Captain Newman was able to give us some hints about what to aim for around Georgetown. “I only take people in-shore in January. Unlike the Outer Banks (North Carolina), Georgetown is located a long way from the gulf stream.” Fishing here is based in-shore. Most of what people are fishing for here is redfish, the standard in-shore target species around Georgetown. That includes the guy with some shrimp and a spinning rod, to someone with a flats boat and a fly rod. Once the water warms up in the summer months, speckled trout and flounder are in season and on the hook as well.”
In the winter however, juvenile redfish gather “as great big schools” in the estuaries of coastal South Carolina. “The key to fishing for them in the winter, though they aren’t going to be everywhere, when you find a school, they’re going stay in that area—or nearby—for the rest of the winter.” In Winyah Bay (and its surrounding creeks) the salinity varies from month to month (according to rainfall). “The redfish are pretty resilient” said Captain Newman. “They are generally fine with some fresh water for a little bit, but as a rule, they are a salt water fish.”
“You can sight fish while someone poles the boat through the marsh. But when you’re in marine environment, you’ll be in a tougher environment than in a freshwater stream or pond. There are a lot more predators to deal with than what a trout might encounter in a small mountain stream. If the fish think there’s a boat nearby, they’re gone.” Captain Newman cautions us. There’s a difference in the mentality of the fish when compared to the mountain environment. Regardless, we found it to be slightly less strenuous on the body and mind than wading out into a mountain stream, above 4,000 feet in freezing temperatures. The coastal catch is certainly worth a cast or two. As Captain Newman put it: “Duck season is over, the Super Bowl has been played, and until turkey season there’s not a whole lot of options.” Fishing for the “red” isn’t the only thing to do, but it’s definitely one of the best choices. Certainly useful if you’re spending the latter part of you work week dreaming up ways to trade your taupe painted office walls and email for a more aesthetic environment.
The Waccamaw River meanders from Murrells Inlet through to the Winyah Bay in Georgetown proper. Its black water is speckled with towering cypress trees draped in Spanish Moss, various warblers singing in the brush, and swallow-tailed kites circling overhead.
Sea Kayaks make accessible areas that you might not get a chance to explore if at the mercy of a motorized group tour boat. Granted, you might not be able to hold your cocktail as easily if you’ve got a paddle in both hands, but the wildlife becomes far more perceptible when that outboard motor trails off into the distance. Just to eliminate that potential excuse from activity, most places offer complimentary kayak or canoe delivery/pick-up when you rent from them.
>Waterway Power Sports
5790 Dick Pond Rd, Myrtle Beach, SC
>Surf The Earth
47 Da Gullah Way, Pawleys Island, SC
>Black River Outdoor Center
>Crazy Sister Marina
4123 Hwy 17 Business, Murrells Inlet, SC
While Lance Armstrong and others who have climbed various pinnacles of the cycling world may come to the North Carolina High Country to train, those of us less interested in entering the Tour Da France and more interested in a solid day’s ride—and a good nights sleep—can appreciate removing the vertical element from the post-holiday workout routine. There are several trails to choose from in Georgetown county, and most will quickly carry you into other parts of South Carolina as well.
The East Coast Greenway runs 2,900 miles from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Florida. No need to be intimidated though. Only 289 miles of it are in South Carolina, and they aren’t just for cyclists either. We suggest visiting greenway.org for more information specific to your particular ambitions.
One stretch of the East Coast Greenway is used very extensively, called the Waccamaw Neck Bikeway. Though it is not the kind of place a speed cyclist would train, it is great for tourists and casual use by locals. You can ride your bike to eat, to Brookgreen Gardens, to the beach, to the library, to all kinds of destinations. The newest section being constructed runs not on Highway 17, but rather on Kings River road South of Wellbrook Boulevard. That portion is being constructed now to connect several schools, as well as the library and the beach.
Another resource, especially useful to someone not from the area, is the South Carolina State Trails Program (SCSTP), found at sc.trails.net. Originally developed as the South Carolina leg of the Adventure Cycling Association’s Virginia to Florida route, the “coastal” route roughly parallels the coastline for 227 miles. It is intentionally routed away from the coast (just a bit) to escape the congestion and commercial traffic of Georgetown, Charleston, and Savannah.
However humorous it might sound, we reiterate an official comment on the website for the SCSTP (organized by the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism). “It is important to stress that South Carolina’s roads were not designed for bicycle touring and they are not currently maintained for this activity. The inclusion of any route in this guide does not certify it as a ‘safe bicycling route.’” That goes for our guide as well. That being said, anywhere that has as little elevation change as the South Carolina Coast (certainly as compared to our little corner of the Carolinas), might appeal to even the most lethargic of visitors. Plus, it’s a good way to work off any unwanted calories left hanging around from the holidays.
115 Willbrook Blvd, Suite J, Pawleys Island, SC
>Pawleys Island Beach Service
10570 Ocean Highway 17, Pawleys Island, SC
Shooting in January
Sometimes watching the dogs work the birds is enough satisfaction for any hunter. Personally, though, we like to come home with at least something to snack on. If you aren’t much for live birds, however, there is always the clay kind. That’ll leave you with one option: Back Woods Quail Club (open to the public). If you’re looking for the non-commercial route, there are several South Carolina DNR Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) that support quail hunting opportunities during January. Most specifically, those are the Samworth, Santee Coastal, and Santee Delta WMAs, but to get a clear bead on things you’ll want to refer to the South Carolina Hunting & Fishing Guide (listed online at dnr.sc.gov). So if you want to to show up and shoot, and don’t have a local to guide you, Back Woods is about your only option. They are having a Pheasant Tower Shoot on January 31st, but you’ll want to call ahead if you want reserve a blind for that one. For another local perspective or for last minute gear, Blade, Barrel, and Reel is only a phone call away.
>Back Woods Quail Club
647 Hemingway Ln, Georgetown, SC
>Blade, Barrel and Reel
1408 Highmarket St, Georgetown, SC
Rather than pulling your smartphone from your pocket and disrupting the experience before you, we encourage you to leave your technology behind and slip into the backwoods of the mind while you soak in the scenery of the South Carolina low-country. Don’t worry about the ever competitive social media. Let your friends use their imagination to dream up a reason why they stayed behind.
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