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Coastal Outdoors: Marsh hen season to open in Georgia and South Carolina

September is about to knock on the door, and with it comes an assortment of hunting challenges eagerly looked forward to by legions of hunters – from doves to deer, hens to honkers and more.

 

But of all the game animals and birds that become targets for harvest, one in particular seems to be slipping away in popularity – rails, more commonly known as marsh hens.

No one seems to have an answer to this and perhaps there isn’t one, other than trends change.

But each year as the seasons approach and the Feds and States set the rules and regulations, marsh hens still are on the list to be hunted by those faithful, but dwindling followers.

Among the absent

I must admit to being among the absent, still loving the thought of hunting hens, but now lacking the drive to do so. Truth be known, my last hunt was with my late golden retriever, Goldie, who loved it as much as I did. We would walk the flooded hammocks on spring tides, flushing hens from their hiding spots, Goldie determined to get each and every one I was able to harvest.

While most hunters prefer flushing hens from boats, walking them up was a method I learned many years ago from the late W. S. “Nanny” Roberts and his lab, Richard. It’s an approach I have followed ever since.

When Goldie could no longer go, it took something out of me. But each year when the seasons are announced, I remember when Goldie and I were there, and immediately pull out the tide book and check to see what the best hunting days will be for the up-coming season.

For those who are making plans this year to hunt hens in Georgia and South Carolina, there appears to be some excellent opportunities.

Seasons and best tides

Both Georgia and South Carolina have split seasons – Georgia’s running from Sept. 15 through Nov. 5, and again Nov. 23 through Dec. 10.

South Carolina’s opening season is a short one, running from Oct. 6 through Oct. 10. The second part opens Nov. 3 and runs through Jan 6, 2018.

King and Clapper rails are the most common hens hunted, and in both states the daily bag limit is 15 with a possession limit of 45 by species, each or in combination.

Sora and Virginia rails also are among the harvestable in both states, with the daily limit at 25 and a possession limit of 75, again individually or in combination.

Hunting hours in both states are the same – one half hour before sunrise to sunset daily. Check state and federal regulations for license and permit requirements.

From the tide book

Now to the tides and times per the book, and based on predictions for the Savannah River Entrance.

Georgia’s opening days are not looking that impressive unless helped by northeast or easterly winds. They will occur during the new moon phase (new moon is Sept. 20) with the highest to reach 8.4 feet, but all highs are in mid to late afternoon with morning high tides only in the seven-foot range.

A series of morning spring tides Oct. 5-10 will be better, and are associated with the full moon set for Oct. 5. These tides will range from 8.3 to 8.7 feet in height, the best of which will be Oct. 7-8, with the tides peaking at the Savannah River Entrance at 9:42 and 10:40 a.m. respectively.

Peak high tide times vary depending on locations. For instance in Romerly Marsh and based on peaks at the Savannah River entrance, the high tide there would be approximately eight minutes later, while at Thunderbolt the high will be 32 minutes, Vernon View, 40 minutes and Coffee Bluff, one hour, five minutes.

Best of season

The best tides of the season for hunters in both states will come in November, and again a series of spring tides associated with the full moon phase (full moon is Nov. 4) will bring tides ranging from 8.6 to 9.1 feet in height, with the top three of 8.9, 9.1 and 9.0 coming Nov. 4-6 respectively.

Daylight Savings Time switches back to Eastern Standard Time on Nov. 5. Tide book times are all EST and those shown for Sept. and Oct. in this report have been converted to DST. High tide Nov. 4 will be 8:34 a.m. (DST), while Nov. 5 it will be 8:22 a.m. (EST) and 9:13 a.m. (EST) Nov. 6.

There also will be an 8.8-foot tide peaking at 10:07 a.m. on Nov. 7.

December spring tides, running Dec-2-7, are nearly as good in height, but the early morning peaks will minimize much of the hunting time.

Tides will range from 8.6 to 9.0 feet during this period with the top four scheduled for Dec. 3 at 8.9 feet, Dec 4-5 at 9.0 feet, and Dec 6. At 8.7 feet

These tides will peak at 7:14 a.m., 8:06 a.m., 8:59 a.m., and 9:53 a.m. respectively.

As earlier noted, Georgia’s season closes Dec. 10 while South Carolina’s carries into January.

The times and tides noted seem to be the best by the book for this fall. Mom Nature may add more or take some away, depending on her mood. She always does.

About fishing

Not much fishing chatter being heard this week, with weather obviously the main obstacle.

Sam Peters (Release Marine) emailed a report from Virginia Beach where the annual Virginia Beach Billfish Tournament was held. He reported that Savannah resident Colin Oxnard served as a mate and team member of the winning boat “Qualifier” out of Pirate Cove, N.C., with the team taking first place with a blue marlin weighing 810 pounds. The squad also caught and released a couple white marlin. According to Peters, the team won about $250,000.

Another email came from David Wood telling of some offshore bottom fishing action, before northeast winds sent most anglers back to port.

“Every species fished seem to be on fire,” he wrote of the trip he took Randy Waite Jr., Rob Goble and Faith Metzinger recently took.

They dealt a daybreak storm on the way out, but conditions soon got better, and the action with it.

Wood noted it was only the second time Metzinger had ever bottom fishing offshore and that her determination was impressive. Several times, she landed hefty triple hook-ups from depths of 160 feet.

We also received a report from Capt. Justin Rahn (Reel Time Charters 912-507-7070) who told of a birthday trip for his dad Michael that shifted from salt to fresh.

The two had planned to fish for reds this past Sunday, but the winds were too high. Capt. Justin got a call from a friend telling him of some pond action, so the two headed there. Michael landed a largemouth bass weighing six pounds, 13 ounces – his best ever. He also said the action was so good that they left them biting.

The outlook

With a break in the weather, coastal fishing action offshore and inshore should produce some excellent bite action.

Tides now are in the six and seven-foot range through Labor Day weekend, with some slight springing starting Monday evening relative to the full moon phase (full moon Wed., Sept. 6).

I am among the many who believe the best fishing during any month are the days leading up to a full moon.

Tide book predictions show tides will be in the low eight-foot range for several days during September, beginning Sept. 4 and continuing through Sept. 21.

Look for some excellent near shore and inshore action with both reds and spotted sea trout, but also expect the yearling crop to continue dominating the bite. Flounder action should also be excellent.

As waters cool, migratory species will begin to move to warmer waters and the fall fishing season will settle into its normal mode.

Live bait shrimp are plentiful along the entire coast, either from suppliers or for those who prefer to cast-net for them.

Red snapper report

The Feds may be having a change of heart relative to the ban on harvesting red snapper in the South Atlantic.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC) is set to hold its September council meeting in Charleston, S.C. Sept 11-15, where on opening day members will address management alternatives to possibly allow a limited harvest of red snapper for the first time since 2014.

An amendment to the Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan is being considered, with the Council requesting NOAA Fisheries to take emergency action to allow for limited harvest in 2017.

In its Summer edition of the South Atlantic Update, SAFMC gives the background for the reasons the closure was originally initiated and continues even though the stock assessment is rebuilding.

There has been mounting pressure for various conservation and recreational fishery groups who are in favor of allowing red snapper harvesting.

John Burke can be reached at 912-655-8505, or by email at john.burke@savannahnow.com.

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