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Being located in coastal South Carolina, saltwater fishing is a big part of our lives, and in turn has become a very important part of our product line and business. When we're not working, chances are that we're exploring the maze of tidal creeks, rivers, and saltmarsh in search of redfish, seatrout, and flounder—using Z-Man baits of course!

So far this winter, the weather has been unusually cold for our area. In December, unseasonably cold air temperatures drove water temperatures down into the low forties, and then we got hammered by a rare snow storm during the first week of January. Daytime highs were barely above freezing for a week straight, and nighttime lows were in the teens, sending water temperatures plummeting into the thirties.

Photo courtesy of Eye Strike Fishing

While our inshore saltwater fish are typically very resilient, they can only stand so much cold, and we saw some pretty massive fish kills during this cold spell. The seatrout populations were hit especially hard, and anecdotal evidence points towards a pretty serious die-off. Reports of dead redfish, black drum, and sheepshead have trickled in as well, but the seatrout stocks undoubtedly were affected most significantly. In addition to these fish kills, predation of cold-stunned fish by cormorants and dolphins was also likely much higher than normal, compounding the issue.

While the extent of the damage to our stocks has yet to be determined, similar cold spells in 1989 and 2001 indicate that our seatrout fishery may take several years to rebound. While other states, like North Carolina for instance, have implemented temporary fishery closures, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) is apparently unable to close the fishery without impacting our ability to practice catch-and-release and target other species. For this reason, the only action the SCDNR has taken is to ask that anglers voluntarily release seatrout for the time being.

To aid in the effort to quickly rebuild our inshore seatrout stocks, we are asking that anglers voluntarily release all seatrout for the entire 2018 calendar year. Significantly, seatrout spawn continuously in our waters from April through September. The best fishing season—and the period when the most seatrout are harvested—is in the fall, and relatively few fish are taken before the spawn begins in April. Therefore, if we commit to practicing catch-and-release through 2018, not only will fish be able to spawn in 2018, but most will also survive to spawn in 2019. Scientific research has shown that the number of eggs produced by spawning females increases meteorically as seatrout grow longer, so committing to releasing fish in 2018 will not only allow for more spawns, but will also allow for increased recruitment as fish are allowed to grow larger before they spawn.

While there was some reported die-off of other inshore species like redfish and sheepshead, those stocks likely were not hit as hard. However, the seatrout kill likely will end up affecting those stocks as well because many anglers who previously targeted seatrout will now target redfish, black drum, sheepshead, and flounder instead. While we enjoy eating fresh fish as much as anyone, we are also suggesting that anglers voluntarily release ALL inshore saltwater species to offset the effort that will undoubtedly be transferred from seatrout to other fish.

To bring awareness to this catch-and-release campaign, we are distributing seatrout-shaped stickers bearing the #RELEASE2018SC hashtag. We are giving away these stickers to anglers who pledge to release all seatrout in 2018, or even better, all inshore saltwater gamefish. While this campaign is 100% voluntary, we feel that it is extremely important to rebuilding our inshore fisheries as quickly as possible. So, take the pledge to practice catch-and-release in 2018 and help us spread the word by proudly displaying a #RELEASE2018SC decal and using this hashtag in your social media posts!

Daniel Nussbaum

President, Z-Man Fishing Products

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