Fishing Rodeo Well Underway

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trout fishing
reeling in a trout near six pipes

Dewees Island is a fabulous location for fishing, and catching your own is one way to avoid the sort of fish fraud detailed in yesterday’s article in the New York Times. The 2012 annual fishing rodeo is well underway on the island. My attempts to find out the story of how this started have come up empty, with a few folks chuckling and saying something like… “I might have some vague memories of that…” but that’s about it. So if you have your own stories about the fishing rodeo, please comment in on this post.

Here is what we do know: Dewees Island has an annual fishing rodeo, wherein teams of up to seven people sign up to fish on a particular day. You have to sign up at least two weeks in advance, which is why there were two different teams fishing Friday and Saturday in the winds and vagaries of Hurricane Sandy. Each team earns points by catching fish.  The five fish that count are Sheepshead, Red Drum (Spottail Bass), Black Drum, Sea Trout, and Flounder, and the members of the team are responsible for keeping track of the total inches of fish caught. (Sadly, mullet, shrimp, and crabs don’t count.)

Any lot owner or homeowner may participate and enter his/her team. Each team may have up to seven teammates, including the team captain.  No other team can fish on another team’s registered day.  I think an angler can only fish on one team per year.

trout fishingIn order to encourage more children to participate, the point system is as follows:

  • Teammates 15 years old and older will receive one point for each inch of eligible fish caught.
  • Teammates under 15 will receive 1.5 points for each inch of eligible fish caught.

In order to encourage participation among families that cannot scrape up a team of seven, smaller teams get handicap points.  All teams with fewer than seven teammates will receive a 50 point handicap for each missing person.  (A team registering 5 people will start with 100 points).  Island staff members are welcome as teammates.  (And this could be a good strategy, as some of them have their own fishing charter experience!)

Each team may fish at any time from sunrise to sunset during their registered day, but the TOTAL FISHING TIME WILL BE LIMITED TO EIGHT HOURS. This will give all hard working anglers a much-needed break.  In order to take advantage of the best fishing times of morning and dusk, a team’s eight-hour time slot can be broken up as they wish. One team may fish, for example from, 6AM-10AM, and then again from 5PM-8PM.

Another team might choose to fish from 9AM-5PM. This will allow each team to choose the best tides of the day for fishing.  If any team member is fishing at any time, this counts against the entire team’s 8 hours. Team spirit is encouraged. Some teams even issue t-shirts! Others gather for a meal the night before to plan out hours, bait, and strategy.  Some teams appoint snack-ticians, who deliver breakfast or beer by golf cart to those hard working anglers.

You can fish from land at any of the island’s fishing spots, including six pipes and Chapel Pond.  Your group can divide up to cover the ferry dock AND Big Bend dock.

Each teammate will receive a scorecard to record his/her points. The team captain will tally up the team’s points and submit his/her team’s total score to Joan. The Rodeo is about fun and learning, so scorecards must be itemized and tallied. Teams who submit scorecards that aren’t tallied will be disqualified. Unusual fish or great fishing stories are encouraged to be recorded on the Captain’s Log. (and this blog!) For example, this year one team was fishing at Myrtle Dock.  One member finally caught a fish and whipped out his iphone to record a photo.  What the phone recorded was its own fall off the dock, bubbles and all.   Luckily for the angler, he had his phone in a lifeproof case, and he was able to retrieve both the phone and the photo!

We’d love to hear your stories about this (or previous) year’s teams and adventures.


Impoundment Sunrise

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I got a chance to watch the sun rise over the impoundment this morning, and it was truly an experience in gratitude and wonder. The silhouettes of the marsh islands were perfectly reflected in the water, a tiny bat fluttered against the skyline, herons called and croaked as they searched for new fishing spots, and pied billed grebes danced in and under the water. Kate noticed a fast-moving disturbance in the water, and a trio of otters dipped right past the closest island, making their way toward the crabbing dock. A pair of bald eagles has taken over the osprey platform over near the Smiths and Saueracker’s houses… perhaps they are thinking of nesting there. Another piece of everyday magic on the island.


Butterfly Tagging

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Monarch feeding on groundsel

On Friday, the Dewees Island Conservancy sponsored a butterfly tagging program on Dewees Island with long-time island friend and fantastic Naturalist Billy McCord. Everyone I told about this responded with a befuddled, “how can you tag a butterfly?” I couldn’t wait to find out.

It turns out that we are only actually tagging monarchs, because they are the only ones that migrate. According to Kansas University’s Monarch Watch program:

In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the Monarchs of North America. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two way migration every year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their migration is more the type we expect from birds or whales. However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the round-trip once. It is their children’s grandchildren that return south the following fall.

Since butterflies are cold-blooded, they only fly when the sun can warm them. Monarchs have a genetic mutation that allows them to store fat; it also gives them the ability to shiver; to mechanically warm their muscles.  The last generation to hatch in the fall stores fat in their abdomen, in order to travel long distances and live through the winter.

This fat not only fuels their flight of one to three thousand miles, but must last until the next spring when they begin the flight back north. As they migrate southwards, Monarchs stop to nectar, and they actually gain weight during the trip! Some researchers think that Monarchs conserve their “fuel” in flight by gliding on air currents as they travel south. This is an area of great interest for researchers; there are many unanswered questions about how these small organisms are able to travel so far.

To tag them, you first catch them with a butterfly net.  Watch out for bees and wasps, who may be nectaring on the same plants.  Billy usually catches a large number before tagging them, usually out of the wind. The best place to hold a monarch is along the forewing, which has the hardiest structure. Butterflies are covered with tiny scales, and we need to be careful not to strip the scales.   Billy can actually hold butterflies between his lips; if he is going to be a while before tagging them, he places them in glassine envelopes in a cooler with an ice pack and a damp paper towel to provide humidity. Astonishingly, this calms the butterflies by metabolically slowing them down a bit. When it is time to tag them, he records their size and gender (male monarchs have a black mark which may be a scent gland of sorts on their lower wings, and the females have thicker black bars) the date, the nectar source, and the condition of the butterfly. He assigns them a condition number from 1 to 5 based on the level of degradation of the wings.  To keep track of host plants and locations, he uses sequential envelopes and if he captures a monarch on a different plant, he includes a specimen of the new plant with the butterfly in the envelope.

Occasionally, like today, he catches a mating pair. Over the years he has observed that the males in late season couplings tend to be rather tattered– as if they realize that this may be their last chance to pass on their genetic material.

To tag the butterflies, he gently slides the butterfly into a cardboard splint so that the wings are separated and held in place by a rubber band. A tiny tag, made of lightweight polypropylene with special 3M ¨ adhesive, is placed gently on the back.

When I tried this myself, I eventually learned to have the tag only touch the edges of my fingernails to avoid getting stuck to it! Kansas University, which oversees the tagging project, only requires the date, location, gender of the butterfly, and full tag number, so that’s what Lori and I enter on the data. Tags are purchased in lots of 25, and the Dewees Island Environmental program has 50 to do this season. The price funds some of the research in processing, so people who volunteer with monarchwatch actually purchase the tags they use.

When a butterfly with a tag is recaptured, the tag number is sent to Kansas University and data is collected (and published) about when and how far the butterfly has flown. The most recent assumptions have been that migrating butterflies east of the Rockies have all wintered in Mexico, but because so few of the locally tagged butterflies (3 of 18,000 have been recaptured in Mexico), Billy McCord surmises that our coastal butterflies head somewhere else… the mountains of Caribbean nations in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, or Cuba… but more science is needed to prove the theory. In addition, some of ours may actually overwinter right here. He has recaptured tagged butterflies on Folly Beach, even after a very hard freeze.

Why tag them?
The whole project seems to serve a variety of purposes. Once you have gingerly held this tiny bit of beauty, felt the incredible ability in its wings and grasping feet, and wished it well along its journey, you are more likely to care about protection. And it is apparently clear that protection is increasingly important, as threats from deforestation, pesticides, habitat loss, and even climate change may be taking their toll. The 2011 Monarch pre-migration newsletter says:

The great migrations of the 90s are a thing of the past. In the future, we can expect overwintering populations in Mexico of 2-6 hectares. The main reason for the decline is loss of habitat.
Monarch habitat has been reduced by at least 140 million acres in the last 10 years – about a fifth of the total breeding area available to monarchs has been lost. At least 100 million acres of habitat has been lost due to the adoption of herbicide resistant corn and soybeans.

What else might help?
It looks like there are a lot of ways that ordinary citizens can make a difference, even in their own yards. Dewees Island is already ahead of the game in terms of not using pesticides and using native plants for gardening. Although milkweed is the most familiar of the host plants, there is only one variety of milkweed native to the South Carolina Coastal plain, and therefore eligible for cultivating on the island. Not to worry, however, there is a vine near the dunes called swallowwort, which is the most commonly used host plant for Monarch butterflies on the island.

swallow-wort vine

In your yard off the island, think about using fewer pesticides and herbicides and about planting milkweed from seed for egg-laying and caterpillars to grow on.  Allow some groundsel, aka salt myrtle to flourish in your yard, despite its scruffy appearance.  You can actually get seeds and start an official “monarch waystation” at your home, office, or school.


Click here for information about the monarch lifecyle.


Butterflies are spectacular in October

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Ahhh… October.  The marsh is golden, the sweetgrass is blooming, the warblers are careening through.  Along with sweetgrass, the camphorweed and mistflower and seaside goldenrod are all blooming along the edges, and the butterflies are truly amazing. There are gulf fritillaries everywhere, as well as a wide variety of skippers and sulphurs. A single patch of mistflower along Old House Lane boasts at least 5 kinds of butterflies.    Sunday’s Post and Courier had a great article about monarch migration:

Lowcountry beaches are the heart of one of the Eastern flyways, and at the peak of the migration, thousands of the butterflies at a time might be sipping nectar across a single barrier island.

“They roost communally and the roosts can be spectacular. I’ve seen hundreds of them assembled in a single roosting colony,” ecologist Billy McCord said.

These pics were all shot over the last few days… take a slow cart ride around the island to appreciate the fall.

Mary Alice Monroe, local bestselling author and mentor to the Dewees Turtle team, has a relatively new book out, called The Butterfly’s Daughter. She intersperses great natural history information with a good story, and writes that,

Monarch butterflies that emerge in the fall are unique. Butterflies that emerge in the spring and summer live two to four weeks. But the fourth=generation monarchs that emerge in the fall do not mate. They follow their instincts and migrate south. Called the Methuselah generation, they live for six or seven months.

In the book, you’ll find an interesting character named Billy McCall, who tags butterflies. You can learn more from our Butterfly man himself with the Dewees Island Conservancy’s butterfly/migrating bird event at the end of the month. It should be a great experience in the field! If, as the P&C reports, the monarch’s preferred food is the groundsel tree, they should be ready to bloom right about then and we should be treated to a sight!


Volunteers needed for Barrier Island Ecothon on Sunday October 23rd

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It’s that time of year again: the Barrier Island Ecothon.  If you haven’t seen this before, it’s really amazing.  Competitors start at the IOP marina, kayak to the south end of Dewees, run to the north end, swim to Capers, run to the north end of Capers, and turn around (if they are racing as a relay, they can switch in another person here) and to the whole thing backwards to the IOP marina again… and then get on a bike and ride it to the southern end of Sullivan’s at Fort Moultrie, returning again to Morgan Creek.  Volunteers are needed at both the North and South Ends of Dewees: to spot swimmers, to clock times, to help land and launch kayaks, and to cheer people on.  In previous years, we have been some of the only cheerleaders, because the island isn’t exactly easy for spectators to get to.  If you think you can volunteer, email Brett Carlson, the organizer, at  You don’t have to be an experienced volunteer.  Here’s a link to the website.  If you are a non-Dewees reader and you want to help, send me a note or comment below, and we’ll try to get you involved.


Labor Day means Dammit!ball

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passing the crown

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  We’re sorry to miss the action, but if you are on the island this weekend, the annual tournament will be Sunday the 4th at 5:00 pm.  This year’s public invite says togas and swimwear are optional.  Sounds interesting!

Not sure how to play?  We mapped it all out for you last year, so click here if you want to practice ahead of time.  It is at Osprey Walk beach, and BYOB.  It is best to come in second place, since the winners “win” the responsibility of hosting next year’s tournament. This year Michael and Kelly will be assisted by last year’s hosts Paul and Becky.