top of page

Offshore fishing on the Summer Girl with Captain Stevie Leasure

By Ford Walpole

On Captain Stevie Leasure’s first offshore fishing experience, he was a young teenager who accompanying Dr. Buddy Bass and his son Byron on a trip to the ocean. Since that day, he was hooked. From then on, Stevie went fishing with a number of different people — he was always willing to work on a boat in exchange for the opportunity to go fishing. Such tasks included painting bottoms, repairing and maintaining engines and working on electrical and plumbing systems.

Eventually, Leasure partnered with some friends to purchase his own boat. The first was a 25-foot Hydra-Sports cuddy cabin. The anglers retained the name of the previously christened Summer Girl, which proved appropriate, as Leasure and his wife Denise would go on to have three daughters: Lauren, Kendall and Kaleigh. Subsequent boats included a 29-foot Phoenix and a 42-foot Post. When the Summer Girl was upgraded to a 57-foot Sea Island, Leisure’s friend Mike Jackson took over as primary owner.

After 27 years as a business owner, Leasure recently sold his interest in Carpet Baggers to devote his full attention to running the boat. “I am really fulfilling my dream career as a full-time offshore captain!” he says. The timing of this endeavor is perfect, since Stevie’s children have all grown up.

Besides fishing the waters off South Carolina, Stevie has taken the Summer Girl to Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and the Bahamas. His passion for offshore angling has led him to Bermuda, Venezuela and the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Mexico and Costa Rica. “I have been fortunate, being a father of three girls and husband to a great wife. Being a business owner allowed me to go on a lot of fishing trips and do what I love,” he says.

The sport of offshore fishing has seen many changes in the four decades since Captain Stevie first wet his lines in blue water. “When I was a kid, you were happy to find the Charleston jetties on your way home. We went from RDF (radio direction finder) and Loran to GPS and Sonar.”

Boats have gotten bigger, and more and more money is involved in offshore fishing. “Gas was thirty cents a gallon when I started fishing. Back then, we filled up the boat with a big, gravity-fed fuel tank in the yard; we all took turns reeling the pump.”

Leasure recalls when the Governor’s Cup tournament — which he has fished since its inception — only required a $500 entry fee. “Back then, tuna fishing was so good that if you didn’t catch billfish in a tournament, you could stay out for another couple of hours and catch enough tuna to sell to pay for the trip expenses,” he says.

“In the last 10 to 15 years, fishing technology has changed from heavy to light tackle.” Fishing with light tackle is a more conservation-minded approach. Stevie explains: “It is good for the fish; everything is circle hooks, so the fish don’t swallow the hook. The lighter tackle also puts less pressure on the fish because they don’t have to fight as hard, so they don’t tire out and are released much sooner.” Placing less stress on the fish ensures a significantly higher survival rate with catch and release efforts.

Leasure lauds such positive changes in fishing and credits Captain Harry Johnson — a mentor to him and countless other members of the offshore fishing community — as a pioneer of conservation in S.C. “When I was growing up, if you caught five to 10 billfish off S.C. in a season, you were one of the top boats. Now, some boats might catch that many fish in a day. Conservation efforts have led to higher numbers of fish,” he says.

“South Carolina has always been a leader in conservation efforts,” Captain Stevie points out. “I think the Governor’s Cup has been a great thing for offshore fishing. It is a lot of fun with an important social aspect, and the release rate of 98 percent is extremely high.”

When boats enter a Governor’s Cup tournament, they have the option of entering any combination of several divisions: The release division, the kill division and the meat division, which includes tuna and dolphin. More and more boats are choosing to enter the increasingly popular release division, which is based on points earned by providing video evidence of the catch. A boat earns 600 points for a blue marlin, 300 for a white marlin and 200 for a sailfish, regardless of size.

An HMS (highly migratory species) permit is required for those anglers who wish to harvest a billfish: “By law, a billfish is not supposed to break legally the plane of the boat’s covering board; if it does, you are considered to have harvested the fish. That restriction is to preserve the fish and keep it in the water before it is released.”

More billfish are often killed in a single, out-of-state tournament than are harvested in an entire season in S.C. To be more specific, “in three tournaments this year, no blue marlin have been killed at all, yet a record number have been caught and released. Every year, only between one to three blue marlin are harvested in the Governor’s Cup; such fish must measure 105 inches or longer from the fork of the tail to the bottom jaw; this size fish equates to roughly a 400-pound marlin.”

For Captain Stevie Leasure, offshore fishing is about a great deal more than the catch. “My best memories overall are just having the whole family on the boat. It is always super special to have Denise and the girls on the boat with me.”

Though Denise was not particularly thrilled at the time, Lauren decided to accompany her father at the Georgetown Tournament when she was only seven years old, a trip on which she caught a 20-pound dolphin. Lauren went on to fish Georgetown with her father for 20 consecutive years until a work conflict finally broke the streak.

When Lauren, Kendall and Kaleigh were young, they loved spending the night on the boat with Stevie, who entertained them with popcorn and movies shown on portable DVD players. Kendall always made sure to kiss the bait — for good luck. “My girls all still love to go fishing — whether they go with me or on another boat!” Stevie says with pride.

Though Leasure and the Summer Girl have won a past Governor’s Cup Billfish Tournament Series, “my greatest offshore fishing accomplishment is my involvement with the conservation effort of the South Carolina Memorial Reef,” he declares. The reef includes a four-mile by six-mile area offshore, which is part of the Charleston Deep Reef project.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) needed help with the funding of the project, and the grassroots effort began with a group of friends talking on the dock one day about how to honor Robbie Johnson and Tony Smoak, two members of the offshore fishing community, who both died at young ages and within less than a year of one another.

Leasure and friends “started knocking on doors and holding functions to raise funds from private donations.” The reef includes four sites and consists of the Highway 41 bridge, the Voyager ship, barges, and additional sunken material. “S.C. does not have great structure offshore,” Leisure explains, “so the reef creates an underwater dwelling that strengthens the food chain and contributes to better fishing.” The reef, he continues, “benefits the younger generation, who will add to it, so it will just get better and better!”

Stevie and his friends eventually turned over management of their fundraising efforts to the S.C. Governor’s Cup, which recently announced: “With the help of many Governor’s Cup participants, over one million dollars have been raised to support the S.C. Memorial Reef and its various artificial reef projects.”

Leasure has taken people fishing who, on the way out, have sprinkled the ashes of loved ones over the reef, which he likewise plans to be his own fitting, final resting place.

“From that first day I went with Dr. Bass to each new day, I just can’t get enough!” Captain Stevie says of his love for offshore fishing. “The suspense of what is going to hit that bait has always kept me going. Even if you have had 10 bad days in a row, you just never know what is going to happen next. The ocean is like the woods; it just keeps going and doesn’t stop!

“I also love offshore fishing because you never know what you are going to see,” he continues. “One of the most amazing things I have witnessed occurred on a not-so-great day of fishing. Out in the middle of the ocean, I watched a pod of porpoises literally playing a game of volleyball with an octopus. In the Pacific, I loved seeing sea lions and orca.” Leasure recalls.

“It is just so cool to watch the sunrise over the ocean. It is just the most amazing thing in the world, and something I will never take for granted!”

Ford Walpole lives and writes on John’s Island and is the author of many articles on the outdoors. He teaches English at James Island Charter High School and the College of Charleston and may be reached at


Featured Articles
Tag Cloud
bottom of page