The light from the half-moon dances over the shallow salt water just off the boat landing at Skull Creek near Bluffton, S.C. It’s where Jeff Starling launches his custom made 20-foot all-welded aluminum boat into the inter-coastal waters behind Hilton Head and Daufuskie Islands. The breeze is warm and the tide is low. The perfect time for flounder gigging.
In water from six inches to three feet deep, Starling, a licensed captain/guide in both Georgia and South Carolina, steers the flat-bottomed boat around oyster shell islands and stands of marsh grass visiting the hot spots he has mapped out after many successful trips. With a crew of up to four people, he searches the clear water for the outlines of flounder lying on the creek floor. Crew members help scout by leaning over waist-high railings surrounding the bow searching for the shadow of a fish.
If the floor is sandy, the flounder are mostly white with brown spots. If the floor is muddy, the flounder are dark brown with white spots. They blend in to the background so well, it takes Starling’s experienced eye to spot one. Each member of the crew is alert and armed with a three or four prong barbed gig. With arms raised ready to strike, the fishermen look almost primitive silhouetted behind the 4,000 watts of light mounted on the bow shining in the water like daylight.
When a flounder is spotted, there’s the fast action of the fisher with the closest gig stabbing the water with all the excitement and hope of spearing a big one. In one quick movement the flounder is pulled from the water, measured, and dropped into a custom outfitted cooler designed to clear the gig and drop the fish right onto the ice. It’s a scene that’s repeated from 20 to 40 times a trip. He stops at 40 because that’s the legal limit on flounder which must measure 14 inches or longer.
There may be limit on how many flounder you can catch, but there is no limit to the excitement you can experience on one of Jeff Starling’s outdoor adventures.
Always an avid sportsman, after graduating Portal High School in 1993, Starling spent several years working on dry land. He helped build the Walmart Distribution Center, did environmental clean-up for CSX Railroad, did custom farming, and managed a tire store, always hunting and fishing during his free time. A member of the Bulloch Bassmasters from 2004 – 2008, Starling did freshwater tournament fishing on weekends for several years, too. After taking trips to the Midwest for quail, elk, and pheasant hunts, Starling began to think about turning his leisure pastimes into a fulltime source of income for him and his family.
“It’s my passion. I’ve always done it. Since I was ten or twelve-years-old, and my daddy would take me with him,” he said. Starling credits his dad, Taylor, with teaching him the basics of how to handle a gun and a fishing rod, and has fond memories of time spent with him outdoors. “I was in my daddy’s pocket,” he said.
A self-described wing shooter, Starling spends the fall and winter months scheduling quail and pheasant hunts for groups of from two to twelve near the Bay Gall area. The quail hunts can be guided or self-guided and include the opportunity to harvest twelve birds per person during the three-hour hunts. Starling’s friend Todd Reid helps with the bird hunts, dressing the quarry in the field for the hunters as they shoot.
Starling uses his own German short-hair bird dogs which he also raises and sells. “I have kind of a knack for training them,” he said. “I raise them from puppies teaching them obedience, retrieving, pointing, and backing through repetition.” Starling taught himself how to best handle the training by observing and connecting with the dogs.
With flounder gigging trips scheduled for April through the end of November, quail and pheasant hunts from October through March, and turkey, dove, and deer in between, Starling has a year-round line up of tours. His reputation for providing a superior flounder gigging or hunting experience has gotten noticed.
A couple of years ago, 24-7 Hunting TV filmed one of Starling’s hunting expeditions for an episode of the show Smacked TV which is still playing on YouTube. In June of this year, Starling was asked by the South’s queen of cooking – Paula Deen – to film a segment to be shown on her new on-line network, The Paula Deen Network. To prepare for that show, Starling took Deen, her husband, and a film crew flounder gigging. They yielded 15 fish for dinner and one of Starling’s special flounder recipes.
He will cook for his bird hunts too, offering what he calls a “continental hunt,” including cleaning of birds, with a country dinner prepared by his mom, Statesboro City Clerk Sue Starling, and her husband, Charles.
While quail hunts, pheasant hunts, and flounder excursions are his primary gigs, Starling is called on to do custom hunting trips in the Midwest for elk and pheasant. He will also customize a hunt or fishing trip here upon request and has experience with just about anything you can hunt or catch.
Future plans include booking daytime fishing trips on weeks alternating with flounder gigging. Since flounder gigging trips are at night to catch the tides, Starling is open every other week to do daytime fishing excursions. He’s looking at adding those trips next summer.
Another opportunity he’s looking into is alligator hunting trips. Starling says, “Whoever gets the alligator tags can book me for four days. I will go scouting in the Savannah River District and look for the gators. We will go hunting all four nights and come back to Statesboro during the day.” What’s the best time to do alligator scouting? “During the heat of the day when they’re sunning on the banks,” he said.
It seems like Starling knows everything about fishing and game in South Georgia. “I just want to show people a good time,” he said. “I like to make them comfortable with the outdoors. I like to introduce people to the basic skills of hunting and fishing. I like to go above and beyond to create an experience they will remember. I want everyone to be able to experience what I love.”
Jeff Starling has figured out how to make a business out of his favorite pastimes. “There are more things than just work,” he said. “I never get tired. What I do isn’t work.”
Editor’s Note: To learn more or to book a fishing or hunting trip visit www.StarlingAdventures.com.