April 2020

The Ripple Effect: Trent Malphrus

Author: Nina Greenplate | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

The soul of South Carolina’s Lowcountry rests comfortably on the shoulders of one of its own. Native islander and master fisherman Captain Trent Malphrus wakes each day with a grateful to-do list and a love for his life on the water. From the Calibogue and Port Royal Sound, to the fantastic 11-mile lagoon in Palmetto Dunes, his office is visual theater for wildlife enthusiasts, and those of an outdoor persuasion. “The best sunrises and sunsets are on the tail end of a front,” said Malphrus in his gliding, Southern drawl. “The colors just pop. A perfect day is to not miss that sunrise.” Four a.m. is go-time each day for Malphrus; time to prioritize and visualize the day ahead.

Appreciation for nature was innate. As a young boy, at the boots of his late father Woody Malphrus, he learned by example. “My dad was amazing,” Malphrus said. “I worked and fished with him every day of my life.” His friend and confidant, Malphrus Sr. was a hard-core fisherman, master woodworker and the best example of living by the principles of the Golden Rule.

Treating others the way you want to be treated is more than just an empty phrase and is not lost on Malphrus’ two sons, 16-year-old Trent Jr. and 10-year-old Gage. They are beneficiaries of this tradition and the joy of Malphrus’ life. The boys are growing to be young men with similar affinities, taking seriously the local landscape and loving extreme outdoor sports like competitive motor-cross, skateboarding, surfing and, of course, fishing. “My eldest has a talent for building things,” Malphrus said proudly.

Trent Jr. is studying to become a marine technician with Yamaha, the fastest growing producer of outboard motors in the marine industry today. “Gage just wants to fish and hunt,” Malphrus said. “Just like me when I was his age, it is all he talks about.” Both boys help with boat maintenance at Palmetto Lagoon Charters, Malphrus’ light tackle and fly rod fishing excursion business with partner Penny Pendleton Dunbar.

“It isn’t work when you love what you do,” Malphrus said. “Everyone who steps onto my boat is a potential friend.” This captain is interested in building relationships and is as sincere in his love for the returning families as they are about him. “It is a hands-on learning experience with me, no doubt,” he said. “We keep improving, working up to master the correct technique, and positive reinforcement is essential.”

It may surprise some that this master angler says the catch is but a bonus. But make no mistake; Malphrus wants that catch! Yet, he reminds that other experiences on the water can be just as extraordinary. “The waters of Broad Creek and how the dolphins interact with the boats—people are just mind blown,” he said.

Winged beauties like the great blue heron, nesting osprey and the great and snowy egret, frame the waterway landscape, waiting for an easy snack. Catfish, bass and panfish rule the freshwater, while tarpon, jack and snook swim where the tidal area begins.

Providing a fresh enthusiasm with each trip, Malphrus presents the surroundings as an artist would reveal another’s work. He adds his own interpretation as a finishing touch. His creativity extends beyond his vessels, and he uses the ocean as inspiration. “Anything that floats, I collect,” he said. Malphrus gives second life to oyster shells, driftwood, sharks’ teeth, and other treasures of the tide. Oyster shells are a favorite, especially those of an iridescent gray and white, where rough edges become sanded and smoothed by the water. He once dragged a heavy piece of driftwood over five miles along the shoreline for use in one of his pieces. In the time he can spare from his busy charter schedule, he’s made some impressive items: wall-mounted mirror frames, hanging lamps, planters, jewelry boxes, and beautiful fish replicas he may never sell.

Malphrus has more than a bushel of fish stories, but one stands out like a strobe light in his memory. “It took three years to find it, and 10 minutes to lose it,” recalls a still somber Malphrus of his Costa Rican tale. The right river mouth was hard to find due to the countless miles of untouched beaches. He and best friend, local Byron Sewell, hooked the elusive Black Snook, in the place where the world record was held for the largest of this exciting gamefish. A broken line equaled a broken heart for these avid anglers. Disappointing was an understatement, he noted.

Closer to home, it’s the speckled sea trout that is a running addiction. Locally known as the gentleman’s fish, this inshore gamefish beauty was always recognized as a premier catch. The female, known as the gator, is exceptional. She is one of the most difficult fish to target and hook! The gator is a fighter with a mean strike but well worth the arm strain to reel her in. “It is the best eating fish there is,” Malphrus said.

Nature’s touch on the Lowcountry captures many an onlooker. Some are fortunate to see deeper and work the scenery as intended: to enjoy, educate on, and preserve. Captain Malphrus describes many a beautiful sunrise, but several years ago, he experienced something magnificent. Several miles off the beach, on the backside of an ocean sandbar near Gaskin Hills, Malphrus tells of witnessing 30 to 40 thousand-pound, leatherback turtles gathered on the surface, feasting on jellyfish inside a massive jellyfish field. It is rare to see more than five leatherbacks per season and likened it to a National Geographic moment. “It was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.”

Former President Jimmy Carter once said, “Many of the most highly publicized events of my presidency are not nearly as memorable or significant in my life as fishing with my daddy.” Malphrus knows the value of time spent well, in particular time enjoyed with, and as, a father. The ripple effect of Malphrus’ devotion to these Lowcountry waterways is golden, to be felt for generations to come.

Learn more at palmettolagooncharters.com.

  1. Beautiful article – beautifully written.

    — Maria Elia    Apr 3, 02:28 pm   

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