Exciting, fun, beautiful and the experience of a lifetime. Fishing along the gorgeous South Carolina coast can turn an ordinary day into one of the best days of your life.
Photograph by Ginny Horton
Saltwater is by far the most popular type of fishing in this area because there are a lot of places and a wide variety of species available. The Lowcountry has a vast coastline of inlets, bays and estuaries in which to fish, with Little River Inlet, Murrells Inlet and Winyah Bay being the most popular. Other favorite saltwater spots are Pawleys Inlet North and South, Cherry Grove, the Santee Bays and the brackish water of the Intracoastal Waterway.
For landlubbers, there is always surf fishing or ocean piers, which provide an opportunity for anglers to have a successful day for little cost. Some nearby piers are Cherry Grove, Springmaid, Garden City and Apache. In addition to ocean piers, there is a wildlife observation pier just into Georgetown on the edge of Winyah Bay that is utilized by many to catch saltwater species – along with some nice catfish.
Deciding on when, where, and what to fish with can be the difference between catching and having a nice boat ride. It is a good idea to go with a reputable private charter or head boat at least the first few times you go out. Experienced captains will do all the research regarding the daily hot spots and what kind of fish are biting. They also know the waterways, have the necessary licenses, are knowledgeable in water safety and provide all of the appropriate equipment and bait.
If you are ready to head out on your own or would rather stay on land or pier, make sure you hit the Internet for fishing reports, professional guides’ websites and tide charts beforehand. You can also stop by a local fishing shop or catch fishermen at a public boat ramp or marina and ask questions. The fishing community in the Lowcountry is widespread and usually willing to help or share information for success.
Accumulating a small arsenal of fishing gear goes a long way when fishing anywhere. This includes rods, reels, line, nets, handheld tools and terminal tackle. Terminal tackle is the term for hooks, weights, swivels, floats and anything else that attaches to the end of a line. For fishing in this area, the most versatile rod and reel setup is a 7-foot, medium-action rod with a 3000-size spinning reel. This setup can achieve success for almost anything you wish to catch within five miles of the coast. I prefer to load my 3000-size reel with about 200 yards of 15-30 pound braided line. Any inshore, near shore or freshwater fish is going to have a tough time breaking that line, while its small diameter still makes it virtually invisible under water.
Using a leader line off the tag end of braided line is always a great idea. The most commonly used leader lines are made of monofilament, fluorocarbon or wire (if targeting toothy creatures). Fluorocarbon is the most popular with monofilament coming in a close second. Either of these in 10-30 pound sizes will perform well locally for both freshwater and saltwater fishing.
One of the greatest fishing innovations in the past fifteen years is the circle hook. One reason for this is that it doesn’t require a violent jerk of the rod to ensure the hook is embedded. It also makes it almost impossible to gut hook a fish, which makes retrieving the hook much easier and drastically cuts down the mortality rate of released fish. When targeting any species of saltwater game fish other than flounder, I recommend using the circle hook in a 2/0 or 3/0 size.
The logic behind using a conventional hook for flounder is not very complicated. Its mouth shape and feeding habits are simply not circle-hook friendly. When catching flounder, I lean toward a wide bend or all-purpose bait hook in a number 2 size. Unlike the circle hook, these hooks do require a setting action of the rod in order to ensure that the hook penetrates a flounder’s boney jaw.
Most important, owning a quality landing net and pair of fish lip grips is essential for ensuring the catch. These facilitate handling the fish for pictures and are helpful for reviving a fish before release, if necessary.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, saltwater anglers in the Lowcountry target five different species: redfish, flounder, speckled trout, tarpon and black drum.
The redfish (also known as red drum or spottail bass) is universally thought to be the prize of inshore waters. It will gulp your lure/bait and scream out a good 30 or 40 yards of line before you have a chance to fight back, which makes it a blast to wrangle on a rod and reel. And it is excellent on the dinner table!
Coming in a close second, flounder can be found in local waters year round. This flatfish is found around the world in many different sub-species and is also no slouch on the rod and reel or the table. Most often in the Lowcountry, anglers catch Southern or summer flounder, which look a lot alike but can be told apart by different spot patterns on the top side of the fish.
The preferred method for flounder fishing is to troll live baits on the bottom as slowly as possible against the flow of the tide. This provides the opportunity to cover a lot of ground, and the slow speed gives the fish a good chance to bite. The same method can be mimicked from the beach by casting your bait out and slowly dragging it back to shore along the bottom.
Mullet, mud minnows, shrimp, fiddler crabs and menhaden rank among the top for dead or live baits used in local salt water. It is widely believed that there is nothing in the ocean that won’t eat a shrimp, dead or alive, which makes them the most widely used and versatile bait. However, from late spring through the summer, Lowcountry water is very warm and filled with pinfish, croaker and various other very small fish that will nibble bait off a hook. Locals call these pests “pickers,” and in the midst of the summer when the pickers are at their best, it’s a good idea to choose live mullet or minnows that stand up better against these small schooling fish.
Many anglers will also use artificial bait instead of live or dead and have just as much success. These include soft plastics such as gulp, z-man, DOA and vudu shrimp or hard plastics such as mirrOlure. They can be very effective if rigged and fished properly.
Last but not least, always remember to be safe while out fishing, boating or around tidal waterways. Have a simple first aid kit on hand, and proper safety equipment such as life jackets should be available according to state and federal laws. Fishing licenses and permits can be found at local bait shops or online. And remember to have fun and keep those lines tight!
Captain Daniel Connolly has been fishing in the Lowcountry for 13 years and is the owner of O-Fish-Al Expeditions. Visit his website at www.o-fish-al-exp.com or call (843) 241-7022.
Head Boat Trip
By Carolyn Haar
Head boat trips are regularly scheduled, individually ticketed charters on large commercial boats. If there are just a couple of you that want to go fishing, this is a perfect option. And because the price is per person rather than a set fee, it can also be less expensive than a private charter.
The New Inlet Princess at Crazy Sister Marina accommodates about 70 more people than a private boat, but there is plenty of room, and you still get the benefits of an experienced captain and a crew that will do the work for you. Four mates on board every charter set out rods, distribute plastic baskets for caught fish, bait hooks, take fish off of hooks, untangle lines if necessary and will clean fish at the end of the trip for tips. The license, bait, equipment and ice are all provided.
My 4.5-hour Sea Bass Fishing Adventure with Crazy Sister was a different experience than the private charter, but it was just as beautiful and fun. The views on the ride out to the fishing area were breathtaking, with glassy water and blue sky.
Once the boat was anchored and lines were lowered into the water, people started catching fish immediately. The same rules regarding which fish you can keep still applied, and in fact a South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officer rides on each trip to make sure the laws are kept.
There are many perks attributed to riding in a much larger boat, including onboard restrooms, a snack and beverage counter, an air conditioned inner cabin and an upper deck for relaxing and sightseeing. It was also a great deal of fun getting to know the other passengers and seeing what they caught. My fellow fishermen ranged from local, seasoned anglers to an entire boy scout troop from Irmo, South Carolina.
Several head boat trips are offered by Crazy Sister -Marina in Murrells Inlet that range from half-day adventures to an all-day Deep Sea Fishing excursion. For more information visit www.crazysister.com or call (843) 651-3676.
By Bruce Gustafson Jr.
Most people picture piers and great estuaries when they think about fishing in the Lowcountry. Visitors and locals alike often overlook the freshwater side of things. The Waccamaw River and Intracoastal Waterway provide some very good fishing. And although there are fewer species available in fresh water, catfish and bass are abundant.
In Lowcountry fresh water, it is common to hook a big catfish that will leave your reel screaming. Each catfish has a specific fight to it, and whether big or small, it is something every angler should experience.
Bass fishing is great along the Waccamaw, as well. Aside from catfishing, it is by far my next choice. Although I strictly catch and release bass, there is nothing like the fight of a beefy five-pound largemouth as its tail walks across the water. The feeling of a bass smacking your bait and the aerial displays these fish put on while hooked is something you will not soon forget.
Bruce Gustafson Jr. is the founder of the popular 843 Fishing Internet group.
By Carolyn Haar
An excellent option for groups or families that want to try some Lowcountry angling is a private charter. This means that a licensed U.S.C.G. captain with a lot of experience fishing in the area takes you out on his own boat.
Along with photographer, Ginny Horton, and the Pawleys sales team, Gary and Pat Gadek, I ventured out on the -Maggie with Captain Matt Wilkinson of Georgetown Charters on a spectacular, warm November morning. We headed out on smooth water through a picturesque fog.
About 12 miles out, Wilkinson stopped the boat on top of a sandbar in only 7-8 feet of water. “When the tide turns here, it’s a good spot,” stated Wilkinson. Once anchored, he wasted no time baiting many lines, casting them into the water and securing the poles around the perimeter of the bow of the boat.
There wasn’t a lot of fishing experience among us, and as we each decided to pick up a pole, Wilkinson was ready with instructions and suggestions. In no time at all, one of us got a bite and reeled in a beautiful redfish – the first of many. Throughout day we also caught a couple of blue crabs, several small fish that had to be thrown back and a puffer fish that no one would take home and eat – despite my dares.
This was my first time fishing, and it was very nice to have a captain that could tell me the names of the fish I caught and if they were legal. All in all, it was a peaceful, relaxing, fun way to spend half a day.
We didn’t have to buy bait, research tide charts and fishing sites, worry about running aground, buy licenses, bait hooks or provide any equipment or licenses – we just showed up at the marina, soaked in the lovely South Carolina warmth, took a lot of photographs, enjoyed each other’s company and went home with dinner. A perfect Lowcountry day.
To book a private charter, contact Georgetown Charters with Captain Matt Wilkinson or O-Fish-Al Expeditions with Captain Daniel Connelly.
Georgetown Charters: www.georgetowncharters.com (843) 997-9842
O-Fish-Al Expeditions: www.O-Fish-Al-Exp.com (843) 241-7022