From tiny streams trickling down toward the flatlands, to the rivers feeding the state’s reservoirs, to coastal estuaries discharging into the Atlantic, the Palmetto State is blessed with a dizzying array of waters. Fishing hotspots come in all sizes, depths, flows and chemistries.
It’s impossible to catch every species of game fish available in any given year or for that matter, over the lifetime of most fishermen. Still, it’s nice to give it a try, or at least to catch those closest to home.
You can pick your poison, tackling those fish that interest you the most. We will help you make the selection. Here’s the rundown on some of the hottest fishing opportunities.
News of giant bluefin tuna has been spreading across the Palmetto State from Hilton Head for almost a decade. But landing one has been only an occasional feat. Even when one of the super-charged tuna has been landed, it has usually been caught in North Carolina waters and incidentally landed in South Carolina.
In January 2006, Capt. Michael Perry set his mind on catching a genuine Palmetto State bluefin. Perry has fished charter boats in Florida and South Carolina most of his adult life. He has been a captain for eight years and has fished aboard Echo, a 32-foot Prowler owned by Randy Osterstock, as mate and part-time captain for 10 seasons.
“There’s a core of captains at Harbor Town Marina,” Perry said. “We’re like brothers and share information. When I heard bluefin were off Hilton Head, I got ready to go.
“Clark Hill caught the first one in 1999 and only eight or nine had been caught since,” he said. “Only a couple of boats are equipped to catch them here because it’s a new fishery. I was trolling with three Penn 80w reels 30 miles offshore at a place called The Hump. There is not much contour change, but there are ledges out there where we catch grouper and snapper. The depth is 86 feet.”
Before heading out, Perry checked an online temperature chart and found a 56-degree water at The Hump.
“We trolled horse ballyhoos on blue-and-white Islanders at our numbers, then went around the R7 Navy Tower,” he said. “We saw bonito swirling and birds picking. But we didn’t get a bite, so we headed back to the ledges. There were wads of birds and bonito working and we could smell fish. That’s when we hooked up.”
The turbo-charged fish stripped 900 yards of 80-pound line, which was regained after a chase. Then it made three more 600-yard runs in five minutes. Anglers Jim Scott Middleton and Robbie Marioudas tired the fish for over four hours until it was landed.
The giant bluefin officially weighed 396 pounds, 14.4 ounces at the dock and was certified as the new state record although the crew had bled the fish for market, so it had lost weight. There are bigger fish in South Carolina waters in January.
Lake Wylie is located along the North Carolina-South Carolina state line. The lake offers miles of shoreline cover, including docks, riprap, stumps and brushy areas in the back of creeks. Still, many crappie fishermen hedge their bets by sinking evergreens at intersections of submerged creek beds in 5 to 25 feet of water.
It may be cold, but the crappie like it that way. Some anglers wait until warmer weather to fish for Wylie’s crappie, but there’s no need to wait for spring to get in on the action.
Wylie grows some heavyweights. In fact, a 2-pound crappie hardly elicits more than a yawn from serious winter anglers.
The good news about fishing in February is there is scant competition from other fishermen. While springtime anglers wait until the fish are moving into spawning or pre-spawning habitats in the backs of coves and creeks or in the mouths of the creeks, most of the February fish will be concentrated in big schools along dropoffs outside the creeks.
The fish congregate at ledges where the water depth may drop suddenly from 20 to 30 feet. A depthfinder will show the locations of big schools of baitfish and the crappie feeding on them anywhere the drop is pronounced.
Little River Inlet
Spotted Sea Trout
Little River Inlet was the hotspot for speckled trout last spring and this year’s fishing should be just as good. Live shrimp, minnow-imitating lures, and jigs are the ticket.
The key to catching specks is finding an area with plenty of bait; if you are lucky, you find the bait in a March that followed several mild winters in a row. Specks are subject to winterkill farther north. But at the northern part of South Carolina, winters remain mild, growing big specks. Specks are prolific fish with a protracted breeding period during the spring, summer and early fall, leading to large numbers.
But they also grow fast, with a 4-pound speck female attaining that size in just three seasons. Male fish grow slower, but get as large.
Fishing with live baits of any kind will catch specks. Among the best baits are live shrimp, mud minnows, mullet and menhaden. However, for the biggest specks, trophy fishermen should not overlook spots and croakers, which are primary prey for jumbo-sized specks.
However you want to cut it, the often-overlooked Lake Greenwood is overshadowed by larger reservoirs. But just how much water can a bass angler cover in a day? Lake Greenwood is 11,400 acres of bass heaven.
Lake Greenwood consistently ranks in the top three or four categories for largemouth bass, including the number of fish caught per acre and the average weight of the fish.
April is a peak month for catching largemouth bass and Lake Greenwood is a very good place to do it. The fish are moving into shallow water and will be striking topwater lures, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and Carolina-rigged soft plastics cast to any visible structure.
The full moon in April will unveil bass fishing of the best it will be all season. The ideal temperature range of between 65 and 72 degrees will strike Greenwood sometime in the month of April and bass wi
ll become very aggressive as the spawn begins.
The first fabulous flounder run occurs by May. At Cherry Grove, the fish are moving up the tidal creeks.
Live baits are the way to go for flounder. The fish are bottom huggers, so bottom-fishing with Carolina rigs is the best way to catch them.
Drifting and trolling are excellent tactics for catching large numbers of flounder. Drifting the larger creeks and bays and tossing a live mullet, menhaden or mud minnow to tiny gaps in the shoreline or to the mouths of feeder creeks will entice flounder to strike.
In deeper channels, using an outboard to set up a controlled drift or trolling run will help keep lines from tangling and put the baits where you want them to be, which is along the downstream side of bars or in the deeper holes where flounder lurk. Wind and current often fight for control of the boat, with each drift through the same fishing spot different from the last unless artificial control is used.
An electric trolling motor works best for fishing in the shallower waters of less than 3 or 4 feet. Flounder can be spooky fish, fleeing from the rumble of an outboard if disturbed in shallow water. Flounder feed by stealth and stealth tactics also help fishermen catch the biggest flatties.
Big king mackerel surge along the coast in June. While they school farther offshore the rest of the year, June weather brings them in close where they can be caught by anglers fishing from small boats or from the piers.
Live baits are the ticket to smoker kings, which can top 30 pounds. Off the piers, trolley rigs are used to lower live baits like bluefish, spots, croakers, mullet and menhaden to the water. The anchor line is cast first, with a heavy surf sinker to hold it in place. The bait is lowered to the water like a trolley, suspended from the weight line by a release clip or clothespin.
When a king mackerel swims by, or any other predator like a Spanish mackerel, shark or cobia, it’s game time. A big king mackerel can run off 200 to 300 yards of line during the initial run, followed by several shorter runs until the fish tires.
In July, it’s hot. But so is the fishing. Anglers who want to beat the heat will do it best by fishing at night.
The standing timber at Lake Marion holds plenty of blue catfish. They bite cut shad, which can be bought in bait shops or caught in cast nets and frozen for several evenings of fishing pleasure.
One of the best places to fish out of is Randolph’s Landing. There are marked navigation channels cleared through the woodwork to help fishermen find their way.
Drifting dead baits and cut baits along the bottom is the way to catch the fish. Anytime there has been a rain shower or thunderstorm, fishermen should work the mud lines, which can lead to incredible catches of big fish. The muddy water forces the fish away from the banks until the water clears again and they can return to their shoreline holes.
Red drum roam the surf in August, with some of the biggest fish of the year showing up at the Charleston Harbor jetties.
These can be some real bruisers, weighing above 30 pounds. The falling tide is the time to catch them.
Anchoring along a gap in the rocks and tossing live baits fished on bottom rigs is the way to catch the giant reds. But jigs, spoons and lures will also catch them, along with smaller fish right on down to the 12-inch puppy drum.
Often several boats are anchored within casting distance of a good spot. So courtesy is required. Anytime a big fish is hooked, nearby anglers should watch their lines and reel them up to prevent tangles.
August is the precursor to fall fishing, with a night here and there toward the end of the month with cooling temperatures heralding the mullet run. Once the mullet arrive in force by the end of the month, it’s time to head for the jetties. But red drum also lurk along bars, islands and in deep channels. On hotter days, it pays to prospect the deep holes and navigation channels with cut baits for big redfish.
In September, Lake Hartwell stripers begin striking live baits fished on the underwater hills in the middle of the lake. The fish can be as deep as 30 to 60 feet and can be found with an electronic depthfinder. Shad and blueback herring schools are the key and the warm water conditions combined with the cooling effects of fall evenings make the baitfish concentrate in masses.
Live baits are fished with weighted lines to carry the bait down to the fish and slow-trolling or drifting are the best techniques. Many nice striped bass have come from Lake Hartwell, one of the biggest lakes in the Southeast.
Stripers range up to the record size fish of 59 1/2 pounds; a routine catch of Lake Hartwell striped bass weighs between 3 and 10 pounds, with fish up to 30 pounds caught with regularity.
At night, the fish may begin moving to the surface by late in the month, where crankbaits and topwater baits will catch them.
Still, for artificial lure experts, trolling deep divers or jigging with spoons or bucktail jigs will be the best bet.
In October, the river levels are usually down to normal levels after the tropical events of August and September. The water has cooled and the panfish are back to biting again.
There are several accesses to the Waccamaw River near Myrtle Beach and these ramps are host to some hot panfishing.
Redbreasts, warmouth bluegills, shellcrackers, fliers and crappie abound in the Waccamaw. Cypress knees, logjams, sandbars and creek mouths hold plenty of panfish. Most anglers use spinners and live baits, casting after panfish in the “anything that bites” category.
The Chattooga, Chauga, Middle Saluda and Whitewater rivers in the mountainous areas of the state offer some excellent fishing for rainbow, brook and brown trout.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources begins stocking coldwater trout in the state’s upcount
ry waters in March, including waters of Oconee, Pickens and Greenville counties. The fish are reared at the SCDNR Walhalla State Fish Hatchery in Oconee County. The SCDNR releases 350,000 to 400,000 trout annually to provide anglers with expanded fishing opportunities. Stream stocking days are randomly selected and unannounced and streams are stocked on an average of every week to 10 days during spring months.
Stream regulations for mountain trout vary widely but begin with the basis of a 10-fish creel limit. Some waters have a total ban on trout harvest after Nov. 1, so the regulations must be checked before fishing.
Richard B. Russell Lake
The state-record walleye was a whopper, weighing 10 pounds and was caught from Lake Russell by Robert Huskins in 1994. There are plenty of big walleyes in the lake, yet few anglers try to catch them.
There are plenty of good boating accesses on the lake. Watch the depthfinder for fish near the bottom wherever there are baitfish concentrations in deep water. The big blips below the baitfish are likely to be walleyes.
Bumping the bottom with live minnows fished on jigheads or behind spinner blades is the way to go for walleyes. Walleyes can form thick schools when the water turns colder. The colder it gets, the more the fish activate.
Drifting and slow-trolling tactics work well for walleyes. While the fish are not as hard fighting as some of the other game fish, they make up for their lack of enthusiasm on the table, with firm, white fillets sure to please winter anglers.
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