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5 Top Picks For Carolina Saltwater Action

5 Top Picks For Carolina Saltwater Action
Here are some top picks and tips for some of South Carolina's finest saltwater fishing. (May 2009)

Coastal fishermen certainly have diverse and excellent opportunities when selecting fishing targets in South Carolina. First, there are several species that offer exceptional inshore fishing that, between them, produce good fishing throughout the year. On the other hand, by going offshore, anglers can enter a whole new world of big-game fishing opportunities.

In this feature, we'll take a look at some of the best of the inshore fishing with one very good offshore fishing opportunity.

The big three of inshore fishing along the South Carolina coast would have to be the redfish, spotted seatrout and the flounder. All are highly prized and sought-after saltwater species.

But another fish that provides tremendous fishing opportunity is the whiting. Often overlooked by inshore anglers, whiting can be caught in excellent numbers during the summer and fall. In addition, as table fare, this fish certainly ranks among the best.

In the offshore category, we'll look at the dolphin. The fish is prolific and found in good numbers and excellent sizes. Moreover, right now is some of the very best dolphin fishing of the year, and good fishing will continue throughout the next couple of months.

We'll begin with the spottail bass, also known as the redfish. It is one of the most targeted species of fish in the inshore waters of South Carolina.

There are numerous reasons why this fish is the No. 1 inshore fish along our coast. They are abundant, grow to big sizes, fight hard and they can be caught on heavy, light and fly tackle. Plus, when you catch fish in the legal slot limit, they are awesome table fare.

Coordinating your fishing technique to the tide movement is the key to success for this fish. Spottail bass are caught at all stages of the tide throughout the year. The key is to use the right technique for each phase of the tide.

During a period either side of the low tide, spottail bass are often roaming the shallows looking for an easy meal. That preferred meal is apt to vary depending on the season. You can use a cast net to catch their favored forage, which can be finger mullet, menhaden and so on. A minnow trap will enable you to catch mudminnows, which also can be purchased commercially. Rig live bait under a cork and work the shallow flats.

On a rising tide, when the water is back in the grass, spottail bass often patrol the edge lines of the grass looking for a meal. Again, the live bait is an excellent choice, but you can also catch them using artificial lures.

Both surf- and pier-fishing will produce spottail bass during the summer and fall months. During the summer months, another favored way to take these fish is by sight-fishing. Looking for tailing fish on the grassbeds at high tide is the epitome of redfish angling to some anglers.

Ken Privette is a Mt. Pleasant redfish addict who focuses his fishing for reds on tailing fish whenever he can.


"In terms of fishing for reds, I live for sight-fishing this species," Privette said. "I like to get in the grass as soon as the water will let me on the rising tide. The biggest problem for many when sight-fishing for redfish is to rush as far back on the flat on a flood tide as quickly as possible. What I discovered is that by going in as far as I could, I'd be passing by many fish. Now I slowly move in, watching the area very closely. Instead of rushing past the fish, I usually see them working their way back, feeding as they go.

"The reds don't rush all the way back to the back, they work their way in while feeding," he said. "Many times, I'll see one fish a distance off, but by watching, I'll often pick out more fish between me and that fish. Instead of rushing to the first one I see, I often will now have two or three extra opportunities. I generally still end up in the back of the flat as the water gets near the highest level, but the difference is I usually have been catching fish all the way back there. The same process is true on the reverse as the water begins to drop."

The word on the spotted seatrout is that fishing is good throughout the year, but right now through the summer is an ideal time for live-bait fishing. Several guides will quickly discuss how fishing live bait under a popping cork will produce limits of fish.

Most fishermen seem to prefer moving water when fishing for trout, with both rising and dropping tides being productive. According to one trout fisherman, Tommy Tanner, either a dropping or rising tide will produce action. But like all fishermen, he does have a preference.

"I prefer a falling tide for trout fishing," Tanner said. "But using the right techniques you can catch spotted seatrout on a rising or falling tide and you can catch them when the tide is nearing high or when it's getting very low."

Tanner said the dropping tide seems to bunch the fish up as the water continues to fall. He will begin fishing as the water is coming out of the grass. If the fish bite for a while, and then the action slows, he will move. He said there are usually some obvious places he can look for them. One is a nearby deeper hole of water. Another is to move farther down the creek toward deeper water or into the next larger creek.

Techniques will vary, but one of the top ways to catch spotted seatrout is to cast a lure, such as a jighead with a DOA shrimp, toward the shoreline and work it along the bottom with the current. Another prime technique is to drift live bait around the same structures, with live shrimp being a favored choice.

"Other good live-bait choices include finger mullet and mudminnows," he said. "Properly presented, trout have a hard time passing up any live bait offering."

Trolling is another tool trout fishermen employ to find and catch trout.

A good tactic is to rig two or three rods with different lures or colors of jigs and trailers and work along the edges of grassbeds, particularly over points and by the mouths of side creek junctions. If you hit a hotspot and hook multiple fish in a small stretch, you can always switch to casting to cover the area more thoroughly.

Certainly one of the most sought-after inshore saltwater fish, flounder is often pursued for its table fare consideration alone. But this flatfish has a lot of other great qualities. They are caught in good numbers throughout the summer and fall, can be caught in very shallow water at

times and a variety of techniques will work on these fish.

And many anglers consider them the best-tasting fish of all inshore species.

The most popular method to catch flounder is by trolling live bait. By May, founder are following warming water and baitfish. These will draw the fish back into shallow inshore waters where they will present anglers with excellent fishing opportunities throughout the summer and fall.

Trolling the inlets around ledges, drops and humps is an excellent technique. Also, working across the mouths of creeks and even small ditch or drainage junctions will produce a lot of fish.

While many fishermen focus on the larger inlets and creeks because that is generally where most of the flounder reside, there is some excellent fishing up some of the smaller and secondary creeks.

The key here is to locate areas that have not been hammered by other flounder fishermen. These areas will not "reseed" with additional flounder as quickly as the larger inlets near the ocean. But if you can get into a mud and shell area that has several drainages flowing into it out of large flats, you'll have a lot of baitfish in the area. If you have plenty of baitfish, the flounder will come.

The biggest issue to recognize is that once you find a good spot and catch several flounder, you'll likely have to wait a few days before you can expect to score well again.

But if you find one such area, odds are good you can find others. Find half a dozen places like that and you can rotate your fishing posts and enjoy good fishing in some degree of solitude. But fishing the large inlet areas is certainly consistently productive.

Most flounder fishermen will use mudminnows or finger mullet as their live bait of choice.

There are some anglers who will fish jigheads with a mudminnow trailer and work from one small creek or drainage junction to another. They will cast around the target areas looking for flounder. Often, they can find a couple or more flounder in the area. If you're not into trolling, this is an enjoyable and effective alternative. And odds are good you'll also pick up redfish or spotted seatrout.

The whiting is an often-overlooked inshore species, but it is actually very popular with some inshore anglers. For openers, the fish is abundant and doesn't quire sophisticated tackle or precise presentations to catch. They do put up a decent fight on light tackle and are excellent as table fare.

The fish are available in good numbers during the spring, summer and fall. In fact, a lot of shrimpers will double their pleasure when shrimping and target whiting on the same trip. When the shrimping is slow or after they have caught limits, anglers cast bottom rigs out baited with pieces of -- what else -- shrimp. The edges along channel drops or creeks junctions are all prime target whiting areas.

The one thing that attracts whiting is shrimp. If you're in an area where there are a lot of shrimp, odds are good you'll find whiting willing to bite.

These fish are great for pier-fishermen and are a staple of the summertime pier-fishing reports all along the coast. So, if you don't have a boat, this is a great way to enjoy saltwater fishing.

If you do have a boat, fish the edges of channels, points and other identifiable bottom changes where shrimp or other baitfish are located. Whiting are great at locating bait by scent, so one common practice is to peel the shrimp before you use it as bait. Fresh shrimp does seem to work better than smelly, old shrimp.

Also, if you catch a few fish and the action slows, move to another spot. You may not have to move far, as the whiting will usually bite rather quickly if they are in the area.

When considering an offshore species, the dolphin is certainly one that provides a lot of fishing opportunities and success for South Carolina saltwater anglers. This prolific fish is found in big numbers off the coast right now and will provide good fishing throughout the summer.

This fish species has many qualities that make it a favorite among saltwater fishermen. The dolphin averages excellent size, grows tremendously fast, fights hard and jumps high. With liberal creel limits, it can be caught in big numbers and provides exciting, fast-paced action. As table fare, it is ranks at the top of the list, according to many saltwater anglers.

But according to one dolphin expert, there's even more. Don Hammond is a Marine Fisheries Biologist with Cooperative Science Services LLC. Hammond has been conducing long-term studies of the dolphin, which include satellite tracking. He was also the long-term recognized dolphin expert with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) before his retirement.

"From all indications, the dolphin is one of the few saltwater species where fish stocks are in good shape," Hammond said. "But the dolphin has more going for it than good abundance. Based on the data we have from research, it is the most important fish to the bluewater troll fisheries from North Carolina to Florida."

There are some very specific features and patterns that anglers need to key on to find and catch dolphin consistently.

According to some veteran dolphin fishermen, there are general areas that will be consistently productive, but each trip is different in terms of exactly where you'll find fish.

Look for specific things that will attract dolphin, such as water temperature variables. Seams where water temperatures change rapidly can be prime spots for dolphin to congregate and are recognized by a quick change in surface temperature.

Other features to key on include a noticeable tide line, birds feeding on bait and schools of bait that are spotted near the surface. In addition, floating patches of grass are a prime place. Actually, any debris like floating lumber, a sheet of plywood, even a piece of Styrofoam from a dock are dolphin attractors. Essentially, anything floating has the potential to attract and hold dolphin.

"Dolphin tend to run in the upper water column," Hammond said. "So, fishermen generally fish near or on the surface."

When trolling, most dolphin fishermen keep the boat speed around 5 to 7 knots. Many prefer natural baits rigged with colored skirts or artificial lures. Sometimes dolphin will be so numerous in an area anglers can stop trolling and actually cast to them. When this occurs, the best advice is to try and keep one hooked at all times. It seems to have a positive effect on keeping the others in a bite mode. As soon as another dolphin is hooked up, get the other one in. Often multiple dolphin can be hooked at any given time.

This is a great fish to pursue if you want to hire a guide or charter boat for a day of fishing.

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