October 04, 2010
If you're looking for red-hot saltwater action through the summer, there are plenty of opportunities along the South Carolina coast. (May 2010)
By Terry Madewell
While fishing for select saltwater species can be very good throughout the year, the month of May is prime time for saltwater action to jump into overdrive. With cooperative weather and flourishing forage fish numbers, the saltwater bite is on.
While the list of possible species to fish for is long, there are a few that provide consistent fishing right now and through the summer months.
The big three saltwater species for most South Carolina inshore anglers are flounder, redfish and trout. In addition, the fishing for sheepshead is absolutely awesome and shark fishing offers a wide variety of opportunities from inshore along the Intercoastal Waterway to fishing offshore for the really big species of Jaws.
We'll take a close look at each of these five species and let you know how to get in on the action. In each case, the fishing for each species is good all along the South Carolina coast.
While the fishing for flounder begins to improve inshore by March, May is the month when the action really gets rolling and stays consistent throughout the summer and fall.
Flounder are among the most popular of all saltwater fish species in South Carolina. They're good fighting fish, great eating and generally not all that difficult to target and catch. As with any species, having a good game plan is the key.
That game plan should include consolidation of factors that determine where the fish will be at any given time. These include factoring forage, tides and structure into your fishing strategy.
Flounder can be taken on any tide but the places where you may find them will change dramatically from a low to a high tide. Key your efforts near major inlets from the inshore waters to the ocean and look for the mouths of smaller creeks feeding into the main inlet.
One proven method is to anchor the boat off the shoreline where you can easily cast to the area you've targeted. Tie a 1/0 Kahle hook at the bottom of a 14- to 18-inch leader below a barrel swivel. Put a sliding float above it and a bobber stopper, which can be a piece of rubber band, at the depth you want the float. Set the float position so the bait will be just off the bottom. Best baits for flounder include mudminnows, finger mullet, small menhadden and shrimp.
Cast the rig slightly up current of where the target area and allow it to drift along the edgeline of the grass and shells. If that doesn't produce action, rig the float a bit deeper and work slightly deeper water. If working progressively deeper for a couple more casts does not produce any action, pull anchor and move to another spot.
When you locate a productive spot it's not unusual to catch multiple fish from the same general area using this method. Thus, if you catch one fish, don't automatically haul the anchor and move. One good flounder in the cooler warrants a few more casts to that area before leaving. When the action slows at the spot you're fishing, often all you'll need to do to get back into action is to move the boat a very short distance and begin fishing again.
You can also work the same type of area with a jig head and a grub or substitute a mudminnow for the grub. You can also work the larger creek mouths in the same manner.
Many anglers will drift or troll these areas to cover more territory. When drifting or trolling, and anytime you are flounder fishing, a real key is to keep the bait close to, if not on, the bottom.
The spotted sea trout is another of the popular saltwater species and one that can be caught year round. But anytime the forage is abundant, this species can provide outstanding fishing. That makes summertime prime fishing time.
There a wide variety of ways to catch these cooperative fish with artificial lures, and live bait and trolling are also productive. But fishing artificial lures, especially jigs and grubs, are among the favorite for most trout fishermen.
Most fishermen using artificial will use jighead with DOA trailers. Typically a 1/4-ounce jighead is the favored size, but it will depend on where you are fishing, the amount of current and the depth of the water. Sometimes s a 3/8-ounce or even heavier jighead is required. Keeping the lure close the bottom is usually important.
The actual presentation of the lure is probably the most important part of the how-to-fish process with artificial lures.
Cast the lure to the edge of the shoreline (assuming you are in a boat) and slowly bump the jig along the bottom as you work it back in. Once the lure gets well downstream and starts to swing toward the middle of the creek and off the bottom reel in and cast again. When a trout engulfs the jig there's usually just a light thump, not an arm-jerking strike. Set the hook and the battle is on.
It's usually best to experiment with different color patterns until you find the right combination. However proven colors that consistently produce for some trout fishermen include a red jig head with a light-colored grub body with red tail. Also the Christmas Tree pattern produces well.
Live bait will also work fine and while requiring less technique, it is equally productive. Live shrimp seem to be preferred by most anglers but almost any small, live bait caught in a cast net will attract trout.
Some anglers will use a jig head with the live bait attached in place of the grub, but most will rig with a float and allow the live bait to drift along the shoreline. Then they will reel it in and cast again, often changing the depth of the float from the bait and distance they cast from the shoreline. As the tide drops or raises, the depth preference for the fish will usually change, so you'll need to continue to adjust the depth as required.
Trolling is another tool to find and catch trout. Most fishermen recommend rigging a few rods with different colored jigs and in different sizes. Troll along the edges of the creeks, rivers and bays, especially where small creeks enter the waterway and where the creek makes sharp bends.
Trout are absolutely awesome table fare and also put up an excellent fight when hooked on light to medium tackle.
There are a lot of great things about redfish, but hard-fighting, big sizes and excellent table fare make it a legitimate triple threat for South Carolina saltwater fishermen
Another good thing about redfish fishing is that you do not necessarily need big boats and motors to get to them. A big rig will enable you to be more mobile, which is certainly a good thing, but not a requirement. Redfish can be caught in big numbers with both live and artificial bait
Redfish are a favored target of most saltwater guides and they have a couple of basic rigs that get the job done. Both employ the use of 17- to 20-pound test line and a 1/0 hook. Most of the time they prefer to use a float rig with the float set so the bait lies nearly on the bottom. Another is a simple bottom fishing rig, which uses a small weight above a two-to-three foot leader. Depth and tidal current will help you determine which is best at any given situation.
One of the keys is to get the rig close to the grass when the water is up or rising. As the water continues to rise, the fish will usually be cruising along the edge lines, waiting on the water to get high enough to get back into the grass flats. Also, when the tide drops and again is out of the grass, the fish are forced out into these same areas. Most experts do prefer fishing the rising tide in these areas, since the falling tide means the reds have already been gorging on the small fiddler crabs in the shallow grass and they are usually not as aggressive with the bite.
After fishing this rising tide up to where the water gets into the grass, you can follow the rising water and get into the flats. Look for "tailing" fish, a real summertime treat for redfish anglers. Some fishermen will use flyrods and artificial lures for this fishing, others will continue to use live bait, often just unweighted and simply cast in front of tailing fish you've spotted.
Another good pattern is surf fishing. This pattern actually improves as the summer progresses, because many of the fish will move out of the shallow inshore areas and move out to the inlets and larger bays as well as along the surf. Look for areas where there are irregular features along the bottom that the fish can relate to or deep holes adjacent to the mouth of an inlet. This is primarily bottom fishing and the basic rig is a three-foot leader with the hook and either a sliding egg sinker above the swivel or a three way swivel with a pyramid sinker.
Sheepshead fishing is excellent all along the South Carolina coast throughout the summer and fall. These spirited battlers are often found in big numbers and hefty sizes and are a highly sought after fish. Sheepshead will often congregate in huge numbers in small areas, providing sensational fishing.
Sheepshead fishing can be similar to freshwater bream bed fishing, only sheepshead are much bigger and stronger. For their size, they put up an awesome fight.
The bait recommended by most fishermen specializing in sheepshead is chinaback fiddler crabs. Sheepsheads' teeth are well suited to crushing the fiddler and and these fish can do so quickly, inhaling the crab, often without the angler knowing he's had a bite.
The sheepshead has a very subtle bite for such a strong fish. More than one sheepshead fisherman has cautioned me that you've got to set the hook just before the fish bites, and they're only half-joking. Typically there will be just a very gentle tug on the tip of the rod, actually just a heavy feeling, more so than an actual bite.
There are a lot of different types of places they can be found throughout the summer. Almost any type of permanent structure has the potential to attract and hold sheepshead. If a fisherman has a good game plan and is persistent, sheepshead are a species you can usually figure out. When you do, you can bring home a really good catch. Plus, you do not need a lot of fancy equipment to be successful. Freshwater largemouth bass fishing tackle is just right. Among the favored hideouts for sheepshead are boat docks, wooden pilings, rocks around bridges, underwater rock piles and even sunken boats or other debris.
The depth these fish are caught is usually driven by the tide and the cover and structure that attracts them. I've found that even in hot weather, up until late in the fall, you may find them quite shallow. But if the cover and structure are appropriate, they'll also hold deep on sunken debris as well.
Shark fishing is becoming very popular for a couple of reasons. First, it can be very simple and fishing for small-to-medium-sized sharks is easy and fun. But there's also the allure of big game for those with big rigs and heavy tackle who want to hook a powerful, challenging fish in saltwater.
I recall one trip where we were in a moderately sized creek and were set up on a point where another creek intersected the channel. The currents combined to create an eddy around the mouth of the point. We anchored in about eight feet of water, where we could cast towards the shoreline as well as to the deeper water. We baited with cut mullet, the bloodier the better, and whole shrimp.
We caught a variety of sharks, including a hefty bonnethead. We'd started fishing just after the tide had bottomed out and begun to rise and the action stayed excellent until the tide got high enough to get back into the grass.
The best terminal tackle in this situation is simple bottom fishing rigs. A big, very sharp hook is required along with a wire leader. The size of the hook should be in relation to the size of the fish you expect or hope to catch. A lot of shark get really big so would need a very big hook with a huge gob of cut mullet for bait, as example. However, you need to scale it down when fishing for more moderately sized sharks. The hook and wire leader should be attached to a barrel swivel with a sliding sinker above the barrel swivel. Again, the size of the sinker will vary with the depth and current
All the shark fishermen I've talked with agree that you need a good tide current to have the best chance for success. Sharks are scent feeders and can detect minute traces of scent in the water. The current will help get the scent of your bait out and the sharks will come. Generally speaking, the best shark action is on the low water end of the tides as well, with the last of the dropping and first of the incoming tides producing consistently best for the anglers I've fished and talked with.
Bonnethead sharks are becoming a very popular species to target for inshore anglers. Offshore or at the mouths of major inlets there are species that offer opportunities for triple-digit sized fish.
These fantastic five saltwater species should give all saltwater anglers plenty to do this season.