As fall approaches, the inshore coastal action really heats up. These three prime saltwater opportunities become red-hot all at once. (September 2008)
September is definitely decision time for South Carolina outdoorsmen, especially those that live along the coast. In addition to hunting and freshwater fishing opportunities, the saltwater action can be spectacular.
While there are numerous choices for saltwater fishing, three of the tops for this month certainly include trout and redfish fishing and the beginning of the extremely popular shrimp-baiting season. These three combine to make September one of the best months of the year to go to the coast to gather nature's bounty.
One reason the fishing is so awesome is that it is very possible to be successful on all three opportunities within the same day.
Trout fishermen and redfish experts will usually target one of these fish species or the other. But sometimes the two will hold common ground, with both species feeding in the same place at the same time. When this happens, it's not unusual to catch them in very close proximity to one another.
This "two-for-one" opportunity occurred on a fishing trip I took with Tommy Tanner of Charleston a couple of years ago. Tommy had invited me to sample the saltwater fall fishing at its finest.
We found the trout by casting 1/4-ounce jigs with DOA shrimp. We worked a high but falling tide while fishing along the sweeping outside bend of a creek bank. The shell/mud bank tumbled into about 15 feet of water. The primary contact point was right in the bend of the creek, where a small ditch dumped into the larger creek. Another contact point was about 50 yards downstream where another small ditch entered the big creek. The unique current situation at the junctions apparently attracted baitfish, which in turn attracted the game fish.
The trout were taken in the deeper water as the jig dropped away from the edge of the shoreline. About halfway back to the boat, in 8 to 10 feet of water, was where we'd contact the trout. The redfish began to bite in much shallower water when the tide was about halfway to two-thirds out. Casting to the mouth of the small ditch in the bend of the big creek was almost a guaranteed way to get a redfish bite, at least until the tide got too low. But situations like this exist all along the coast and certainly enable fishermen the opportunity to double their chances of success.
Tanner said a couple of things are going on that make September and October prime months for trout and redfish.
"There is abundant forage during this time of the year and that's a key reason trout and redfish are in such an active feeding mode," Tanner said. "As a bonus, the trout bite is so good that artificial lures are absolutely lethal on these fish during this time. Live bait will continue to produce action as it has during the summer. But now's the time when casting jigs and grubs can produce awesome results."
Tanner said that one key to the productive fishing is the trout will literally feed all day long because of the abundant forage.
"My preferred time to fish is early morning when I can catch a dropping tide at dawn," he said. "But the trout bite can be good all day long if you're fishing properly."
There is a wide variety of ways to catch the trout, according to Tanner. Artificial lures, live bait and trolling are all productive. But fishing artificial lures, especially jigs and grubs, is his favored technique.
"My personal favorite is to catch trout casting jigs with DOA trailers," he said. "I'll typically use a 1/4-ounce jighead. Of course, as is everything inshore, the exact fishing technique is driven by the tide and where the fish are found. Sometimes I'll have to use a heavier rig to get deeper in an area where the tide is pulling really hard."
According to Tanner, there are certain places trout will tend to bunch up. When he's fishing for them regularly, the pattern will stay fairly consistent for several days at a time.
"Once you get on a good bunch of fish and find the productive pattern, you can enjoy repetitive success for a while," he said. "However, one day they will just move to another area and you'll have to make adjustments to find them."
Tanner said the fishing technique used is a lot like freshwater largemouth bass fishing with plastic worms in terms of presentation style.
"Essentially, it's similar to a jig and grub -- which also works -- but the shrimp design seems to work best in salt water," Tanner said. "I'll usually try several color patterns until I find the right combination. However, proven colors that consistently produce for me are a red jighead with a light color grub body with a red tail. Also, the Christmas Tree patterns produce well during the fall."
The actual presentation of the lure is probably the most important part of the how-to-fish process with artificial lures, according to Tanner.
"I'll cast the lure to the edge of the shoreline and I'll bump the jig along the bottom, usually quite slowly, as I work it back in," he said. "As the tide carries the lure down the creek, I don't have to reel much line. Just keep a tight line and bump the lure along the bottom. Once the lure gets well downstream and swings toward the middle of the creek and off the bottom, it's time to reel in and cast again. When a trout engulfs the jig, there's usually just a light thump. Set the hook and the battle is on."
Tanner said he will have a structured game plan for finding trout. He will usually only fish a spot if there's some identifiable structure that has the potential to hold trout.
"In addition to creek and ditch junctions, points are always a good place to start for almost any inshore saltwater game fish," he said. "The tide current rolling shallow over a point surrounded by deeper water is always a potential hotspot. This is especially true if there's an oyster bar associated with the point. Also, where a mouth of a creek enters a larger creek or river is a great fall hotspot. Usually the downcurrent point of this type junction will produce plenty of fish.
"The fish won't always be right on the point," he added. "Sometimes they hold inside the point, often on the downcurrent side ready to strike when a baitfish comes over the bar. That's where working a jighead and grub is really excellent. These fish seem to be poised to attack and we'll get some hard strikes in places like that."
Tanner added that this is also an ideal setup for live bait.
"Hook a live shrimp about a foot or two under a float with just enough weight to hold it down," Tanner said. "Cast the rig upcurrent from the point and let it drift over the point. If a trout it there, he's likely going to nail the bait quick. At times, we'll have to deepen up just a bit and drift the bait across the point a bit deeper."
Tanner added that sometimes the first 50 to 75 yards of shoreline on either side of a point could be very productive. Cast the jig close to the shoreline and work it back toward the deeper water.
"I prefer a falling tide for trout fishing," Tanner said. "But you can catch trout on a rising or falling tide and you can catch them when the tide is nearing high or when it's getting very low.
"I prefer the falling because it seems to bunch the fish up as the tide continues to fall," he said. "I like to begin just as the water is coming out of the grass. If I'm in an area with fish and they move away from where I've been catching them as he tide gets low, there are usually some obvious places I can look to find 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."
Trolling is another tool to find and catch trout.
"I'll rig a few rods with different colored jigs and in different sizes and troll along the edges of the creeks, rivers and bays," Tanner said. "Experiment just a bit and a fisherman can troll and find the general location of trout in the fall. Once I catch a couple trolling, I can usually get into them really good by casting."
While fishing for trout, odds are good you'll hook up with an occasional redfish, especially when using live bait as noted.
The seatrout does have some specific creek and size limits you must adhere to. Check the SCDNR Rules and Regulations to ensure no changes have been made, but the regulations current through Aug. 14, 2008, state that there is a 10-per-person-per-day creel limit with a 14-inch minimum size limit.
To focus your fishing efforts primarily on redfish, there are some specific things you can key on.
If you plan to use live bait, there are two basic rigs. Both employ the use of 17- to 20-pound-test line and a 1/0 hook. Most anglers prefer to use a float rig with the float set so the bait lies nearly on the bottom. Many guides use a commercial float rig called the "Equalizer," which is a cigar-shaped float rig. In addition, a simple bottom-fishing rig is very productive. It merely employs a small weight placed above a 2- to 3-foot leader with the live bait on the terminal end of the leader. Mud minnows, shrimp and other small live fish are very productive baits, according to Tanner.
Tanner said that one of the keys in this type of fishing is to get the rig close to the grass when the tide is low and rising. He said that as the water rises, the redfish will be swimming along the edge lines, waiting for the water to become high enough to get back into the grass flats where they have other opportunities to feed. When the tide drops out of the grass and the fish are forced off the flats, fishing the edge lines can be very productive.
Redfish will also maneuver around the shallow flats at low tide and can often be caught when little else is biting. Most guides pole the shallow flats during the last part of the falling tide and the first couple of hours of the rising tide. That's when the fish have left the grass and are moving, en masse, through the flats, often in just inches of water.
Since you are looking to actually spot the fish or the "V" wakes they make as they swim along, use polarized sunglasses and fish hard any time there is little wind.
Redfish have specific creel and slot size limits. Check the SCDNR Rules and Regulations to ensure no changes have been made, but the regulations current through Aug. 14, 2008, state that there is a three-per-person-per-day creel limit and a 15- to 23-inch slot size limit. Fish less than 15 inches or over 23 inches must be released. But again, regulations can change from season to season, so check the current regulations before you put any fish in the cooler.
Shrimp can be taken with a cast net legally without bait; however, it is the shrimp-baiting season that really attracts many outdoorsmen to the coast.
According to the SCDNR, there is a 60-day shrimp-baiting season that begins at noon on the last Friday on or before Sept. 15. For 2008, that date will be Sept. 12. If in doubt about anything regarding shrimp baiting, the Rules and Regulations state you can call (843) 953-9312 for season dates and information.
Baiting for shrimp is very productive, but usually requires considerable work and at least two skilled outdoorsmen. First, purchase a shrimp-baiting permit, which costs $25 for residents of South Carolina. A license is not required for a resident of South Carolina who is assisting the license holder.
Most shrimping is done in teams of at least two. (I tip my shrimping hat to those few who can accomplish both chores on their own.) The two-person team is usually required, as one person will cast the net over baited areas while the other person drives the boat. On days that are both calm and have a consistent tide flow, one very industrious and coordinated person can accomplish both tasks. However, most days along the coast, there will be wind and it will be in competition with tidal current, making driving the boat often the more difficult and critical of the two jobs. Of course, to catch shrimp, the net man has to be able to cast a net and open it. But without a good boat driver, on most days it will be hard to hit the target consistently.
The regulations limit shrimpers to 10 poles and these poles are used to mark places where you put your bait. This will significantly enhance your odds of hitting the bait with your net.
The primary purpose of the pole is to mark the location of your bait so you can get the net open right over the bait to maximize the catch. Place your bait a known distance from one side of the pole and make it the same distance on every pole, so you'll know exactly where the bait is as you prepare to throw the net. For example, the bait balls are placed about 6 to 8 feet out from the poles for someone throwing a 6-foot cast net. This enables the person throwing the cast net to know the precise location of the bait balls when he casts the net. Thus, more shrimp per cast is the basic plan.
The bait balls generally consist of ground-up fishmeal mixed with clay, both of which can be purchased at many tackle shops and hardware stores located anywhere near the coast. Mix the fishmeal and clay into the form of a baseball-sized mud ball. As the fishmeal leaches out of the mud, the shrimp are attracted to the scent, congregating the shrimp in a small, localized area right on the bait. Most shrimpers will put two or three bait balls out to begin and refresh the bait as needed. When the number of shrimp per cast starts to trickle down, that's usually a sign more bait is needed.
Shrimp will be found in many different places, but a great place to start is on a shallow flat near deeper water. Another good place is near the grass line that's not far from the deeper channels in the creeks and bays. Think in terms of the shrimp migrating from shallow water, such as the grass lines, to deep-water holes or channels as the tide drops. Think in the reverse when the tide is on the rise. Your key to success is to set up somewhere along that travel route.
There are several other rules you'll need to consider; for instance, your 10 poles must be in a 100-yard stretch and poles must be not exceed 1 inch in diameter. They must each have a numbered tag that corresponds to the license holder's license number. Read the Rules and Regulations carefully to ensure you have everything legal.
Some productive spots will stay good for days and even weeks. Sometimes the shrimp will have to be found almost on a daily basis. But that's certainly part of the fun.
On thing is for sure, this September trio of coastal opportunities will provide plenty of outstanding fishing and shrimping. Whether you pursue all in one day or separately, don't miss this September saltwater triple-play spectacular.