Late fall and winter can be brutal in South Carolina. The wind strong, water rough, temperature low. But for anglers who choose their fishing days and bundle-up for the chill weather, red drum, spotted seatrout and sheepshead fishing can be outstanding throughout much of the Palmetto State.
“Our trout and red drum fishing in late fall and winter is great,” said Charlie Moore, former Supervisor of Finfish Management for the South Carolina Marine Resources Division in Charleston. “The best fishing I have for trout and reds is in the Toogoodoo and Edisto rivers, but there’s good fishing along most of the coast. For example, the Ashley River near Charleston is a great place for winter fishing, and the jetties at Murrells Inlet give up some big fish, and sheepshead action can be excellent.
“Most tidal rivers that have deep water are good for cool-weather fishing. The bulk of my fish I take from holes 15 to 20 feet deep. The trout run 2- to 4-pounds, with redfish weighing 2- to 7-pounds. I have a lot of mixed-bag catches of trout, reds and sheepshead.”
In tidal creeks, usually the outside bends have the deepest water. Using a fathometer is the easy way to locate depths holding fish. But jigging and trolling also are proven methods to learn the locations of deep places where trout and reds congregate.
Moore says it’s important to get lures and baits on bottom in holes to be consistently effective. But like many types of fishing, reverse or “180-degree” thinking also is effective for red drum.
“Most South Carolina anglers fish deep water in winter,” said state fisheries biologist Charlie Winter. “And while most of those anglers catch fish, not all fish go deep when water temperature drops. In fact, I’d say the most consistent place for red drum when water temperatures fall into the 50s in winter is in water from 18-inches to 3-feet deep. Seatrout aren’t found in this shallow water during winter, but redfish sure are.”
This is radical thinking, but Winter has the data to back up his claim.
“We [state Marine Resources personnel] run trammel nets to catch redfish, then tag and release them for our work,” he said. “Our net is 200 yards long and we made a ‘set’ one winter in the Charleston area at in a place we just randomly selected. The water was 18-inches deep, 52 degrees. We started setting the net at the shoreline grass, made a half-moon net set out into the creek, and hauled in what we caught. In that one set we caught 119 red drum that ranged from 15-inches long to 15 pounds.
“In our winter netting and tagging work we’ve learned that almost any creek bank that’s near an oyster bar point at low tide will hold redfish. This is water so shallow most anglers pass it by as they head to deep holes for fishing. Interestingly, we rarely catch seatrout with redfish from shallows during winter. Trout definitely stay in deep holes and migrate farther inshore from the coast in the tidal rivers when it’s cold.”
White advises anglers to fish flooded marsh areas for reds when tides crest the “high grass,” because fish move into such places to feed on crabs. This is prime time for “sight fishing” for reds, as they readily hit weedless spoons, floating plugs and streamer flies. However, White prefers fishing creeks during low tides when redfish pull out of marshes with ebbing water. Reds then are found in big schools and are easy to locate, he says.
“There are many wonderful places for winter redfish in the Charleston area,” said White. “Dynamite Hole in Charleston Harbor is a top spot, almost year-round, and there are some huge fish. Reds to 45 pounds have been caught there. You need a couple heavy anchors to hold the boat at Dynamite Hole and fish about 90 minutes on either side of the high and low tide.”
For seatrout, White said fishing can be good around the docks at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor during a falling tide. Other prime places for seatrout are the mouths of Foster and Newell creeks in the Wando River, and around the numerous small creek mouths feeding the Wando near the Highway 41 bridge.
“Shorelines in these areas all can be good for seatrout for anglers trolling, casting or anchored and using live baits,” he said. “There are a lot of rivulets that feed out of the marshes, and their outflows are good. There also are plenty of ‘drops’ for trout and redfish in the region, where excellent winter fishing is available. Anglers should seek clear-water areas for seatrout, while redfish will hold in dingy water.”
Best Lures And Baits
Jigs: Plastic-tail grubs are used by many anglers, in 1/4- and 3/8-ounce models. Experienced fishermen like jigs with red-painted heads having plastic bodies colored white, yellow, smoke, glitter-green or glitter-pink. Adding a clip-on safety-pin style gold spinner to a jig makes for an excellent inshore redfish lure.
Plugs: For shallow-water red drum fishing, floating-diving Bomber, Rebel and MirrOlure plugs are excellent. Some South Carolina anglers prefer sub-surface, suspending models and diving and slow-sinking plugs work, too. When fishing grass for redfish, a weedless gold or silver spoon like the Rebel Arrowhead or Bomber “Who Dat” is a good choice. In strong tidal areas, casts up and across current usually are most productive.
Flies: Shrimp flies and ones that imitate crabs are excellent, especially for redfish on marsh flats. Weedless streamers are preferred when worked in grass and on shallow oyster bars.
Baits: A wide variety of natural baits work well for seatrout and redfish during winter along the South Carolina coast. Live shrimp are best, but can be difficult to get in winter. Small live mullet and mud minnows are good, too. Redfish also take dead shrimp and crab baits (blues, fiddlers and calicos) very well. Some anglers also use cut pieces of mullet and bluefish for red drum. Baits can be fished on the bottom with sliding-sinker rigs, but popping corks or sliding-bobber rigs are best for use with live baits.
Sheepshead will take a dead shrimp, but fiddler crab baits are most effective when fished around shell bars, and barnacle-encrusted pilings.
Some good inshore guides are available along the Palmetto State coast. One of the best is Captain Ben Alderman (www.benalderman.com; phone 843-906-3630)