July 2010

The Bite Is On! GO FISH

Author: Collins Doughtie

If asked to rate Lowcountry fishing on a scale of one to ten, it would be right up there around a nine. I have fished these waters since my family moved here in 1961, and after fishing from Costa Rica to the Caribbean and all points in between, I still rate fishing here as some of the best in the world.

If variety is indeed the spice of life, our waters fit the bill. And the best part is you don’t need a giant sport fishing boat to reap the bounty of our fish-infested waters. As a matter of fact, boats in the 18- to 30-foot range will out fish bigger boats nearly every time due to the shallow waters that surround the island.

I am sure my wife will agree that I spend as much time at the Hilton Head Boathouse as I do at home. My fishing buddy, Don McCarthy, and I have fished together for years aboard his 28-foot “Manatee Mac,” which is stored at the Boathouse where Don also works part-time. It’s a win-win situation for me. Being a pauper, I help maintain the boat and, in return, get to have some of the best days of my life doing what I love best: fishing!

I guess the best way to tell you what angling opportunities are available here is to tell you about a typical two-day fish-fest which Don and I do quite often. It all starts with a phone call to the Boathouse to fuel up the boat and drop her in the water. Talk about an easy way to go; it saves us at least three hours that we use for rigging, getting groceries, and basically making sure we’ll have everything we need for a full day on the water.

Arriving before sunrise, we lug two carloads of stuff down to the boat. With everything in place, we are off just about the time big red pops up on the horizon. As the sun rises, so does the bait—usually menhaden. With only three throws of a cast net, we have more than enough chum and live bait needed for an entire day.

Today, our target is bottom fish, including grouper, snapper, blackfish, triggerfish and a hodge-podge of others. After a 30 to 45-minute run, it is time to fish. The baits barely make it to the bottom before two rods slam down on the gunnel, with rods literally bent double. Unlike the murky water inshore, the water here is crystal clear, and down 20 feet, we see the first fish of the day—a nice gag grouper on my line and a beautiful red snapper on Don’s. Fish after fish goes in the box, and just when we think it can’t get any better, a herd of mahi-mahi shows up right beside the boat—something that happens with regularity. Using “pitch rods,” usually spinning tackle rigged with only a short leader and a small hook, we pitch live baits in front of the pack. Within moments, everyone is hooked up to a mahi. It is pure pandemonium as fish are jumping and scorching off-line, rods are going under and over each other and with it shouting and cursing. It is an absolute hoot!

With a full box of fish and smiles all around, we head back in to the Boathouse. While I clean fish at their deluxe fish cleaning station, Don cleans the boat and readies us for round two the next day. The way Don and I have it figured, when the fishing is good, you drop everything and go. But tomorrow will be an inshore day, because it will be easier on our worn out bodies that have us gobbling Advil like Pez candies.

With monster mugs of coffee in hand and a distinct feeling of déjà vu, we arrive at the Boathouse; but this time the sun is already up. Tides are the key to inshore fishing, with certain fish feeding at high tide and other species feeding at low tide. Light tackle is the way to go, even though many times you latch onto a 60-pound cobia and have him hooked on a ridiculously small rod. But then again, that is why the fishing here rivals any place I have ever been: You never know what is going to be on the end of your line next.

Low tide is by far the best bait-catching tide. As we cruise along looking for signs of concentrations of mullet and shrimp, it usually doesn’t take long to hit pay dirt. Particularly in the fall, you can load a cooler with eating size shrimp and load your live well with smaller bait-size shrimp and mullet with ease.

Creek fishing here is off the chart good. Using a run and gun approach, we finally get on the redfish, and for nearly two hours, it is fish after fish. Some days, I have caught as many as 60 reds in an hour. Then as the tide creeps in, the redfish disappear only to be replaced by trout in equal numbers. After a day of this, I often dream of that popping cork disappearing. The beauty of the thousands of creeks we have here is that you may not see another boat all day.

So whether it is inshore fishing for trout and redfish, cobia in the sounds, king mackerel right off the beach, bottom fishing or tuna, wahoo and marlin in the Gulf Stream, our fishing here is as varied as it comes. If you haven’t experienced the Lowcountry waters, you are missing one of our greatest assets. As for me, right now I think I’ll head to the Boathouse, look for Don and tell him I heard the bite was on. It always works!

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FISHING ESSENTIALS


Camera
We recommend the Olympus Tough Series cameras. The durable Shock and Waterproof design means these cameras were built for performance even in extreme conditions. Make sure to get the Floating Foam strap to keep the camera from quickly sinking to the bottom if you drop it!


HAT SUNGLASSES, & SUNTAN LOTION OF COURSE!
All of these are essential to protect you from the sun. For the gentlemen a regular bill ball cap would be just fine. Leave the straw hats to the ladies!


LOTS OF WATER
It gets hot out there! Make sure you take plenty of water to cool you down and keep you hydrated throughout the day!


BEER
Don’t forget a six pack for the ride home, to drown your misery or to celebrate!


FISHING LICENSE
When you purchase a fishing license, you’re helping to protect, preserve, and enhance the sport of fishing for today and for generations to come. They are not expensive, but are A MUST while fishing. Don’t forget they expire at the end of every June, so go renew yours before you get slapped with a BIG fine!


BOOK
Even on a good day of fishing there is plenty of down time. A book will help entertain you between bites.


FOOD
It gets so hot out there sometimes we forget to eat. But fueling up with a sun halfway through the day will keep your strength up to fight the fish once you have it hooked! TIP: Don’t put condiments on until you are ready to eat it or it will get soggy!

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