Originating under the moss-draped trees of the black-water swamps outside Walterboro in Colleton County, the Ashepoo River flows approximately 42 miles before emptying into St. Helena Sound. The "middle" river of the ACE Basin, the Ashepoo is also the shortest of the three, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in diversity.

This river is an angler's dream.

Robbie Robertson grew up on the edges of the Great Swamp and has fished the Ashepoo his whole life.

"I've caught saltwater fish where they shouldn't be, and I've caught freshwater fish where they shouldn't be. That's one of the reasons it's such a great river," he said

"In the northernmost section is the Great Swamp and Ivanhoe Creek, which is freshwater. The water is still tidal, so even when bream fishing, you have to pay attention to the tide cycles," Robertson said. "It's a black-water swamp with some current and a great spot to catch bluegill, redbreast, crappie and largemouth bass."

With warming water temperatures and spawning activity, May is a great month to fish the river. The mouths of Johno Creek and Horseshoe Creek are fertile fishing grounds, and traveling up Horseshoe Creek puts anglers at Chessie Creek, another great panfish spot.

Robertson's favorite lure in this section is a large Johnson Beetle Spin.

"It's an old-school lure, but it does the job," he said, "and you will catch large bream, crappie and bass on (it)."

Beetle Spins aren't the only old-school lures Robertson uses. Broken-back Rebels and plastic worms are his go-to lures when specifically targeting largemouth bass, which he prefers to do during the high end of the tide. Spinnerbaits are other good bass lures.

"When the tide is high, the creeks fill up and bass hang out near the newly flooded structure to feed," he said.

Crappie are plentiful in this part of the river, and while they are easier to catch earlier in the spring, Robertson still finds them in May in deeper holes in creeks and the main river, fishing minnows vertically under slip corks. Fishing 1/8-ounce jigs vertically around structure is another good method.

Aside from using Beetle Spins, red worms fished on the bottom with a small egg sinker is Robertson's preferred way of catching bream. Crickets under corks will also draw strikes from these panfish.

Down the river, the fishing gets a little more interesting. Fee Farm Creek is one of the many feeder creeks, and with a rough throw-in for small boats and ample room for bank fishing, it passes under Bennett's Point Rd. through small pipes, creating a liquid bottleneck that acts as a smorgasbord for several types of fish, especially as tidal water rushes in or out.

Several miles above the saltwater/freshwater dividing line, the saltwater fish didn't get the memo. Walterboro's Dingle Byerly said it's mainly redfish here throughout May.

"Some months, we catch mostly freshwater fish in this creek," Byerly said as he hooked a whole shrimp onto a 3/0 hook at the business end of a Carolina-rig with a 1 1/2-ounce egg sinker, "but this time of year, we catch redfish more often than any freshwater species."

The exception, according to Byerly, is during heavy periods of rain.

"I think the rain brings more freshwater down from the upper part of the river, and for a few days after a heavy rain, we'll catch some nice bluegill and largemouth bass, but even then, the redfish are here in the biggest numbers," he said.

Byerly said whether fishing from a boat or the shore, the outgoing tide is best, especially the south side of the creek.

"At high tide, that side is just a big shallow saltwater lake where baitfish stack up, but on the outgoing tide, they're forced out to this side of the creek," he said, then nodded at the opposite side of the road to the section that faces the main river. "And this pipe, you can see how the water gets churned up when the tide is running. The redfish set up shop here and wait for the baitfish to tumble around."

Byerly likes to alternate between fishing the middle of this creek where it's deepest to tight to the grass lines and the wooden floodgates and walls that are present at different intervals throughout its length.

"Some days, they'll be right in the middle, and other days you'll have to cast tight to structure or not get a nibble," he said.

While redfish is king here, fishermen also catch flounder with mud minnows slowly worked along the bottom on Carolina-rigs.

Largemouth bass will bite soft-plastic lures cast along the edges of grass lines and retrieved slowly, and they will hit spinnerbaits, but it's no great surprise to anglers who hook a largemouth on a live shrimp or mud minnow, either.

The section of the Ashepoo between Fee Farm Creek and Bennett's Point, Byerly said, is pretty barren for the most part.

"You can catch some flounder in the mud flats on this stretch, but most of the fishing is pretty slow there," he said, "but it's easy to find where the fish are holding. Wooden walls and flood gates are scattered throughout this section, and redfish will hold tight to them. Live or cut mullet minnows are good baits here."

And if you see a downed tree or other sunken debris, fish it thoroughly, Byerly said.

There is one major piece of structure along this stretch that Byerly and Robertson said can be a good place to target sheepshead.

"The bridge crosses over the Ashepoo at Brickyard Landing which is between Fee Farm Creek and Bennett's Point," said Robertson, "and the pilings there are heavily encrusted with barnacles."

"And the pilings from the old bridge are still standing right beside this bridge," said Byerly, "and they are full of barnacles too."

Byerly extracts the meat from the barnacles and stacks two or three pieces on a size 2/0 or 3/0 hook.

"Put enough on the hook that a fish can't clean you off with one bite, drop it straight down beside the piling with enough weight to keep it steady" he said, "and don't be afraid to set the hook hard."

Byerly said some years, he also catches his share of black drum here while sheepshead fishing in Man.

Past Bennett's Point, the Ashepoo takes on the look of a strictly saltwater river. Clearer water, spartina grass, sandbars and oyster beds are plentiful, and along with them come better opportunities for trout and flounder.

"Along this section there is a place called Rock Creek. The trout fishing there is excellent; there are some deep banks that drop off sharp with oyster beds all around," Robertson said. "Popper rigs with live shrimp or minnows are always good around these oyster beds, and spoons are good lures too."

Other creeks like Hole in the Wall also line this part of the river as it winds to the St. Helena Sound, and Robertson said to key on these creek mouths.

"All along the bank edges, oyster beds and the mouths of creeks are good spots for both redfish and trout," he said.

Aside from shrimp and minnows, Robertson also has success with spinnerbaits for redfish and Saltwater Assassin grubs in electric chicken.

Robertson prefers fishing on a moon in its third quarter, but he watches barometric pressure more than any other factor.

"If the barometer holds steady for a few days in a row, you'll have great fishing. When that coincides with a third-quarter moon, that's when you can have a once-in-a-lifetime fishing trip here," he said.

The Ashepoo ends where it joins the Combahee and Edisto rivers to help form St. Helena Sound, a 7 1/2-mile wide inlet that introduces the waters of the Lowcountry rivers to the Atlantic Ocean. This fertile fishing ground attracts anglers year-round, and May is a popular month for all inshore species, but the big draw is cobia. Typically known as an offshore or nearshore species, cobia cruise the waters of St. Helena Sound throughout May, offering Ashepoo River anglers willing to venture into the sound the chance to really diversify their catch.

 

DESTINATION INFORMATION

WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE - The Ashepoo River is easily accessible from US 17 south of Charleston, which crosses the river at Joe's Fish Camp, where there is a private, fee ramp. For other access points, all of which are in Colleton County, turn onto Bennett's Point Rd.

• SC 303 Bridge throw-in. This primitive launch site is adequate for canoes, kayaks and small johnboats and offers excellent freshwater fishing in the upper stretches of the river.

• Joe's Fish Camp. This brackish water landing can accommodate most boats and is six miles downstream from the SC 303 bridge, making it a great take-out spot for fishermen who wish to drift down from SC 303. A small fee is charged.

• Fee Farm Creek throw-In. A rough landing on Bennetts Point Rd., this landing is fine for canoes, kayaks and small johnboats. It is also a popular bank-fishing spot and the hottest section of the river for catching both freshwater and saltwater fish.

• Brickyard Ferry Boat Landing. On Bennett's Point Road south of US 17, this is a one-ramp landing with plenty of parking just below the bridge that crosses the Ashepoo. If looking for sheepshead, this is the best landing; it is just a few feet away from the old and current bridge pilings.

• Frank Baldwin Boat Landing. On Bennetts Point Rd. south of US 17, this is a small, county ramp that has seen better days but still offers boaters access with a one-ramp landing and ample parking.

• Bennetts Point Boat Landing: At the very end of Bennetts Point Rd. at the Mosquito Creek area of the Ashepoo and just below Bear Island, this is a popular two-ramp landing with a bait store/seafood market located on site.

FISHING INFO/GUIDES - Low Country Marine, 861 Green Pond Hwy, Walterboro, 843-549-1234; B and B Seafood at Bennetts Point Landing, 15823 Bennetts Point Road, Green Pond, 843-844-2322. Also see Guides and Charters in Classifieds.

ACCOMMODATIONS - Comfort Inn and Suites, 97 Downs Lane, Walterboro, 843-538-5911; Hampton Inn, 1835 Sniders Hwy, Walterboro, 843-538-2300. Ramada Inn, 1245 Sniders Hwy, Walterboro, 843-538-5403.

MAPS - Delorme's South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, 207-846-7000 or www.delorme.com; Top Spot map N233, available at many tackle shops along the South Carolina coast, has details for much of the middle and lower Ashepoo.