South Carolina fishermen who are ready for some hot saltwater action can get their rods bent over double in a hurry with keeper-sized black drum in the tiny estuaries of Pawley’s Island.

Matt Bellamy of Georgetown’s Dirty Boat Charters is catching his 5-fish limit of black drum without allowing his boat’s outboard to cool down after its initial cranking. 

“Black drum are going off right now,” said Bellamy (843-568-8203). “It doesn’t take long to catch a quick limit with three rods set out.”

The black drum are right where they are supposed to be this time of year, and getting them to eat rarely is much of a hurdle as long as it’s cold. According to Bellamy, the water is very clear, and the fish are stacked up in heavy schools along the main channels in the Pawley’s estuary.

“Both the north and south ends of the island and up by the bridges are holding large numbers of fish,” he said.

The black drum are in large schools, but they are concentrated along certain areas of the channel. But as small as the Pawley’s Island estuary is – especially compared to surrounding waters – finding a school should not take too long. Bellamy will start near the inlets and work his way inland along the center of the main creek channels in 3 to 8 feet of water, depending on the tide.

“Sometime you have to move around a little bit to find a school,” said Bellamy, who will stop and fish a spot for at least 30 minutes before he moves to another location.

The best tides seem to change like the weather. Bellamy will catch them good on different tides on different days, and he feels the most-important aspect to getting the fish to bite is about having current itself.

“They feed the best when the current is moving,” he said.

Black drum primarily have a crustacean diet, and cut shrimp are a deadly bait. Bellamy uses shrimp, but in a slightly different configuration than most anglers because it takes only a lightly-weighted set-up to get the bait to where the fish are holding. Bellamy calls it his “shrimp grub”.

“I thread a headless shrimp onto a light jighead just as you would an artificial lure. It is deadly on both black and red drum about any time of the year,” he said.