Rick Percy of Reel Chance Charters eased his boat in close to one of the small islands around Hilton Head and lowered his Power Pole.
“This VuDu shrimp under a popping cork will catch the trout right where those two currents meet,” he said, handing a rod to a client and pointing behind his boat to a spot where the incoming tide met a shallow sandbar from one direction while a small creek pushed water in, meeting the tide head-on.
His client made a cast to the right of the sandbar and expressed disappointment at the errant effort.
“That’s good. That’s good,” Percy said. “Pop it once and just let the current take it.”
The angler jerked his wrist once, causing the metal and glass beads on the MidCoast Evolution Cork to make a popping sound, then watched the cork slowly drift with the current. Just before it reached that break, the cork slipped underwater. The angler set the hook and reeled in a nice speckled trout, then repeated the same task several times over the next 45 minutes as the tide rolled in.
Meanwhile, another angler was also catching trout in front of the boat, casting Gulp shrimp around a flooded oyster shell bank. Percy had him fishing the lures on a jighead without a popping cork, bouncing them off the bottom.
“Try to keep them from sitting on the bottom. Just let them barely touch it, and slowly reel,” he said.
This method wasn’t as effective as the popping cork at first, but as the tide got high and the current break behind the boat began to diminish, fishing along the bottom began to produce more fish as an early season South Carolina football game played low over the radio in Percy’s boat.
“September is a transition month for trout,” Percy said. “Lots of trout spend the hottest months in the surf, but this month marks the first cooling trend of the fall, and as the days get shorter, those trout will move into the creeks. The bait is really thick inshore during this month, too, especially the mullet, and that has a lot to do with the trout moving out of the surf and into the inlets and creeks.
“The shrimp are in here heavy, too, and trout love to eat shrimp, but I think a lot of people overlook mullet and menhaden when they think of trout baits,” said Percy. “Another thing a lot of people do is underestimate the size of bait that an average-sized trout will eat. “I’ve caught plenty of 16-inch trout on menhaden that were 5 inches long or better.”
Percy prefers fishing when the water is on the high side but moving — incoming or outgoing — but he said anglers can still find trout feeding at low tide as well. When the tide is out, he looks for creeks with downed timber near deep holes.
“Trout will get in those deep pockets, and you can catch them on live shrimp under popping corks, or any soft-plastic shrimp imitation like a VuDu shrimp,” said Percy, who believes most anglers will catch more on artificials than live shrimp this time of year. “They’ll bite either one quite readily, but with live shrimp, you are continually taking time to put fresh bait on your hook. Those VuDu shrimp can catch a trout, then go right back into the hole without missing a beat.”
When looking for deep holes, Percy said it’s important to find clean water. If he pulls up on a favorite hole and finds dirty water, he won’t waste time stopping. Instead, he’ll look in another creek with similar characteristics that has clean water. He has confidence in such spots at low tide, but once the tide starts rolling back in, he seeks out a flat or shell rake that is exposed but about to be flooded.
John Long of Lady’s Island agrees that September is a great month for specks; he catches most of his while trolling the numerous, narrow creeks in the Hilton Head and Beaufort areas. Some creeks are so narrow he can barely turn his john boat around in them, but that doesn’t keep the trout out. Long uses two rods mounted in rod holders on the stern of his boat and trolls at about 1 mile per hour. He agrees with Percy about using bigger baits and lures; he likes to troll the biggest menhaden or mullet he can catch, and he also likes trolling soft-plastic Gulp baits.
Early in the morning, Percy loves getting in some topwater action with lures like Super Spooks and She Dogs.
“Anglers should really upsize their topwater lures. Too many people use the smaller Spooks and other plugs, and they are missing out on some great early morning bites. Upsize, upsize, upsize,” said Percy, who believes the best mornings for a topwater bite are those when the last hour of the incoming tide coincides with the sunrise, especially on days with moderate tides. This combination has trout positioned near grass-lined shell banks.
Some mornings, Percy said trout will slap at the topwater plugs but not bite them.
“I don’t know what makes them do that, but on those days, it seems like the most any trout will do is just slap at it continually but never bite it,” said Percy, who will switch to a popping cork, saying the chance almost always results in hookups.
When the tide is at its highest, Percy said nothing beats casting a MirroOLure 52MR808 in areas with flooded oyster shells that are close to sandbars or grass lines. He suggests casting the lure tight to the bank, then working it slowly over the submerged shells.
“It’s a sinking lure, but it will suspend for a second or two. Twitch it enough to keep it off the shells,” he said. “Once it clears the shells, twitch it once, then let it suspend longer than you can stand it, then twitch it again and let it sit. The bite will almost always come when it is dead still,” he said.
When it comes to gear, Percy likes using 7-foot, medium-action rods with fast tips along with 2000 and 3000 class spinning reels spooled with 20-pound braid and monofilament leaders. With a popping cork, he’ll use a 16- to 18-inch leader; with fishing an artificial on a jighead, he’ll connect his running line to the leader with a surgeon’s knot.
“It’s a strong knot and is the easiest knot to tie for connecting one line to another,” he said.
“September is one of my favorite months to fish for trout. A lot of changes with the weather are becoming apparent this month, and speckled trout are one of the first fish to show a noticeable change in their behavior.”
HOW TO GET THERE — SC 278 offers direct access to Hilton Head Island once you’re in the general vicinity. US 17 provides great access from areas to the north and along the coast. A combination of I-77, I-26 and I-95 will put most fishermen from the Upstate just around the corner.
BEST TECHNIQUES — Speckled trout are suckers for live or artificial shrimp fished under a popping cork, but don’t miss a chance to fish a soft-plastic bait on a jighead. Look for spots where two currents converge and fish any structure that might hold baitfish or shrimp. The two hours on either side of high tide are prefered.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Rick Percy, Reel Chance Charters, 803-535-6166, www.reelchancecharters.com; Southern Drawl Outfitters, Hilton Head Island, 843-705-6010, www.southerndrawloutfitters.com; Mid Island Bait and Tackle, Hilton Head Island, 843-681-2556; Blue Water Tackle Shop, Hilton Head Island, SC. 8430671-3060.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Quality Inn, Hilton Head Island, 843-842-6662; Holiday Inn, Hilton Head Island, 843-785-5126; Red Roof Inn, Hilton Head Island, 843-686-6808; Coral Sands Resort, Hilton Head Island, 843-842-3490; Days Inn, HiltonHead Island, 843-842-4800; The Village at Palmetto Dunes, 843-842-4649.
MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855, www.captainsegullcharts.com; DeLorme’s S.C. Atlas and Gazetteer, 800-561-5105, www.delorme.com; Town of Hilton Head Island Maps, www.hiltonheadislandsc.gov; Navionics Maps, 508-291-6000, www.navionics.com.