If you had to choose a month to be on the water along South Carolina’s coast, November would be the winner. Even though the deer hunting is great and the Thanksgiving turkey is tasty, there isn’t a better time to float a live shrimp across the jetty rocks at Murrells Inlet in search of a whopper speckled trout.
During the fall, when the water temperature falls into the 60s, the creeks that make up Murrells Inlet’s estuary — Oaks Creek, Charley’s Cut and Garden City Creek — load up with schools of speckled trout that bring in hundreds of anglers with tasty speckled trout fillets on the brain. Using live bait and artificial contraptions, a 10-fish limit of speckled trout over 14 inches long is not too hard to come by, but for anglers looking to tussle with a trophy-size opponent, the granite boulders of the jetties that protect the inlet are ground zero.
Primarily used to maintain navigation for Murrells Inlet mariners, the huge granite outcrops double as major feeding centers for these snaggle-toothed specks, and big ones at that. It is not uncommon to catch a limit of 3- to 4-pound fish, with a few exceeding 5 pounds.
Kevin “Stump” Grant of Pawley’s Island Guide Service is no neophyte when it comes to big trout, and during November, Grant scoops his fair share of gator trout into his boat.
“The jetties are great places to find big trout during the fall,” Grant said. “Big fish like access to deeper water because there are usually bigger baits down there.”
As the water temperature drops with every cold blast that arrives along the coast, the shallow marshes and backwater creeks chill quickly. Huge collections of shrimp and juvenile fish have been reared through the summer, but the cold water will be too much for them. Relief for these juveniles is at the edge of the ocean, along the jetties.
“There are literally tons of fish and shrimp starting to flush out of the marsh, and the jetties are a perfect pinch-point for trout to make a living,” Grant said.
The large, granite boulders, combined with swift current, creates perfect ambush spots for trout, and just about anything with a calorie comes on their radar.
Justin Witten of Ambush Sportfishing Charters hits the jetties hard because the rocks and currents are magnets for trout.
“The jetties are perfect places for trout to set up and ambush their food,” Witten said. “They provide current rips and eddies for the fish to hang out and feed.”
Witten will target rips and seams as they develop during different phases of the tide in different areas.
“Both the falling and the rising tide can be real good at the jetties. Fish the current seams and eddies as they develop until you find a school,” he said.
Many fishermen will only target the jetties in certain spots and on certain tides, but the truth is, trout will be patrolling just above every, looking for food. Certain places will be better on certain tides than others.
“They can be caught all over the jetties. You just have to fish around until you get bit,” he said.
Trout will hit anything tasty, but shrimp and big baitfish are prime rib for a speck and are Grant’s baits of choice.
“In the fall, floating live shrimp is my mainstay, but live menhaden and mullet are my runner-up baits,” he said.
Trout love the sweet taste of shrimp and will gorge themselves, especially when shrimp are as abundant as they are during the late season. In November, the ocean will be full of white shrimp, and the creeks will be dumping out tractor-trailer loads of brown and pink shrimp as the water temperature falls. the jetties become perfect ambush spots for trout.
Typically, Grant will fish live shrimp on an adjustable float so he can easily access a variety of depths, and often, fish are not always at the same depth.
“I will check depths from the bottom to the top and figure out what they like. The adjustable-depth cork lets you cover the entire water column,” he said.
His rig is fairly simple. It consists of a 10-inch sliding cork with a 1-ounce weight, bobber stopper, and 18 inches of 12 to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader to a single, Owner 3/0 Mutu light hook. When fishing along the jetties, wind and current can create waves and chop, and the long cork is necessary for the angler to see from a distance.
Even though the water depth along the rocks varies from 3 to 25 feet, it doesn’t mean an angler can’t fish artificials. Live bait is a good way to get bit at the jetties, but fall is an ideal time to break out an arsenal of artificial options to catch a limit.
Grant will use a wide variety of artificials, from weighted jigs and artificial shrimp to surface lures. One of his favorites is the new Savage shrimp, but the D.O.A., Billy Bay, Vudu and Gulp shrimp are all good options for artificials. Since trout are holding at various depths, artificial shrimp should be tied terminally and fished on a free line without any additional weight or float.
“Any of the shrimp and baitfish imitations will trigger a bite if presented in the right spot, but for me, I like to throw a topwater plug in the morning and switch to artificial shrimp later. The fish are usually very aggressive early, and the top water plugs can make for exciting times,” Grant said.
Even when the fish are ultra-aggressive, they will still prefer certain lures over others. Grant will switch between different types of lures and topwater offerings to figure out what the fish are craving on that day.
“I will use all of the Zara Spook models, from the Juniors to the super-sized varieties. I mix it up because on different days, one works better than others,” said Grant, who mixes up his lure choices and colorations to make sure that he finds what the fish are craving.
HOW TO GET THERE — Murrells Inlet is at the southern tip of the Grand Strand, with a public boat ramp on US 17 Business just south of the heart of Murrells Inlet’s famous restaurant district. The jetties at the mouth of the inlet are the primary target areas to find speckled trout.
WHEN TO GO — The speckled trout bite cranks up in October and provides fantastic fishing almost to the end of the year, depending on how long the water temperature remains at 58 degrees and higher. Peak times are the last week or October through early December.
TACKLE/TECHNIQUES — Live or artificial shrimp fished under a sliding or popping cork fished 2 to 3 feet off the bottom close to the jetty rocks are ideal. Suspending or sinking MirrOlures and soft-plastic baits fished on jigheads are productive cast to the jetties or trolled beside them. Moving water on the high end of teh tide is preferred, but plenty of fish can be caught on all stages of the tide. Medium-light to medium action spinning and baitcasting outfits from 6 1/2- to 7-feet are preferred, with reels spooled in 10- to 14-pound braid, with a 15- to 24-inch leader of 14- to 20-pound fluorocarbon.
FISHING INFO/GUIDES — Kevin “Stump” Grant, Pawley’s Island Guide Service, 843-833-4477; Justin Witten, Ambush Sport Fishing Charters, 540-250-5995; Pawley’s Island Outdoors, 843-979-4666; Perry’s Bait & Tackle, 843-651-2895. See also Guides and Charters in Classifieds.
ACCOMMODATIONS — Hampton Inn, Murrells Inlet, 843-651-6687; Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.visitmyrtlebeach.com); South Carolina Association of Visitors Bureaus, www.discoversouthcarolina.com.