A couple of weeks ago there were a few boats in the creeks, mostly hard-core anglers or someone taking their ride for a shakedown cruise. At the Intracoastal Waterway, traffic included a few sailboats and the annual stream of big pleasure cruisers starting their march north.
Now, as the song asks: "Who let the dogs out?"
It seems like overnight many of the Lowcountry's tranquil creeks and inlets turn into watery versions of Darlington Speedway. Jet skiers whip up and down the ICW at a deafening pace. If that isn't fun enough, breakers rolling into inlets offer aquatic ramps for induction into the Daredevil Hall of Fame.
At a slightly tamer pace, boats of all sizes and shapes are cruising. Some boast crews of hormone-crazed teenagers while others consist of families headed to the beachfront for an afternoon of relaxation. Another armada is made up of anglers ready for a week's vacation or locals enjoying their waterside backyards with a rod and reel.
So if you think your fishing holes are getting a little crowded or, at least, aren't as isolated as they were earlier in the year, you're right. Things just got busier at the coastal population centers of Hilton Head, Charleston and Mount Pleasant and Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island.
June is a prime month to be on the water. School is out, the tourist population is swelling, and the weather is warm enough to dip toes in the water but not so hot as to make people scramble back to air-conditioned comfort by lunch. To make the month even more attractive, the fishing is pretty darn good too.
According to two local anglers, the fishing is too good to give up, even taking into account the crowds. Modifying one's attitude and tactics are all it takes to enjoy a day of angling in June.
"When I first started guiding in 1991, there were no other boats around to watch or guides to help you pattern fish," said Capt. Champ Smith, a former full-time Mount Pleasant guide who still guides on an occasional basis between negotiating real-estate transactions for Carolina Prudential.
"You could find lots of fish and monitor them," he said, "knowing they weren't being pounded on a daily basis.
"You could fish a school once or twice a week and be fairly certain no one else had fooled with them. If that particular school wasn't biting, you just moved on to the next school you had located.
"Back then, no one even knew what a 'platform' was."
Platforms refer to the proliferation of flats-type boats now available.
Smith said more people are interested in what a boat is doing nowadays on the water.
"I fished a lot at what I called the 'Four Corners,' which is where Breach Inlet and Swinton Creek intersected the ICW," he said. "When someone hooked a fish, I used to have my clients just hold their rod tips in the water when a boat came by. The boat might wave and keep going. Today they watch you, and if they think you have a fish on, they'll come over and throw out a big anchor and start fishing."
Smith said anglers still could have success, despite the increased crowds, but anyone seriously interested in taking home saltwater bounty has to spend time on the water and understand the fish.
"Without fishing everyday like I used to, it's harder to catch fish," he said. "I think 90 percent of catching fish under today's conditions is knowing the right window when the school is going to feed. You have to figure out the patterning process.
"It seems to me the fish are more comfortable feeding on the high tide when they have the security of the grass. At low tide, they're vulnerable, especially during winter when the water is clearer and the dolphins are after them."
That said, Smith will fish during low-tide periods. He uses this time to locate schools. He'll offer them something, but if they don't eat, he comes back during higher water, usually with a different technique.
Once he locates fish, Smith recommends pre-planning lure presentations.
"Redfish today know what a boat is," Smith said. "They've seen nearly every bait and hull configuration on the market. So you want to think about what you're going to do before you approach a school.
"What I like to do is get in a position upwind of the fish and let the wind or current carry my bait into the fish. If the fish don't know the boat is there, you'll catch more fish."
It's not uncommon once an angler sets up at an area for someone to come between him and the school of fish he's targeting.
"If someone comes in," Smith said, "I just pick up and go away. It's not worth the confrontation. You need to have patience on the water. The schools usually don't move far, so once things settle down, you can come back later and try them again."
Once anglers find fish, Smith suggested they scale down their rigs.
"Redfish will can get shy of a float rig, especially during low tide," Smith said. "So you'll want to use less material."
He suggested a 1/16- to 1/4-ounce bullet weight and a 12- to 18-inch leader of 20-pound fluorocarbon line. Smith opts for a No. 1 circle hook. He said the smaller hook size penetrates easier for more hookups. He likes fishing baits - finger mullets and creek shrimp, with his favorite being blue crabs - this month.
"The rig is a just a small Carolina rig," Smith said. "Cast it out and let it sit on the bottom. If you've patterned the fish correctly, they should move right over it."
Once the tide begins to rise, Smith said it's easier to use artificial baits because anglers aren't constantly fighting the environment by hanging oysters shells or rocks. He said he prefers to us DOA baits during high tide periods.
"DOA shrimp work well on the edge of the grass or back in the grass if you see a fish tailing," Smith said. "DOA jerkbaits are essentially weedless, and you can effectively fish them back in the grass. They also feature a pinch-on weight which you can remove if you're casting over some oysters or leave (it) on if you need the bait to go a little deeper."
He recommended finger-mullet patterns or root-beer color with a chartreuse tail.
Another tactic Smith likes to use to avoid crowds is chasing tailing redfish. This specialized technique has gained popularity during recent years, but there's still plenty of room, especially if anglers are aware of their surroundings.
"Many of the places I look for tailing fish," Smith said, "are the high-marsh areas that aren't normally flooded behind the barrier islands, such as Capers or Dewees, or up against the mainland of Mount Pleasant.
"When there's a scheduled tide of 6.0 or better, that's good for finding tailing fish. However, if it's only a 5.8 tide, and the wind is NE at 10 to 15 mph, it will still make a good tailing tide. Most people aren't paying that close attention to those details, and you can end up having the whole area to yourself."
Another weather-related time Smith takes advantage of occurs when most people would stay at home.
"If it's overcast, I'm out there," he said. "Low-light conditions are usually better for catching fish anyway. A plus side too is there are less people.
"You have to adapt to the situation. If I only fished when it was sunny and no one was around, I'd be out of business."
Capt. Rick Hiott, a Charleston-based guide, has his charter operation centered at the busy Harbor and fishes up the Cooper River and north towards Dewees Island.
"There have definitely been more people fishing," Hiott said. "I contribute a lot of it to the Internet. It used to be you stopped in a tackle shop to get some advice, and now everyone can get some of that same advice right from home."
Hiott likes to chase the large redfish found at the jetties and the Grillage, a deep-water spot near the Harbor mouth.
"The good thing is that where I fish a lot there are many spots to set up," Hiott said. "A lot of it depends on the tide and conditions, but if someone gets too close and interferes with what I'm doing I usually have another option."
Hiott said he watches all of the boats in case what he's doing isn't producing strikes. If he sees someone getting a hit, he'll try to imitate what they are doing.
"If someone is fishing the edge of the channel, and I'm in the middle," Hiott said, "I'll move to the edge up or down from them, giving them plenty of room in the process."
When fishing for big redfish, Hiott said having fresh bait is key.
"I fish a lot of different baits," Hiott said. "I'll use menhaden or mullet, either cut or alive, and blue crabs. People I see coming out there just use whatever they had leftover in their freezers. When you have all of the competition in one area, it's important to use good baits."
Hiott's setup consists of a minimum of 20-pound monofilament line for the main line. He threads on a 6- to 8-ounce egg sinker and then adds a 50-pound barrel swivel. Attached to the swivel is a 50- to 80-pound clear monofilament leader and No. 10/0 Eagle Claw circle hook.
Hiott says it's a giant Carolina rig, but it's important to be oversized since anglers should try to reduce the fighting time and stress on these big fish, which are valuable to the population.
If the action isn't happening for Hiott at the Grillage, he'll usually move out to the jetties, another not-so-lonely spot.
"If folks are all piled up on one end of the jetties," Hiott said, "I'll move to the other jetty or move farther out to the edge of the rip."
At the jetties, where the current can be stronger as it's funneled between the rocks, Hiott might switch to a pyramid sinker to keep his rig from rolling on the bottom. While it keeps the bait in position closer to the rocks, it also helps prevent tangles with nearby boats if things get a little tight.
Hiott also fishes in the creeks. Like Smith, he said a variety of baits are important.
"I usually have no less than two different varieties of bait on the boat," Hiott said. "Ninety-nine percent of the time it will be live or fresh baits since I hardly use artificials during the summer. I'll have shrimp, but I tend to use them less because the pinfish and other non-target species harass and tear them up so bad. Most of my baits are going to be menhaden, mullet, crab or minnows, with menhaden being my favorite."
Besides having a diverse bait selection, other keys to Hiott for fishing inshore waters where fishing pressure is high is to be quiet and drift into areas.
"You don't want to be throwing large anchors overboard or slamming compartment doors," Hiott said. "All of this will alert the reds. You need to be quiet.
"I don't have a trolling motor on my boat so I usually cut the motor ahead of time and drift into position, which is usually upstream of where I want to fish.
"I see a lot of folks fish a dock straight on, for example," Hiott said. "They can't get the bait under the dock because the current is coming from the side and tangling them.
"If you get upcurrent, the bait will drift under the dock where the fish are located. I've had it work too many times not to think it doesn't matter."
Since Hiott likes to fish at such structures, his line needs to be able to take abuse. His main line will be 20-pound braided line connected by a barrel swivel to a 30-pound dark green braided leader, which is about 2-feet long. In some instances he might eliminate the swivel and use an in-line sinker instead of a sliding egg sinker above the swivel. He normally uses a short-shank live bait hook between a No. 1/0 to 4/0, with the size depending on bait size.
"If you're going to use a live bait hook, don't put the rod in the holder because you'll gut-hook every fish," Hiott said. "Hold it, and set the hook immediately, or use a circle hook if you don't want to risk it."
While a lot of captains start their charters at daybreak, Hiott said many of his clients, who are here on vacation, opt for a later start in the morning.
"If you start later in the morning, you can still have the crowds, but you are more rested to fish later into the day, a time when the crowds usually have thinned out," he said.