Whether fresh water or salt water, these fish species and many others have something in common - they like "structure."
Structure at freshwater fishing holes usually is limited to a fallen tree, stump or sunken creek channel. But think about saltwater structures found inshore, and the objects become innumerable.
Probably the No. 1 saltwater structure is oyster bars, which come in many shapes, sizes and locations. Then there are pier pilings, rock piles, submerged pipes, sand bars, grassy points and surf zones to complicate things.
For whatever reason, one type of structure frequently overlooked in salt water, despite its popularity in fresh water, is woody debris. Largemouth anglers and cricket dunkers can't seem to resist these spots, but a fisherman pursuing red drum or flounder will speed right past them on his or her way to an inlet or favorite oyster bar.
This is unfortunate because woody debris in the salt water supports a cornucopia of game fish. It must be the name frequently given to areas characterized by a lot of dead trees that turns anglers off.
Sections of beach studded with relics of dead trees are called "boneyards" because they resemble skeletons. But there's nothing lifeless about boneyards; they're alive with activity, and how they form keeps these fishing holes dynamic and limitless.
Resembling a tombstone, a barnacle-covered PVC pipe sticking up out of the surf marked the spot of an old beach-side shack.
Located at a barrier island south of Fripp Island, the vanished shack, known as the Loggerhead Hilton, used to be the base for environmental education trips a decade earlier. As a small group stood at the spot with occasionally bent fishing poles, DNR biologists discussed memories of the shack and lamented how the ocean had swallowed it and was eating into the maritime forest behind the shack's former location.
Despite the feeling of loss, the group of environmentally-trained professionals fishing that evening knew nature was doing what comes, well, naturally.
"Most Lowcountry barrier islands are about 5,000 years old and formed when sea levels stabilized," said Elizabeth Rhodes, a geology instructor at the College of Charleston and frequent visitor to the boneyards.
"Barrier islands often have an alternating ridge-and-dune system running along their long axis," she said. "The ridges normally feature a cavernous maritime forest, which includes live oaks, cedar trees and palmettos. Between the ridges, wetlands of varying sizes may form in the depressions."
Once the ocean begins to lay claim to barrier-island real estate, boneyards are formed.
"Barrier islands were designed to be over-washed, eroded and shifted landward," she said. "As sea levels rise, the ocean begins eating away at the front beach of barrier islands, eventually engulfing the forest and toppling the maritime forest into the surf. Most people believe this is a bad thing, but this is what barrier islands do. As sand is transported from the front beach toward the back of the island, the entire island shifts landward."
Boneyards are found at most of the S.C. coast line. Prominent ones are at Bulls, Capers, Hunting and Pritchards islands
Without any structure, the surf on its own is a great place to fish for a variety of species. Pompano, redfish and whiting are some of the prime summer surf species. But the addition of structure to the surf zone in the form of woody debris works to enhance the beachfront fishing holes for a host of other species.
Just as in a bass pond, fallen trees in the surf provide cover for baitfish. Small baitfish, like mud minnows and mullet, attract larger game fish, such as spotted seatrout and redfish.
The longer the woody debris is in the water, the better it gets. Barnacles slowly begin growing on the structure, which, in turn, attracts sheepsheads that enjoy gnawing on the crustaceans.
Bottom-feeding species such as spots and black drum find morsels buried in the sand of the constantly-changing beach surface. And with all of this fish activity, several species of sharks, mostly blacktips and bonnetheads, are found in the vicinity as well.
Once one becomes a keen-eyed angler and learns to spot boneyards, the toughest decision will be deciding what to fish species to pursue.
"You never know what you're going to catch when you fish a boneyard," said Capt. O.C. Polk, a Charleston-based angler who has crept around in many boneyards during several decades. "It could be a trout, spottail or a pompano. You never know."
Even though boneyards are found in the surf zone, anglers can leave lengthy surf rods and cannonball-sized sinkers in the garage. Polk rigs with an outfit that allows him to maximize his opportunities, given the varied number of fish species.
"Fishing at a boneyard is pretty basic fishing," Polk said. "I prefer a 6- to 7-foot medium-action rod with 8- to 20-pound test monofilament line.
"The line is based on your preference. I've noticed, however, I seem to catch more pompano when I use the lighter line."
Polk uses a Carolina rig. The 20-pound-test leader will be 12- to 15-inches long with a 1-ounce pyramid sinker above the barrel swivel. He said the pyramid sinker would hold the rig closer to structure and prevent it from rolling in the current like an egg sinker.
"I use a 1/0 No. 84 bronze Eagle Claw hook," Polk said. "This will catch everything you want to catch out there."
He also stressed that you're going to lose a lot of tackle, and if a fish breaks off the bronze hook will rust away.
"If you're not hanging up, you're not fishing the right way," Polk said. "Plan on losing some tackle."
When to fish in a boneyard isn't really dependent upon the tides but rather the location of the trees. For particular boneyards, some trees may remain in the water at low tide while at other locations the trees may be high and dry.
"I have never seen where the tide makes much of a difference," Polk said. "The main thing is there has to be some trees in the water. How far the trees are in the water makes a difference as to what you might catch."
This trend would seem to make sense given that different fish species have different feeding strategies. Some species like to be in the melee of crashing surf while others seem to hang back and see what disoriented prey comes out of the surf.
"I like to begin fishing at the trees when the waves are breaking right offshore of them," Polk said. "As the water moves in, you still have waves breaking at structure, but the trees farther from shore are flooded and the water isn't as disturbed. This is what leads to the diversity of species.
"It seems I catch more trout and whiting near trees that aren't right where the waves are breaking," Polk said. "They're usually around trees about 200 to 300 yards out from the breakers in water 4- to 6-feet deep. Obviously, this would frequently be at either side of high tide."
Anglers may catch anything at any time, Polk said, but the trees normally have to be flooded to catch sheepshead with any regularity since they're usually feeding on submerged barnacles.
Live baits such as shrimp, mud minnows or finger mullets work fine in boneyards. Morsels of frozen shrimp or cut up mullet or menhaden also are suitable. Having live and cut bait is good idea until anglers determine what's working best.
Polk said he prefers to use smaller whole shrimp as opposed to cut pieces. He doesn't know why the smaller whole ones seem to catch more fish but theorized the fish might be able to see these baits better.
Don't hesitate to cast an artificial bait at the trees. Topwater baits, such as a Rebel Pop-R or a Zara Spook, will lead to an explosive redfish or seatrout bite. Shallow-running baits are also worth a try. Polk suggested DOA shrimp any time, and Gulp baits later into the fall.
Fishing at boneyards normally isn't a crowded affair, but if anglers aren't careful they could end up leaving their bones in a fishing hole.
"The boneyard areas are real popular with the partying beach-goers crowd," Polk said. "The other day I came in from fishing a boneyard, and there must have been 200 to 300 boats at the beach at Capers Inlet, but there were none around at the ocean side of the island.
"You have to be careful when maneuvering a boat in the breakers and swells and around those trees. You can get pretty messed up real quick if you don't know what you're doing.
"The first thing is you don't want to fish in these areas if it's rough. Just forget about going there because it'll be nothing but trouble.
"When it's calm, position the boat so the bow is (pointing) into the surf. If you end up taking a wave over the bow, get out of there and get the boat drained. Don't wait around. You live and learn when fishing in these spots, but with experience you'll get the hang of it."
Given the water temperature this time of year, Polk said anglers who don't want to risk going into these areas with a boat could wade at the trees.
"Some people park their boats at the backside of the island and walk across the island to the front and fish," Polk said. "You can do this, but unless you lug everything you need on your first trip, you'll have to make a couple of trips. That's too much work for me.
"In the old days, you used to see some people fishing with Calcutta or bream-buster poles at the trees. They'd wade along, reach out and drop a bait by a tree."
If anglers choose to wade and fish, Polk cautioned they probably should wear long pants and shoes for protection from the trees. A lot of barnacle-encrusted timber lurks below the water surface that anglers may not see that can easily inflict painful, even serious, cuts.
Polk offered one last piece of advice.
"Don't give up when you're out there fishing if you don't catch something," he said. "Every tree is different, and you never know which one is going to hold a fish.
"There are trees out there where I've never caught a fish, but I try them every time because one of these times they're going to hold some fish."
Boneyards can be a morbid scene. The sight of giant live oaks standing in the roiling surf is tough to stomach. But the scene is part of a large natural process that continues to shape the Lowcountry into the Eden sportsmen enjoy.
So rather than grieve for the forest, go fishing and celebrate nature's life cycles and bountiful sea life at the boneyards.