Let's check out the rules bulletin.
The last part of duck season remains open most of the month, and ducks are fun in the first hour of daylight. Aside from them, woodcock season is open, but there are few woodcock near the coast. Doves are still legal, but it's been a long time since we've seen any concentrations of birds. And of course our favorite upland bird, the quail, can be chased if you can afford the fee at one of the game preserves, since the wild birds all but disappeared decades ago.
Oh yes, snipe season is in full swing until February, but most people think snipe hunting is a fraternity hazing joke.
Never fear, fishing season is still open. In fact, it never closes in saltwater, but you wouldn't know it from checking the action on the water. Most people think the fish have all retreated into the deep water or the open ocean to spend the winter.
Ralph Davis, who was raised on Wadmalaw Island 80 years ago and has spent his last 50 years plying the salt waters around Beaufort, had never caught a spottail bass in the winter until recently. He, and his father before him, thought the bass all disappeared in winter.
Davis, who knows the traditional Lowcountry approaches to fish and fowl, couldn't believe it when he was poled up to some big spottails in cold water.
"My Dad always told me those flushing fish in the shallows were mullet," Davis said, laughing as he dragged in a big fish on very light tackle.
"No way did I think that light rod could handle a fish like this," was his reaction to the tackle he was using.
If catching big spottails on light spinning tackle was a thrill for Davis, then Capt. Marv Copeland would have really gotten him going.
Copeland came to Port Royal as an infant in 1960 when his father was stationed at Parris Island, and he became one of the area's early fishing guides, working out of Shelter Cove on Hilton Head Island. Along with Fuzzy Davis, he guided inshore and nearshore in the May, Cooper and Broad Rivers and around Calibogue Sound.
After 18 years of full-time guiding and tournament fishing, Copeland branched into the related field of marine-engine repair and reduced his guiding activities to part time with mostly friends.
He contributed, along with four other guides, to Waterproof Charts Inc.'s chart No. 93F, which details hot fishing spots in the Beaufort/ Hilton Head area. So he knows where the fish typically congregate and how to catch them.
"January is one of the best times of the year for spottails, especially with a fly rod," Copeland said. "The fish are schooled at low tide, and (if) the water's clear, it can be perfect."
Copeland did offer an interesting comment about the one problem with cold-water redfish fishing - sometimes, the fish just won't bite anything. Many fishermen will stubbornly refuse to leave a school of fish and continue casting at them endlessly.
"Sometimes you can throw a gold spoon beyond a school and slowly drag it back through them, and all they will do is drift apart to allow the spoon to pass, then close back up," he said.
If that happens, and you can't get a strike with any bait or lure within 20 minutes or so, Copeland suggests leaving them and finding a more cooperative school.
It's always a tough decision to leave fish, but if the conditions are favorable for spotting schools, you can probably find another one, and it may be more cooperative.
Like virtually all winter spottail fisherman, Copeland is a low-tide angler. His favorite part of the tide is when it is falling to low, but there is the risk of getting stuck. He suggests arriving at your target flat about an hour before low tide and plan on productive fishing for about three hours.
For finding good spots, his large-scale tip-off is a big point of land and sand bar that juts toward the ocean. Since he contributed most of the Broad River hotspots to the chart No. 93F, he highlighted three that share the criteria of points that face the ocean.
Dawes Island is the large island on the west side of the Broad River, just below the Route 170 Bridge. The chart shows several designations for redfish around this large island, but the one Marv likes the most is about halfway down, near the "cobia hole." The lower end of this long and very shallow flat holds redfish at low tide and the bottlenose dolphin cruise the deep water edge.
The Parris Island Split is the second major point facing the ocean that has multiple options. The one Copeland likes most is on the Beaufort River side, below the micro tower, near the mouth of a small creek. Again, this is a shallow flat with adjacent deeper water.
The third spot is more subtle. Above the Rt. 170 bridge over the Broad River, around Hazards Creek, is the point that extends from Hogs Neck. This whole edge is a shallow, low-tide flat with several creek cuts, various holes and sand bars and also bordered by deeper water. Spottails will roam back and forth along the entire edge.
Copeland's favorite winter baits are artificials, because very few forage species - only a few crabs and mud minnows - remain on the flats during the winter, and the spottails do not feed aggressively.
He opts for long casts with a gold spoon when spin-casting; he will go with the fly rod if the fish can be approached closely enough.
For spinning gear, he picks a light outfit with 15-pound test line and a ¾-ounce Johnson gold spoon. He uses a heavier spoon so he can make very long and high casts, well beyond the schooled fish, so they will not be spooked by the lure splashing down.
He then cranks the spoon back to the school at a fairly rapid pace, then slows his retrieve to a fluttering crawl while moving through the school. When he has mud minnows available, he will tip the spoon with a live minnow, but he does not use a plastic trailer.
When he can get close enough without spooking the fish, his first choice is the fly rod. Unlike warm-season conditions, a 50-foot cast is often all that is required for cold-water spottails. His fly choice is either a shrimp pattern or small crab imitation.