Rawling Pratt-Thomas grew up fishing the Wadmalaw/Bohicket area south of Charleston, but it wasn't until he was several years into a career as a fishing guide that he realized what he had.

Like the great majority of guides working out of the Charleston area, he had spent most of his time around the harbor and in the Wando and Cooper rivers, as well as the vast marshes north towards Awendaw.

Then he started fishing back in his old neighborhood: Bohicket and Leadenwah creeks, the Wadmalaw, Stono and North Edisto rivers, and Wadmalaw Sound. It didn't take long before he felt right at home, and now it's his main fishing grounds for two reasons: the fishing's great, and he's just about got the place to himself.

"What got me started being interested in it is that nobody else fishes it," said Pratt-Thomas, who operates Charleston Inshore Charters. "I knew there must be fish in there, so I ran around at dead-low tide scouting and found some great places, and I never saw another boat.

"If you go south from Rockville, you will not see another boat," he said. "Toogoodoo Creek is the only place you might see another fisherman."

Being the only game in town is great as long as it's a good game, and it didn't take Pratt-Thomas (843-834-1061) long to figure out that it was.

"There's a great redfish population, and it's got a great trout bite," he said. "The number of redfish is increasing every year. The mud flats, where you'd expect to find them, will be full of fish the next couple of years.

"I've tagged fish, 3- or 4-pound fish, and now they're 8- to 10-pound fish. I tagged them and highlighted the tag in pink so I can identify them. Nobody is taking them out."

With the marshes closest to Charleston getting pounded with fishermen hunting down huge schools of redfish in the winter, the Bohicket/Wadmalaw area can be a lonely place to be. The most-convenient jumping-off point for a winter fishing trip is the Cherry Point boat ramp in Rockwell, near the southern terminus of SC 700, the Maybank Highway. About a mile upstream from Bohicket Creek's junction with the North Edisto River and two miles downstream from Bohicket Marina and Yacht Club; it's on the southern end of the entire fishery, but still within a 45-minute boat ride of most of the spots you'll fish.

Pratt-Thomas first fished the area, putting in at the Wapoo Cut boat ramp south of Charleston, running up the Stono River to the ICW and into the Wadmalaw Sound and river, but he quickly found that to be too long a run.

"You've got at least an hour on your big motor from Wapoo, so now I fish out of Rockwell," he said. "From there, you can go all the way up to where the Wadmalaw turns into the ICW, and it's no more than a 45-minute run."

Pratt-Thomas said the area has different physical characteristics when compared with the Charleston Harbor and surrounding area.

"There aren't as many channels into the ocean down here, so the water can stay dirty and not clear up as quickly," he said. "The Stono River is your only access point to the ocean. The Stono becomes the ICW, then the Wadmalaw, and then the North Edisto. If you fish the Stono end, you will run into some stained water at some time because of the tides.

"There aren't as many estuaries as there are in the Charleston and Mount Pleasant areas, but there are a lot of mud flats."

Some of Pratt-Thomas' favorite winter fishing spots are close to the landing, but most are a short ride up the North Edisto.

 

A. Mouth of Bohicket Creek

N 32 35.080/W 80 12.580

When you enter the North Edisto River from Bohicket Creek, turn upstream (right) and fish from the point up the bank to the mouth of a gutter creek that enters the river on the right. A light on top of a platform will be back in the ditch, when drains an area of the marsh also drained by Adams Creek.

"This is a good place to catch speckled trout and reds in January," Pratt-Thomas said. "You've got a lot of (oyster) shells and a steep drop-off all the way up the bank to the mouth of the ditch. It's a perfect place for trout. You can drift the bank with the tide, or you can anchor up and fish grubs."

 

B. Shrimpboat Graveyard

N 32 34.766/W 80 13.288

Across the North Edisto and just upstream from the mouth of Bohicket Creek lies the remains of two shrimpboats that strayed from the river channel and were beached on the shallow flats a hundred or so yards off the bank.

Pratt-Thomas advises starting at the mouth of a tiny gutter creek downstream from the wrecks and fishing upstream along a long shell and marsh bank and spend time grubbing around the two wrecks for trout.

"They can hang out in front of the gutter creek, from the point all the way up that bank," Pratt-Thomas said. "You've got oysters, the spartina grass, and it's a steep bank.

"Some trout will stay around the boats, but the whole bank is great for redfish and trout. You can anchor up and fish for trout around the shrimpboats with grubs.

 

C. Shell Island/Dawhoo Flats

N 32 37.490/W 80 17.804

The Dawhoo River is the north and south boundary of Edisto Island, with the ICW running through Watts Cut and North Creek between the Dawhoo and the South Edisto River.

The mouth of the Dawhoo, however, is where the best redfish hang out during the winter. Just inside the mouth of the river, on the northern shoreline, is a shell-island point with a long ditch behind it. That's the beginning point of a huge expanse of mud flats known as Dawhoo Flats. Pratt-Thomas fishes the entire area for redfish, moving around to different areas as the tide ebbs and flows.

"I'll fish the ditch behind the shell islands on low tide; it's about the only place that will have any water left," he said. "Behind there, you have 300 to 400 yards of open water and mud flats, and in the winter, the bait can get congregated in there. It's just a big schooling flat.

"The fish will be up against the marsh on high tide, and as the water moves out, they'll be hugging the bank, trying to stay away from the dolphin."

On high tide, Pratt-Thomas stakes out the mouth of the little gutters that drawn the marsh behind the mud flats. He'll try to fish as many of them as he can when the water's up, expecting to find a big school of reds somewhere in the area.

 

D. Bluff Point Flats

N 32 38.493/W 80 15.610

Upstream from the Dawhoo River and on the opposite bank is an extensive mud flat that's completely submerged at high tide.

"This is sort of an estuary area, a big flat where the bait congregates," said Pratt-Thomas. "You want to stay as shallow as you can. When the water is up, go as far back as you can, because the fish will be hugging the edge of the marsh and the oysters.

"I start poling in, and I don't stop until I see mud trails. I'll usually have my fishermen fish artificials on the way in while I'm poling, then set up close to the bank and break out the bait."

 

E. Mouth of Toogoodoo Creek

N 32 39.046/W 80 15.796

Pratt-Thomas calls the ditch coming out of the creek into the river "trout central."

"This is a place where the bait will gather, and the trout will stay in through January if it's not too cold," he said. "Start on the point on the right and work your way in along the grass and oysters on high water. At low tide, work out deeper. I fish floats and bait up against the grass and grubs and MirrOlures in deeper water on low tide. I like to fish right when the water is starting to fall out of the grass. The first hour after high tide is good.

"There will also be some reads in the sparse spartina grass on the river side of that point to the right."

 

F. Wadmalaw Oyster Mounds

N 32 40.829/W 80 14.372

Two ditches drain a large section of marsh behind a flat that's marked by a series of oyster mounds. Pratt-Thomas said this is prime redfish turf when water falls toward low tide because the dolphin can't get back past the oysters to get after the fish on the flat.

"As the tide rises, the fish will move into the ditches and get back in the grass," Pratt-Thomas said. "I'll pole back across the flat until I see fish, then start sight-casting. I always look around the two ditches.

"Some fishermen will stake out in the shallow water and put their baits out on the edge where the water gets deep. The oyster mounds are on the outside of the river, and at low tide, you've got a lot of structure to fish. Lots of baitfish will get in there."

 

G. Barge Flats

N 32 41.073/W 80 12.990

Upstream on the opposite side of the river from the oyster mounds are a handful of barges anchored along the edge of deep water. Behind them is an extensive set of mud flats drained by two main ditches.

This is great redfish territory in the winter, Pratt-Thomas said.

"I'll start on the lower (downstream) end and fish all the way up to the point behind the three barges; they'll gang up around the bank," he said. "You can start out deep and follow the crab traps into the deep part of the slough, then I pole all the way to the edge of the marsh and the oysters, to the ditches that go back into the flat."

As usual, reds will be as close to the bank as they can possibly get as the tide ebbs and flows. Pratt-Thomas does a lot of sight-casting in the area, but he'll set up and fish the ditches with bait.

 

H. 'The Sanctuary/Alcatraz'

N 32 42.079/W 80 12.269

A wide, tidal flat that's also known as the "Marker 80 Flats" - Pratt-Thomas said it can be heaven or hell.

"I call it the Sanctuary, because it can be the most peaceful place in the world when you're back in there poling, but it can also be Alcatraz because it's sometime impossible to get out of there because there are so many stumps," he said.

Marker 80 is at the downstream end of the estuary, and there's a hook-shaped point on the other end.

"There are plenty of places in here where redfish can feel secure," Pratt-Thomas said. "On low tide, they'll get pulled out on the oyster flats. On high water, they'll go back in the sloughs in the marsh. I'll fish all the way back in there."