The casual observer may be amazed to discover that the only high-rise on Edisto Island was built by the S.C. Department of Transportation. Crossing the Dawhoo Bridge that spans the Intracoastal waterway between Adams Run and Edisto Island is akin to stepping into a time machine. Where do you want to go - the Colonial 1700s, Civil War era 1860s, 1950s, or 1980? All are represented and well preserved on the island. Sometimes, you have to look hard to find the 21st century, and that's the way most Edistonians prefer it.
Having grown up on the island, Jimmy Skinner lives the life of the sea. After obtaining a degree in marine science from College of Charleston, he returned to Edisto as a commercial crabber, oysterman and lead inshore fishing guide for Fontaine Charters (843-270 -8087).
February finds Skinner busy guiding clients on the South Edisto River. His tactics are a mixture of live- and cut-bait presentations while anchored or casting artificials to fish-holding structure while drifting on the tide or propelled by a trolling motor. He can use either presentation on most of his favorite spots.
For winter redfish, Skinner likes dead baits, especially shrimp. Fish are more lethargic and won't move far to eat artificials, and when he does use them, they're typically paddletail or curlytail grubs on a quarter-ounce jighead, retrieved very slowly close to the bottom.
"I like to match the color of the jigs with the water color," Skinner said, "natural colors like clear with metal flake when the water is clear and brighter colors when the water is cloudy."
Skinner's best advice is "Go slow." The waters of St. Helena Sound got down to the mid-40s last year, when there was widespread concern over a fish kill, especially for speckled trout. The inshore waters warm more quickly and stay as much as five degrees warmer than the sound.
Despite the temperature difference, all fish, but especially redfish and trout, will be at their most inactive of the year. Dead shrimp on the bottom works well because the scent and lack of having to chase down a meal really appeals to dormant redfish. When using artificials, downsizing and using a very slow retrieve near the bottom will catch more fish.
Skinner said one of Edisto's secrets is the great inshore fishing available during the winter on the south side of the island. Here are a few of his secrets These spots are no longer secrets.
1. Pine Island 'gutter'
N 32 29.148/W 80 22.242
Pine Island is on the west side of the South Edisto River, and Fish Creek separates it from Otter Island to the west.
Care must be taken when navigating the shoals that border the creek, especially at low tide. Motor toward Bay Point, then swinging back to the right toward Fish Creek between the shoals.
In the mouth of the creek, a patch of marsh grass stands high on a sandbar at low tide; it's still visible at high tide. The fish stack up in the gutter that runs between the grass and the far bank of Pine Island.
"The bottom composition of the gutter is mostly sand and mud, but it's deeper than the surrounding flats," Skinner said. "Both redfish and trout will swim along the gutter to move in to the creek that runs up into Pine Island."
Anchoring upcurrent and fishing dead shrimp will produce redfish, while slow-rolling jigs on an outgoing tide will produce speckled trout. The eddies and currents created on falling water draw trout to the area and the shell bank that runs 400 to 500 yards along the right bank into Fish Creek.
2. Otter Island Pilings
N 32 29.106/W 80 23.187
Across Fish Creek from Pine Island is Otter Island, which was used as a target for aircraft training during World War II. Pilings are left over from targets, and the old wood hosts oyster growth, which holds slot-sized and larger reds. Since the pilings are high on the beach, fish them late on an incoming tide.
"I like to cast a topwater bait like a Badonk-A-Donk on this spot," Skinner said. "The water is shallow, and the bottom is covered with oysters but the reds run behind them on an incoming tide to feed. My favorite colors are red/white or an iridescent body with a red head."
3. Fish Creek Shell Mounds
N 32 30.154/W 80 23.308
Moving a mile-and-a-half into Fish Creek, you find two large shell mounds near the center of the creek. They are exposed at low tide and are best fished on the upper half of the incoming tide and the first half of the outgoing tide. Anchoring between the mounds will let you fish both mounds, which are more than a long cast apart.
"This is a great place to work a DOA Shrimp under a popping cork," Skinner said. "Trout love to hang out around these mounds, and the cork allows the slow presentation you'll need to entice the bite."
A gutter creek dumps into the creek behind the first mound, and the mouth of the gutter is shielded by an oyster bar. Be sure to turn around and make a few casts or place a bait near this bar for the big redfish that hang out there.
4. Fenwick Island Banks
N 32 31.425/W 80 23.330
The first of three cut banks on Fenwick Island is on the left about three-fourths of the way back in Fish Creek. Deep water is right on the bank, and a number of laydown trees rest in the water.
All three banks are similar, but Skinner favors the middle one due to its large amount of accumulated structure. The last cut bank needs to be fished at the top of the incoming tide in order to have enough water in the creek to access it. It's best to fish the first two banks on an incoming tide while the tide builds, then move to the third or start with the third at high tide and work backwards.
"Trout and redfish love these areas and hold on the outside of the trees," Skinner said. "This is also one of the best places to find flounder, though there will be fewer now than later in the season. Flounder lay back in the structure, so you'll have to really get your baits back in there."
A couple of bonus fish that Skinner often catches on the cut banks are sheepshead and black drum. He said that fiddler crabs - if you can get them in the winter - or a shrimp head on a small hook work great. The key is getting tight into the trees and fishing vertically right against the structure.
5. St. Pierre Creek GUTTER
N 32 31.708/W 80 21.557
St. Pierre Creek is upstream from Bay Point on the east bank of the South Edisto, and it drains much of Edisto Island. Inside the mouth of the creek, on the north bank, is a wide gutter creek that extends about 600 yards into the marsh.
Skinner fishes the spot two different ways, depending on the tide. On the upper end of a rising tide or at full high tide, he slow-trolls a Gulp! shrimp or grubs in electric chicken (color) on a quarter-ounce jighead from this point back to the mouth of St. Pierre Creek. He said the jigs should bump along the bottom at times, maintaining close contact with the bottom.
"This stretch is a bend just inside St Pierre Creek, and it's deeper than the other side of the mouth. Trout will school up in this deeper water, and trolling, as slow as you can get the boat to move, will catch them," he said.
Back at the mouth of the gutter on an incoming tide, Skinner anchors off the point and casts into the gutter or uses a trolling motor to work the inside the gutter, which has steep, shell banks on either side. Redfish will hit dead shrimp or artificials; trout will hit artificials.
6. Bailey Island
N 32 32.281/W 80 21.267
Still in St. Pierre Creek but downstream is a cut bank in front of Bailey Island that holds blowdown trees that fish the same way as the trees on Fenwick Island. Reds and trout roam the edges of the structure, and the occasional flounder or sheepshead hangs back in the cover. If you reverse course to the end of the trees, you come upon a row of docks.
"That first dock is usually my best," Skinner said, "although they all will hold fish. That first dock has rip-rapped banks that extend way out into the water, and it will hold trout, reds and sheepshead. The sheepshead bite doesn't come on strong until late February if it's a mild winter or later into March if it gets cold."
7. Peter's Point
N 32 32.309/W 80 20.677
Peter's Point, aka St. Peter's Point, is at the intersection of St. Pierre Creek and Fishing Creek. It is a great trout spot during the winter because a long shell bar extends 30 yards out into the water. Skinner suggests anchoring upstream where you can cast back into the turbulent water created when the tide is moving.
"Either side of Peter's Point has some good fishing, too, because there's shell and structure for a couple hundred yards on either side of the point," he said.
8. The Neck
32 31.555/W 80 20.040
The first boat docks you come to working up Fishing Creek are at the intersection of Fishing Creek and Big Bay Creek, labeled as "The Neck" on many maps. An old seawall encrusted with substantial oyster growth extends along the bank behind these docks. The water depths range from eight to 10 feet around these docks on any tide.
"The cut bank along this seawall holds trout, redfish and black drum year round," Skinner said. "You can also catch flounder and sheepshead later in the season."
Skinner recommends anchoring and casting baits up against the wall or using a trolling motor to work between the docks, casting artificial baits and working them along the bottom.
9. Interpretive Center Dock
N 32 30.262/W 80 19.510
It's about three miles from The Neck to the public ramp at Live Oak Landing via a winding stretch of Bailey Creek. On the right, just before the Live Oak Landing ramp is another modern ramp that belongs to the Edisto Interpretive Center.
The dock itself is a hit-or-miss location to catch redfish during the colder months, but the grass banks on either side of the dock are often overlooked.
"The Interpretive Center has been seeding oysters along this bank for years," Skinner said. "They put out wood pallets with the oyster shells attached, and it looks like grass sod along the bottom. It's a great redfish spot, because the oyster banks that have formed are even across the bottom.
Because the public ramp is so close, this is a good first or last spot of the day.
10. Big Bay Docks
N 32 29.574/W 80 19.664
These docks can offer a full day's fishing by themselves and are well worth the effort when the bite is on. The stretch of docks covers about three-quarters of a mile, roughly from the mouth of Big Bay Creek to the mouth of Scott Creek. The docks are mostly residential, but there are some commercial docks, including Skinner's home base.
The docks hold a lot of sheepshead, beginning in late February and running until May when the fish seem to scatter. Fiddler crabs are key baits and may seasonably be available at Edisto Watersports. Dropping fiddlers down next to the pilings works well. Redfish can also be caught by casting jigs around and between the docks.