The Charleston Harbor area is arguably the center of South Carolina's coastal fishery, and in more ways that just geography.

Sure, it's located about midway between the Palmetto State's borders with North Carolina and Georgia, and having one of South Carolina's largest metropolitan areas right on is doorstep adds a certain level of fishing attention to the waters of the harbor, the rivers that feed it and the adjoining marshes.

But it's the fishing, not the attention, that separates Charleston from the rest of the state. In a word, it's excellent, and June is the month that really kicks off the season. The sheepshead and flounder have returned, the trout are at the peak of their activity, and the redfish - big and small - are on the feed.

Capt. Chuck Griffin of Aqua Adventures Fishing Charters does battle with most of the fish that show up in the harbor on a regular basis, from the aforementioned species to jacks, sharks, black sea bass, Spanish mackerel and tarpon - a few of which show up toward the end of the month.

Some of the harbor's hotspots are so well-known that they've got names, principal among them the "Grillage" and the "Dynamite Hole," but they aren't the only places to catch fish. The outside of the harbor is lined with a pair of rock jetties, each almost three miles long, that heavily influence fish and fishing patterns, especially with respect to tide and current.

Griffin (843-860-1664), who fishes out of Isle of Palms Marina, has fished the harbor and its surroundings in every season, on every tide, and he's uniquely qualified to help newcomers learn how to find their way around - and bring home a few fish to boot.

 

A: Dynamite Hole

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Back in the early 1800s, before the construction of the rock jetties that line the outside of the harbor, the shipping channel ran along the south side of the harbor, close to the eastern end of Fort Sumter. The channel was apt to silt in with sand from Sullivan's Island on the north side of the harbor, and dynamite was used to keep the channel clear of obstructions, hence, the "Dynamite Hole."

The Dynamite Hole, marked by a buoy, is at the junction where the inshore, submerged end of the South Jetty meets the long stretch of rocks that is visible above the waterline except on extremely high tides. The currents now keep the "hole" scoured out, and it's a favorite spot for bull redfish (and sharks) during the summer. The key is finding the area where the old channel ledge meets the scoured-out hole.

Griffin likes to anchor up on the inside edge of the hole and fish a live menhaden on a Carolina rig on the bottom, especially on a falling tide. Reds, sharks and even flounder will cruise the drop-off, feeding on whatever the current sweeps past.

 

B: Harborside/Sandbar Dynamite Hole

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Only a few hundred yards east-northeast of the Dynamite Hole is a sandbar on the harborside of the South Jetty that extends a good cast's length off the rocks, with good dropoffs on two sides.

"I like to fish it on an outgoing tide for redfish and flounder," Griffin said. "I like to free-drift a small menhaden under a float rig for trout or redfish, and a finger mullet for flounder.

"Dead-low tide is a great time to fish this spot."

 

C: South Jetty 'Line up'

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Just past the "bend" in the jetty where it heads directly out of the harbor is a spot Griffin calls the "line up."

Griffin likes to set up between 10 and 25 yards off the inside edge of the South Jetty and anchor up.

"You can stay for a while if you get bit, or you can move around," he said.

The weapon? A Carolina rig with cut or live menhaden or mullet.

The target? Redfish.

 

D: Tip of North Jetty

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Griffin said the tip of the North Jetty is an excellent place to fish - if you're not partial to one species over another.

"It's always good for kings, and you can catch Spanish mackerel, bluefish, sharks and redfish on it," he said. "You can catch blues and Spanish casting a spoon, and you catch kings drifting off the end of the jetty with live bait."

An added attraction, according to Griffin, is tarpon - in season.

"I like to fish the tideline off the jetty for tarpon," he said. "You can catch them on live bait fished on the bottom."

 

E: Tarpon/Redfish/Shark Hole

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Just outside the submerged section of the North Jetty, off the tip of Sullivan Island, Griffin said he catches redfish fishing live and cut bait on the bottom on a Carolina rig.

"You can fish a float rig for tarpon back behind the boat," he said. "You can catch some big Spanish on a float rig, and you'll get blacktips (sharks) to eat it."

 

F: The Grillage

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"Grillage" describes a structure built on a framework of logs and rocks, and that's what was originally just off the southern end of Sullivan's Island: a series of short jetties or groins built in the 1830s to help trap sand and slow down erosion.

The fishing hole known as the "Grillage" is a hardbottom area several hundred yards off the bank that includes a ledge that drops from around 30 feet into 70 feet of water.

Bull redfish show up there in June, just as soon as they arrive in the harbor, and they'll stay through the early fall.

"The Grillage is a giant flat with a ledge that drops off into the main channel. There's some marl on the bottom, and probably some old cannonballs," Griffin said. "The ledge gives the bait a place to go and get out of the current. The redfish can get in behind that ledge and get out of the current."

Griffin anchors up on the flat and drifts his baits down the ledge behind the boat, fishing live menhaden, mullet or cut crabs on Carolina rigs with a heavy egg sinker to keep it down.

"If you look at your depthfinder, you'll constantly see schools of menhaden coming through, five feet off the bottom," he said. "The reds only have to move up five feet to feed."

Besides reds, sharks and black sea bass are common occupants of the Grillage.

 

G: Tip of Crab Banks

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Griffin likes to fish the southern tip of Crab Banks and the inside edge on a high tide for speckled trout.

"I like to fish a live shrimp under a float rig," he said. "If you fish a mud minnow, you can catch flounder there, too."

 

H: Middle Ground

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A relatively shallow area between the South Channel that runs up the Ashley River and the Folly Island Channel that runs in front of Castle Pinkney, the Middle Ground - marked by a buoy - is, according to Griffin, a great spot to catch bluefish, Spanish mackerel and bonnethead sharks - plus an occasional cobia.

"You can cast spoons for bluefish and Spanish - or a Got-Cha plug," he said.

Bonnethead sharks and a stray redfish or cobia or two will hit pieces of crab fished on the bottom on a Carolina rig.

 

I: Castle Pinkney

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"I like to fish the tip of the island toward the harbor," said Griffin, who said it's a great spot for speckled trout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and an occasional bluefish or bonnethead shark.

"You can fish this place on different tides," he said. "You can fish them on both tides, even dead high."

Griffin said that flounder will occasionally line up on the edge of the drop into deeper water; they're suckers for mud minnows fished on a Carolina rig.

 

J: Wreck front of Yorktown

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An old shipwreck off the bow of the aircraft carrier Yorktown is a great trout hole, according to Griffin, who said the wreck lies in eight to 15 feet of water.

"The trout fishing can be real good in the fall," he said.

Griffin likes to drift in front of the wreck or drift past it with a shrimp or mud minnow under a float rig.

"You can fish on the bottom - there are fish down there - but you'll get hung up a lot," he said. "The best tide to fish is high and outgoing, or incoming to high - the last two hours of incoming and the first two hours after high tide."