The Intracoastal Waterway is the key; it links the two larger bodies of water and offers access to several inlets - Breach, Dewees, Capers and Price - and is crisscrossed by dozens of creeks that open up some of the best backwater areas the Palmetto State has to offer, places like Grey Bay and Hamlin Sound, literally thousands of acres of mud flats, oyster mounds, plus the shrimp, baitfish and gamefish that inhabit them.
If there's a negative, it's that because of its proximity to Charleston, the area draws as much fishing pressure as any stretch of water in South Carolina. But somehow or other, it seems not to have been affected too much.
Capt. Fritz von Kolnitz of Adventure Outdoors Guide Service has fished this stretch of water since he was a kid growing up on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. He started guiding fishermen 10 years ago, and he rarely has reason to leave the waters between the harbor and Bulls Bay, except to occasionally fish the harbor and its jetties, or to run out one of the inlets to fish for bull reds, tarpon or sharks.
"You've got lots of water; it's 25 miles from the harbor to just past the start of Bulls Bay," said von Kolnitz, who keeps his boat at Isle of Palms Marina. "There are hundreds of spots to fish, but a lot of it is putting in time and effort. You don't just fish a spot on one tide or under one set of conditions. You fish different places on different tides, different winds, different times of day, and then you can sort of figure it out.
"The only drawback is pressure," he said. "The area gets fished heavily, especially from Isle of Palms to Bulls Bay. But there is a lot of water."
Here are a few spots that he regularly fishes:
1 - Old Pitt Street Bridge
32 46 035N/79 51 760W
A very short distance from Charleston Harbor are the remnants of an old bridge that used to run from Mount Pleasant to Sullivan's Island. Several sets of concrete pilings remain in the water, along with plenty of rubble, and more sets of pilings span marsh back toward Mount Pleasant, which has converted a section of the bridge into a public walkway and fishing pier.
von Kolnitz said it's an excellent place to fish, and not only for fishermen with boats.
"The pier that runs out that's accessible by land from Pitt Street, and there's a creek that runs right up and under it," he said.
By boat, however, the old bridge offers fishermen several alternatives. "You can fish the end of the structure, floating baits past them or along the grass for trout and reds, or you can get right up against the structure and fish for sheepshead with fiddler crabs and shrimp," he said.
"When the tide is rolling in, you want to be on the harbor side, and when it's going out, you want to be on the other side," said von Kolnitz, who likes to fish finger mullet, mud minnows and live shrimp under a float. "You want to fish toward the structure. When the current is slack, you can get up and tie off and fish straight up and down for sheepshead."
2 - Marsh Bank Marker 122 to Toler's Cove
32 46 160N/79 51 035W
A red channel marker on a piling, No. 122, sits in the ICW just past the mouth of Jeanette Creek. It marks the beginning of a nice stretch of marsh bank on the mainland side that runs all the way to Toler's Cove Marina at the base of the Ben Sawyer Bridge.
"You fish the grass bank all the way from to Toler's Cove, and you'll catch reds, trout and flounder," von Kolnitz said. "You start fishing on the shell point behind the marker - definitely fish the point - and just drift a live shrimp along under a float along the bank.
"Ideally, you'll catch most of your fish in the first 150 yards, but fish the whole thing, all the way to Toler's Cove."
von Kolnitz said there's scattered oyster shells out from the marsh edge. That's why he prefers to float baits under a cork, to keep from getting hung up.
"You need to float a bait across any spots of sparse grass out from the bank, because the reds will get on them," he said.
3 - Ben Sawyer Bridge
32 46 330N/79 50 583W
This bridge, which carries Ben Sawyer Blvd. from Mount Pleasant to Sullivan's Island, features a swinging "draw bridge" section that destroyed during Hurricane Hugo in 1989, shutting off - at least temporarily - access to Sullivan's Island from the mainland.
von Kolnitz said it's a great fall spot for speckled trout, especially around the wooden bulkhead that supports the swing bridge section.
"You can catch fish anytime except slack tide, and even slack tide is okay, but you do better on trout when the water's moving," he said. "The side toward Sullivan's Island is better."
von Kolnitz likes to float mud minnows, finger mullet or live shrimp along the wooden structure, letting the current drift the baits into the trout's strike zone.
"Sometimes, you can tie off and fish straight up and down for sheepshead," he said. "They've redone some of the structure, and in a couple more years, when more growth gets on the pilings, it will be even better, but it's fine now."
4 - Conch Creek Docks
32 46 450N/79 49 350W
Conch Creek runs from the ICW, just east of the Ben Sawyer bridge, to Breach Inlet. It features a set of 10 to 15 docks in a relatively short stretch of bank that are great for flounder, trout, redfish, black drum and sheepshead. von Kolnitz said you can catch fish on almost any of the docks in the string, although some are more productive than others.
He likes to fish them on a falling tide, because as the water falls out of the grass along the bank, "there's nowhere else for them to go for protection, except for the docks - because Flipper (a porpoise) isn't going to get up under the docks."
von Kolnitz likes to pitch live mud minnows, finger mullet and shrimp up under the docks, next to the pilings, on a Carolina rig, or fish them under a float against the grass.
"These docks are good as long as the water is moving," he said.
5 - IOP Connector Flat
32 47 342N/79 48 176W
Starting at the mouth of Swinton Creek, von Kolnitz likes to fish the edge of the marsh grass along Little Goat Island all the way to the Isle of Palms Connector bridge. He said fishing is much better on a rising tide because there won't be any water in the grass on the lower end of the tide cycle.
"You'll catch mostly redfish along here," he said. "It's a great place to fish topwaters early in the morning and late in the afternoon, but you can fish mud minnows, finger mullet or live shrimp under a float.
"Fish are liable to be anywhere along the bank. It's mostly a sand bottom, with a few oyster shells. This is a classic area to come and look at on a low tide, a negative low. You can see a lot of stuff - some shells, the mouth of little creeks - and visualize what it will look like with water on it."
6 - Mouth of Hamlin Creek
32 47 804N/79 47 258W
von Kolnitz remembers landing the first speckled trout he ever hooked on a fly rod on the marsh grass bank on the left side of the creek where it crosses the ICW and heads into the backwaters.
But he advises fishermen to spend more time on the right-hand side, where they can fish a handful of docks from the main point back into the marsh.
"Everybody fishes this place, and everybody knows about it, but you've still got to learn it," he said, advising fishermen to float live baits along the grass between the docks on a falling tide.
"You need to fish the docks and grass. You'll catch trout and reds floating live bait or fishing it on a Carolina rig."
7 - Grey Bay
32 48 914N/79 47 243W
Grey Bay is the first huge expanse of open backwater you run into heading away from the harbor. It's accessed through Hamlin Creek, and it covers better than a thousand areas.
For the uninitiated, it looks all the same - just a shallow, open-water flat. von Kolnitz said it's not a place for anyone in a deep V-hull boat, because it's so shallow. "This is definitely skinny water, a place for skiffs, flats boats, bay boats and kayaks," he said.
The key is working your way through a maze of oyster mounds that appear as dark spots on the bottom on the high end of the tide and slowly but surely poke through the surface as the tide falls.
"You just slowly work your way through there, fishing the oysters," he said. "This is a place to fish artificials like topwater baits or soft plastics. You're just casting and working, casting and working, hitting all the oysters."
8 - Hamlin Sound
32 49 498N/79 47 076W
Hamlin Sound is another sprawling backwater area that extends from Grey Bay to Copahee Sound, accessed from Dewees Creek or Gray Bay.
"This is textbook flats fishing, mostly for reds," von Kolnitz said. "It's the same type of area as Grey Bay - it's so shallow, no V-hulls should be in here.
"You can soak cut mullet on the bottom, but this is a place to fish artificials," he said.
von Kolnitz likes to fish the back edge of the marsh along the mainland, but he said the area is full of places to pole or move along on a trolling motor, working the grass edge for reds.
9 - Dewees Double Creek Mouth
32 49 981N/79 45 097W
A few hundred yards toward Dewees Inlet from the mouth of Long Creek lie the mouths of two smaller marsh creeks that von Kolnitz likes to target in the fall. They're approximately 50 yards apart and can be fished from the same spot.
"There are two creek mouths - a big one and a little one," von Kolnitz said. "In October, our prevailing wind is out of the north, so you can anchor up just above the bigger creek mouth and float baits all the way across it and down across the smaller creek mouth.
"In the fall, the reds and trout really get on this spot, but you never know what will be there," he said. "You can say it's mostly reds with an occasional trout, but as soon as you start thinking that, you'll go and whack 10 trout there."
von Kolnitz likes to float live mud minnows, shrimp or finger mullet under a cork, allowing the current to move the baits along the edge of the grass and across both creek mouths. It's easiest to fish on an incoming tide, because the current and northerly wind will be working together. However, on an outgoing tide, you can anchor upcurrent of the smaller creek mouth and float baits in the opposite direction and catch fish.
10- Grass Point/Cedar Creek/Mouth Power Poles
32 49 484N/79 43 678W
This interesting spot just a few hundred yards from the Dewees Inlet offers fishermen with several different opportunities, von Kolnitz said.
"This is a great trout spot in the fall; it's the last place they stop before they go out in the ocean," he said.
The grass point that separates the creek from the big water headed out the inlet stretches better than 100 yards toward a set of wooden power poles. When the tide drops out, fishermen can see just exactly how long the grass point is - on higher water, much of it is covered.
"I like to set up off the grass and float a finger mullet, mud minnow or live shrimp up to and through the grass on the point," von Kolnitz said. "You can fish the back (creek) side of it on a falling tide; the current will really rip through there on certain moon phases.
"There will be more trout on this place, but you'll get some trophy bull reds that come in from the surf, so if you get spooled, that's probably what it was," he said.
Out in front of the creek mouth, the power poles are great places to fish for sheepshead, especially when the current slows down.
"You've got 20 feet of water around those pilings," von Kolnitz said.
To contact Capt. Fritz von Kolnitz, call 843-345-9969
or visit www.advoutdoors.com.