Beef up your tackle for this unique fishery
One of the hottest fishing spots in the Carolinas this month is also one of the most unique. The Hilton Head Island lagoon is a hotbed of fishing activity and a change of pace for most anglers.
Redfish — including some approaching 50 inches — are common catches here, along with speckled trout and flounder. All three are biting aggressively in the lagoon this month. And fishing is unique for more than one reason; it’s the calmest water in which you’ll ever catch any of those species. The 11-mile lagoon system is as calm as a pond; the only access points are rental homes on the lagoon, and one outfitter.
Palmetto Lagoon Charters (843-301-4634) has exclusive rights to guide on the lagoon, and guides use an electric motor-powered skiff that’s perfect for scooting around these skinny waters. Anglers shouldn’t let the calm water and small skiff fool them. Hooking a fish in the lagoon is a battle that many seasoned anglers have never experienced.
Because the lagoon is so narrow, fish are always near cover. Downed pine trees and other debris are common along the banks, so when you hook a bull redfish, you can forget about letting your drag tire him out. A drag-pulling run here will result in a sure break-off.
This is one place you should not allow fish to pull your drag
“The gear we use here is totally different than what we use on inshore waters outside of the lagoon,” said guide Stacy Garbett. “We use at least 50-pound braid, and we crank the drag down all the way tight. When you get a bite, whether it’s a bull redfish, a big flounder or a gator trout, you’ve got to turn these fish away from any structure right away. Otherwise, they’ll break you off right quick. Letting them pull drag is correct under most inshore-fishing situations. But it’s a death sentence in here.”
It’s no surprise that the best place to find these fish is in the shadows of trees near all that line-wrecking debris.
“In the first second of realizing he’s hooked, that fish is going to have his way,” Garbett said. “You’ve got to turn him immediately. You’ve got to have quality equipment set up the right way, and you’ve got to put it to the test. You can’t give any slack to a fish in here and expect to boat it.”
While most anglers know of the lagoon’s monster redfish, Garbett said it’s also got huge flounder and speckled trout bigger than most anglers ever see.
“I’ve seen numerous trout in here that would break the state record,” he said.
Garbett said live minnows caught in the lagoon are unbeatable as bait. For early-rising anglers, topwater lures can also result in some fast action that comes to a halt when the sun gets up.
Click here to read more inshore fishing reports from the Hilton Head area.