A moonless night, plenty of boat lights and flatfish are a June treasure
As the boat drifted down a shallow, Lowcountry bank lined with spartina grass, Morgan Watt’s voice broke the silence of the moonless night.
“Watch this creek mouth coming up. We should see one there,” said Watt, who is from Sumter, S.C.
A set of Hydro Glow lights on the side of the boat lit up the clear water. A few swimming baitfish stood out in the glow against the calm, oyster-shell lined bottom. Then, without a word, Watt’s fishing partner, Terry Eades — who is also from Sumter — stabbed a five-pronged gig into the water. A cloud of dust erupted as Eades stood on the boat’s gunwale, holding the gig firmly in place.
Finally, he raised the gig pole. An 18-inch flounder was impaled on the prongs, and as Eades removed it for the cooler, Watt made another stab. This time, it was an 18-inch redfish, which are legal to gig in South Carolina.
Gigging is an often-overlooked past-time that offers many benefits to anglers. Aside from helping stock the freezer, it allows them to see a different aquatic world than usually see in the daytime. It offers clues about what to look for when fishing during daylight hours, and, at this time of year, it gives anglers a respite from the sun.
Take a kid gigging
Watt and Eades both regularly take their sons gigging. The kids delight in getting a look at the underwater world with the benefit of gigging lights, as well as being under the stars and observing wildlife in a way they can’t when the sun’s out.
“If you want to get a kid interested in the outdoors, take them gigging. They’ll see things they just can’t see in the daytime,” Watt said. “They’ll observe crabs, fish and wildlife along the shoreline that react differently at night. And sometimes the fishing can be tough in June. They’ll get plenty of action gigging, and that will keep them interested.”
While Watt enjoys seeing specialized boats that are purpose-built for gigging, he doesn’t use one. He uses his regular fishing boat, and he believes more anglers should do the same.
“Specialized gigging boats are great, but a lot of folks don’t gig simply because they think they need that,” he said. “I attach Hydro Glow lights to my rod holders, and I carry two extra batteries with me. I hook two lights to one battery on the front of my boat’s right side, and I do the same on the back of my boat’s right side. You can see everything between my boat and the bank.”
Drift on the wind
Watt relies on the wind to push him along the bank. It takes some trial and error on some nights, but he said it’s a very effective method.
“You have to find a bank that keeps the wind in your favor,” Watt said. “Then, you push off with your gigs to keep you the right distance from the bank. It’s easier than constantly adjusting a trolling motor while also keeping your eyes out for fish.”
Watt likes gigging as the tide begins moving from low to high, exposing water that the fish are eager to access.
“If you gig on the falling tide, those fish are more skittish,” he said. “They’re trying not to get left high and dry, and they know they’re about to be exposed to predators. They have a lot on their minds and just seem unpredictable. Some will leave the shallows much earlier looking for a safe place.
“But on the incoming tide, these fish get into extremely shallow water, and they just seem more relaxed. They’re safe from (porpoises), they’ve got plenty of food available, and you will always be able to find fish moving into the shallows. The water is also often cleaner than it is on the falling tide, and the boat isn’t being sucked away from the bank on the incoming tide. It’s being pushed toward it, which is easier to manage with the gig poles.”
Gigging: it’s not just for flounder
With the exception of redfish in North Carolina waters, it’s lawful to gig any legal gamefish in the Carolinas. The same size regulations and bag limits apply to gigging as to fishing with rod and reel. Morgan Watt and Terry Eades see plenty of sheepshead and redfish while looking for flounder, and they occasionally spot tripletail. They most often pass on gigging these fish, but when they do, Watt said it is best to gig them from the side of the head and push down, rather than gigging from the top.