The Grand Strand is more than high rises and sand — great fishing figures into the equation, inshore and nearshore.
Looking down from a seagull’s perspective, it’s hard to imagine that the northern coast of South Carolina can even be considered a fishing destination.It would be hard to shoehorn another condominium onto the beachfront from Garden City north to the North Carolina border. Motels, hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, shopping malls, amusement parks, miniature golf courses, full-sized golf courses and gas stations seem to cover every city block.
The only visible wet spots are puddles on rooftops, stormwater retention ponds and water hazards on golf courses.
Oh yeah, there is that pencil-straight ditch a few miles inland called the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). From 1,000 feet up, it looks its most artificial right here.
But to find treasure, sometimes you have to focus your eyes sharper and dig a little deeper.
“A lot of people are not aware of the great fishing that exists around Myrtle Beach and Little River,” said Capt. Mark Dickson of Shallow Minded Charters (843-280-7099) in Little River. “Because of the development, you are left to believe that there is simply no place to fish.
“We don’t have the extensive marshes that you find near Georgetown, Charleston or Beaufort, so most anglers write this area off. But they don’t know what they are missing. In addition to great inshore fishing, you can get into some awesome offshore action as well.
“If I could pick only one month to fish up here, October would be it,” Dickson said. “Everything is biting. The red drum and spotted seatrout are biting, and the flounder are huge. You may not catch as many flounder as during the summer, but the fish in October are, on average, much bigger. And offshore, king mackerel and bottom fishing are going strong.”
If you have fished anywhere else along the South Carolina coast, you already know how to fish the north coast. All you have to do is think of the north coast as the rest of the coast in miniature.
The Little River area has everything that places farther south do. The saltmarsh is dissected by feeder creeks; barrier islands front the ocean and inlets — some protected with jetties — slice the beach in spots. If you couldn’t see the condos, it would be easy to believe you were drifting a popping cork in the ACE Basin or behind Isle of Palms.
“We fish many of the same sort of locations as elsewhere on the coast,” Dickson said. “There are a lot of drains that flow into the ICW. Another good setup for us is feeder creeks from the saltmarsh that have oyster bars at their mouths.”
Dickson mentioned that plenty of drains exist close to the town of Little River along the ICW. He said you will find feeder creeks throughout Dunn Sound, a section of saltmarsh that connects Cherry Grove to Little River Inlet behind Waties Island.
“There is hard structure up here as well,” Dickson said. “Docks can duplicate the same conditions as oysters at creek mouths. Sea walls and rip-rap function just like a jetty, especially if they are located at or near a creek’s mouth.
“The sort of structure that you do not really see much farther south is marina basins,” Dickson said. “To create marinas along the ICW, basins had to be dug right out of the high ground. A typical marina basin is like the one located at Coquina Harbor Marina.
“Anyone who fishes in the Calabash River,” Dickson said, “will think they are in Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant. It’s a tidal saltwater creek that runs into Calabash and dead ends in town like Shem Creek does in Mount Pleasant.”
The Little River Inlet jetty is the northernmost jetty in South Carolina. Dickson said it is a prime location where you will find the same species and can use the same techniques you would if you were fishing either the Winyah Bay or Charleston Harbor jetties.
The Inshore Big 3
Given that Little River-area waters are similar to other spots along the coast, it’s not surprising that the main inshore species during October are spotted seatrout, red drum and flounder.
“Trout are like a pack of wolves,” Dickson said. “Once you find one, the rest of the school is right there. They’ll remain right in that same spot as long as there is bait. If the bait leaves, the trout begin to roam to look for more. This could be as close as only moving across the ICW.”
Dickson uses visual clues to help locate bait.
“I look for birds just like the offshore guys do,” he said. “A bird to look for in the creeks is a cormorant; however, don’t overlook gulls, terns or pelicans either.”
Dickson said inshore creeks are jammed with shrimp, so he rarely uses any kind of finfish for bait. One or two well-placed tosses of a cast net, and an angler can have a day’s worth of shrimp for bait.
“The last few mild winters have really helped the trout,” Dickson said. “They seem to be everywhere, and we are catching some really nice fish, quite a few over four pounds.
“To target trout inshore, I drift a lot of baits. I’ll pull up to a bank of grass or shell and float a bait along its length.
“If the water is eight feet deep,” Dickson said, “I’ll float my shrimp at about four feet. Since the water has cooled, fish that aggravate your bait — such as pinfish — are gone, so you can get a real good drift from a bait.
“I’ll float the bait way down the bank. I’ll do this a couple of times. If I’m not getting any hits, I might lower the bait two feet or so and try again. The best part about fishing this way is you are not making a lot of noise by constantly cranking your motor or splashing an anchor. If nothing is happening after several drifts, then I’ll reposition my boat and try again.”
To fish inshore, Dickson uses a 7-foot, medium-light action spinning rod spooled with 15-pound Power Pro braided line. He’ll use a 7-inch pole float with a bobber stopper and an 18- to 24-inch leader of 20-pound fluorocarbon. The rig is completed with a No. 6 2x treble hook.
“I’ll usually start searching for trout with a live shrimp,” Dickson said. “Once I find the fish, I sometimes switch to a DOA shrimp or a Gulp bait. You end up catching more fish that way, because you don’t have to constantly rig a shrimp every time you get a fish.”
Moving out to the jetties, Dickson’s method involves covering a lot of water from one location. Since he normally has several fishermen on his boat, he’ll have one put a live shrimp four to five feet off of the rocks on a 4-foot drop, another bait 10 to 12 feet out and on a 6-foot drop, and the last bait on the bottom.
“There are several spots along the jetties that we fish,” Dickson said. “The locals have names such as the 2-Dot rock, Big Rock, Anvil Rock or Rebar Spot. Unless you recognize one of these spots, you’ll have to search around at first to find fish.”
Unlike spotted seatrout, Dickson describes redfish as puppy dogs that sit on the porch. While trout will move around to hunt bait, he said that reds tend to be more sedentary.
“I don’t really feel like the redfish do a lot of moving around,” he said. “They are usually pretty near to where you found them before.
“I find a lot of fish hanging around docks that jut into deep water. During low tide, the reds will be at the end of the dock, and as the tide rises, all they do is move right along the dock into the grass. Once the tide begins to ebb, they do the same thing in reverse.”
Dickson suggested that fishermen who are poking around docks pay particular attention to the shade created by pier canopies and boat lifts. These are prime spots where redfish hide.
“Another situation that produces red drum for me is a big mud flat in the ICW that is exposed at low tide,” Dickson said. “As the tide floods the flat, I drift across it with a chunk of blue crab.”
Dickson fishes the crab on the same rod he uses for trout, but he rigs it with a Carolina rig. His favorite hook size is a No. 1/0 or 2/0 circle hook. In addition to blue crab, he may drift a 3-inch Gulp shrimp in “new penny” color on a quarter-ounce jighead.
“You can bump into some nice red drum at the jetties,” Dickson said. “The day markers out past the jetties will hold some nice fish too. What I’ve seen is, red drum that are caught around the rocks under a suspended bait tend to fall in the slot, whereas fish caught right on the bottom are over the slot.”
To catch redfish at the jetties, Dickson uses a 3-way swivel with a 2-inch dropper of 10-pound monofilament tied to a 1-ounce weight. The leader consists of a 20- to 24-inch piece of 20-pound monofilament with a No. 2 wide bend hook. His preferred bait is menhaden or mullet, which tends to be better than shrimp when fished on the bottom.
Flounder fishing can be excellent in October, especially for big, doormat-sized fish.
“I normally catch my biggest flounder in October,” Dickson said. “Often, this can be a double-digit fish over 10 pounds.
“The fish are fattening up for winter and beginning to move offshore. You can find them at the jetties and staging on nearshore spots, such as the Jim Caudle Reef (33 48.812, -078 30.514). There are over a half dozen spots within six miles of the inlet you can find on a map that will hold flounder.”
For flounder, Dickson uses the same 3-way rig he uses for reds around the jetties. The key is to fish vertically and probe around the edge of the structure. His preferred baits include menhaden, small spots, croakers or pinfish. He trims the dorsal fin on pinfish so they can’t use it as a defense against a hungry flounder.
Nearshore rod benders
Like inshore areas of Little River, nearshore species and techniques for October are similar to elsewhere in South Carolina.
“King mackerel fishing is hard to beat during October up here,” said Capt. Wade Long of Longshot Charters (843-446-FISH) in Little River. Long fishes from a 36-foot Yellowfin and comes from a family who has fished these waters for nearly six decades.
“You can catch kings from the beach to 20 miles out,” Long said. “The ideal water depth is 20 to 60 feet, but the kings are going to be located with the bait.
“If you see Spanish mackerel or bluefish jumping and birds working, I’d give the spot a try.”
Long routinely pulls five to six rods at 1½ to 2 mph. His outfits are medium-heavy 7-foot rods spooled with 20-pound monofilament line and a 24-inch, 43-pound wire leader. He completes the rig with two No. 4x treble hooks spaced four to five inches apart, depending on the size of the bait.
“I like to cover the water column,” Long said. “Two rods are on downriggers. If the water is 50 feet deep, for example, one rod will be pulled at 20 feet and the other at 40 feet.
“I’ll have two more rods on the surface on longriggers, and the last rod is 15 feet back in the prop wash.”
Long’s main bait is menhaden. He sometimes jigs up cigar minnows or Boston mackerel on Sabiki rigs from offshore reefs.
“As the water cools, kings really begin to concentrate around structure,” Long said. “Places like the 65 Hole, the Jungle, BP 25 Reef (33 21.260, -078 25.479) or Bill Perry Jr. Reef (33 25.694, -078 33.201) are all potential spots to fish.
“Simply slow-troll near these areas.”
Long said kings will average from 15 to 30 pounds in October but a 40-pound fish is possible.
“Besides fishing near breaking bait or structure,” Long said, “tidelines outside of inlets on a falling tide are another good king mackerel spot. I normally fish on the clear water side, but I have caught fish on the dirty side. I suggest pulling the baits right on the edge of the color change.”
King also spends time on bottomfish in the fall.
“If an angler hits enough places up here, he’ll eventually find some fish,” Long said. “There are several good places right on maps. The Parking Lot, Twin Cities, 18 Fathom and Navy Wreck are all good bottom-fishing locations. Most of my fishing is in water 70 to 100 feet deep.
“You want to position the boat upcurrent of the ledge or structure and fish straight up and down,” Long said. “If you drag your bait through the rocks, you’ll scare the fish.”
For grouper, Long uses 80- to 100-pound monofilament on a level-wind rod. His leader is a 6-foot piece of 150-pound fluorocarbon line dropping off of a 3-way swivel. The hook is a No. 12/0 circle hook. Off of the other side of the swivel is six inches of 30-pound line attached to a 16-ounce weight.
“The weight is usually what gets hung,” Long said. “The light line to the weight allows you to break it off without losing the entire rig.
Long said red snapper can be more finicky, so he scales down for them. His main line is 50- to 80-pound, and he uses a 100-pound fluorocarbon of similar length as the grouper rig. The weight setup is the same.
“I prefer to use live cigar minnows or menhaden when bottom fishing,” Long said. “If the amberjacks are bad, then I switch to a dead cigar minnow.”
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