The early bird gets the summer speckled trout in South Carolina waters

Sample hot speckled trout fishing before the sun warms South Carolina’s inshore waters

Be there before daylight, and your chances of catching a limit of speckled trout at the peak of summer’s heat are greatly enhanced.

The fall trout bite seems a world away in the sweltering heat of July, and the hot spring bite is a fond memory. But for anglers in the know, some spectacular trout fishing is just as available now as it is during those other seasons. The trick is to get on the water early.

While anglers can expect to catch trout throughout the day during spring and fall, the bite won’t last long this time of year, but the action can be fast and furious. For guide Trent Malphrus of Palmetto Lagoon Charters in Hilton Head, this is one of the most enjoyable times to catch speckled trout.

“Especially on the full moon, trout are easy to find and are a blast to catch early in the morning. They are keying on baitfish just before and at daybreak, and it’s all topwater action,” he said. “Nothing is as exciting as twitching a lure over a school of baitfish and having a gator trout smash it on the surface, and doing it right before daybreak just adds to the adventure.”

Most anglers have their best luck with midsummer trout on days when the tide falls as dawn is just starting to break.

“When the falling tide coincides with the rising sun, that’s the best conditions you can hope for. If sunrise is at 5:30 a.m., I want the tide to start falling around that same time, but if it starts falling at 4:30 a.m., or even 3:30 a.m., it can be just as good, and I won’t hesitate to begin fishing before sunrise,” said Malphrus (843-684-0570).

Guide Garrett Lacy of Charleston Fishing Adventures agrees. He uses topwater lures and artificial shrimp fished under popping corks. He likes to anchor down within casting distance of small creeks that are emptying out into the bigger bays and inlets around the Isle of Palms and Charleston Harbor.

“I like to anchor up near flats that are bordered by shell banks and spartina grass, with smaller creeks nearby,” said Lacy (843-478-8216). “The fish are in those creeks at high tide, and they’ll move out into the flats as the water falls with the outgoing tide. I’ll start off casting into the middle of those creeks just as the tide begins falling, and by the time the tide is all the way out, I’m casting all around those flats.”

Lacy also likes to drift an artificial or live shrimp under a cork right through those creek mouths.

“With the water coming out of those small creeks, I’ll cast a popping cork onto the flat and let it drift with the current straight through the smaller creek mouth,” he said. “The fish that have been in those small creeks are coming out as the tide falls, and they’ll stick around the mouth, knowing that baitfish will also be pouring out with the tide. Letting that cork drift through the mouth puts your lure or bait right where the trout are.”

But first light and an outgoing tide don’t always coincide. What should anglers do in those situations?

“Just get on the water early,” said Justin Witten of Ambush Charters in Murrells Inlet. “Look for long stretches of bank with lots of oyster shells, and if it’s high tide, cast topwater lures close to the bank, work them back to the boat. If a few casts like that don’t produce any bites, then cast out a little ways from the bank, work the lures back, and repeat. I like to pinpoint about a 60-yard stretch of shell bank and work my way down that bank. If I don’t get any bites on topwater, I’ll switch to lures like soft-plastic shrimp or something like a Z-Man Trout Trick on the Trout Eyez jighead.

Witten (843-685-9910) said an incoming tide at first light can also mean great fishing.

“If I had my ideal day, it would be with the sun rising while the tide is falling, but this time of year, when fishing for trout, it’s the early morning that wins out. You just aren’t going to get into the trout any other time of the day, no matter the tides, than you will first thing in the morning,” he said.

If the tide is already dead low at sunrise, Witten will look for deep holes and start off working surface plugs over them.

“When I say deep holes, I’m talking relative terms. If I find a hole that’s 3 feet deep, that might not seem deep, but if it’s surrounded by water that is 18 inches deep, then that’s a deep hole. The trout are going to find those holes at low tide,” he said.

Time is a factor, and the higher the sun gets in the sky, the less likely it is that anglers will get into trout, so Witten doesn’t spend a lot of time in one spot.

“If you don’t at least get a blow-up, you need to move on to another spot,” he said.

Anglers should look for other deep holes, especially if they are near long stretches of shell bank, and once the tide starts rolling in, whether it’s at first light or within the first couple of hours of daylight, Witten has a lot of success in areas where two opposing currents meet.

“It’s usually where a shell bank is exposed at dead low but completely submerged at high tide. When the tide first starts coming in, water will be pushing in from both sides of that bank. This creates turmoil that sweeps up baitfish and knocks them around, disorienting them. Trout know this and will gather near those areas,” he said.

When Witten finds this taking place just as darkness gives way to light, he said it can be the easiest fishing an angler can hope for.

“You cannot go wrong here with an artificial shrimp under a popping cork,” he said. “It’s as simple as casting into one of the currents, keeping the line tight, and waiting for it to drift into the opposing current. Just before it hits that spot where the two currents meet, I will give it a good pop. You should fully expect to get a bite here,” he said.

That line where those two currents meet, said Lacy, is also a great place to toss a surface plug or a subsurface plug that can get tossed about like the baitfish naturally do.

“All you need to do is keep it in that line and let the current do the rest. Just reel in the slack, and don’t worry about giving it any action otherwise. But as with the shrimp under the cork, be prepared to get bit, because it will go from getting tossed about to getting snatched by a trout with no warning,” he said.

About Brian Cope 2800 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of Carolina Sportsman. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at

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