Ladyfish bonanza: head to Winyah Bay for hot action

Ladyfish are known as a “poor man’s tarpon” for their acrobatic exploits after being hooked on light tackle.

These fish put on a big show when hooked

It’s August in the Carolinas. It’s hot, with daily temperatures often approaching the 100-degree mark. But the early morning hours are manageable and excellent times to be out on the water when the fish are feeding.

Anglers ready for some summer fun can have a barrel of excitement casting small lures to ladyfish. And the waters around Georgetown, S.C., are great waters to catch these energetic fish.

Spanish hogfish is the species’ official name. But ladyfish is more recognized as one of the South’s most-famous show fish, known for putting on a major production when hooked. Also known as “poor man’s tarpon,” they closely resemble the size, shape and behavior of a juvenile tarpon. They are well-known in the Carolinas, showing up in estuarine waters in spring and summer to feed on the abundance of juvenile fish and shrimp.

Matt Bellamy at Captain Matt’ s Saltwater Charters out of Pawley’s Island, S.C., doesn’t specifically target ladyfish unless he sees them busting up a school of bait in one of his speckled trout holes.

“We get in them all the time and have a ball at it,” said Bellamy (843-568-8203). “I usually get into them when we are fishing for trout (and) see them destroying a school of bait on top.”

Watch for diving birds to locate ladyfish

Bellamy primarily fishes the Georgetown region and often finds schools of ladyfish around the shell islands in Winyah Bay, aka the “shell banks.” They are found along the north side of the shipping channel across from Muddy Bay. They stretch for more than a mile and break up the current, providing excellent places for predator fish to ambush bait.

Birds are key to finding ladyfish in the morning. Gulls will dive to pick off the leftovers and can be seen from long distances.

Ladyfish have small mouths and are best caught on smaller lures and baits.

“I catch them on everything from grubs, MirOlures, D.O.A. shrimp, and small topwater plugs,” Bellamy said. “We catch them on live bait, too.”

Ladyfish can be caught throughout the day, but the best topwater bite is early in the morning before the sun takes over.

“In the morning, they are the easiest to find because they are usually busting bait on top. But we catch them throughout the day when fishing for trout,” Bellamy said. “And as soon as you hook one, they start jumping all over the place. They can be a lot of fun and can also be good bait for redfish, too.

Click here to read about catching redfish in Winyah Bay’s shallow water.

Jeff Burleson
About Jeff Burleson 1364 Articles
Jeff Burleson is a native of Lumberton, N.C., who lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. He graduated from N.C. State University with a degree in fisheries and wildlife sciences and is a certified biologist and professional forester for Southern Palmetto Environmental Consulting.