Cobia on the move

Cobia move into Lowcountry waters in late spring, with prime time arriving in May and June. Though occasionally caught inshore, most cobia are landed at nearshore reefs and near the shipping channel buoys.

Some of the cobia found off our coast are big fish, topping out at more than 60 pounds. These curious, brown-and-white brutes often approach an anchored boat.

A popular cobia fishery has developed in sounds and inlets near Beaufort, where the fish are thought to spawn.

Bring along plenty of tackle and bait. Sometimes they'll only hit pink bucktail lures. Other times they'll only want live fish, or live crabs, or cut bait. You never know.

Dolphin days

Dolphin are to Charleston's offshore fishery what redfish are to its inshore fishery. Pound for pound, no other fish means as much to the offshore fleet.

Every year, unbelievable numbers of these fast-growing, neon-colored fish migrate north off our coast. For the past few years, the dolphin fishing's been hottest from late April through May and June, with bigger fish (30 to 50 pounds) typically moving through first.

Most anglers use tried-and-true, basic trolling techniques. A typical dolphin spread may consist of six to 10 or more surface lines pulled behind the boat at 5 to 7 knots. MoldCraft chuggers and other offshore lures work wonders on dolphin, but smaller lures rigged with ballyhoo — or “naked” ballyhoo rigged without lures — seem to be the baits of choice.

Look for temperature breaks, current upwellings or rips, weed lines and anything floating. In early summer, most dolphin are found further out, from the ledge in about 160 feet out to 400 feet deep or more.

Bottom fishing rematch — Let's get it on!

Here's a prediction: Throughout May and June, Lowcountry anglers will enjoy stellar bottom fishing.

For months now, the recreational season for shallow-water grouper such as gags and scamps has been on hold. Likewise with black sea bass. Both fisheries had closed early after regulators determined that the maximum allowable catches had been exceeded.

But the new fishing seasons were set to reopen May 1 for shallow-water grouper and June 1 for black sea bass. Just think about it: Throughout the winter, untold numbers of bottom fish have been happily feeding, growing and breeding off our coast, with significantly lower fishing pressure. There may be a new state record scamp caught this season. Anglers may come back from the reefs with a full limit of giant, knobby-headed black seabass.

As an added bonus, the vermilion snapper recreational season restarted April 1.

In short, there's no time to lose.

Anglers can find plenty of black seabass in live-bottom areas from 60 feet of water out to the artificial reefs in about 90 feet. Vermilion snapper and gray triggerfish also school around underwater structures in the 80- to 120-foot depth.

Gag and scamp grouper can be found in about 60 feet of water during cooler months, though the fishing is better from 90 feet out to about 240 feet. Many seasoned bottom-fishermen avoid heavily fished wrecks and load up on grouper in live-bottom areas with relatively small pieces of bottom structure.

Frozen squid remains the go-to bait for bottom fishing, though cigar minnows and a variety of live baits can improve success when targeting specific species.

Anglers should bear in mind that the grouper and black sea bass fisheries could close early again this year. Anyone heading out for a bottom-fishing trip should check for regulation changes.

A couple of rules to keep in mind:

  • Anglers must use dehooking tools when fishing for snapper grouper species.
  • Anglers must use non-stainless steel circle hooks (offset or non-offset) for all species in the snapper grouper complex when using hook-and-line gear with natural baits.
  • Red snapper harvest remains prohibited.
  • Aggregate grouper bag limit of three groupers per person per day includes gag, black, snowy, misty, red, scamp, tiger, yellowedge, yellowfin, yellowmouth, blueline tilefish, sand tilefish, golden tilefish, coney, graysby, red hind and rock hind. One gag or black grouper (but not both) per person per day. Snowy grouper limited to one per vessel per trip, with no harvest in depths greater than 240 feet. One golden tilefish per person per day, with no harvest in depths greater than 240 feet.

Spadefish at the wrecks

Spadefish typically show up at nearshore artificial reefs in May, with big schools hanging around for most of the summer months.

Standard spadefish rigs consists of 18 to 20 inches of 20-pound leader rigged Carolina-style with a small egg sinker. A free-line rig — nothing more than a section of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader, a small split shot and a hook at the end — also can be deadly when the fish are schooling near the surface.

Cannonball jellyfish are widely recognized as the bait of choice for spades. These non-stinging jellyfish are easy pickings with a standard dip net, and should be cut into small pieces. Cut shrimp and squid are also effective baits.

There is no size limit for spadefish, and anglers can keep up to 20 per day. Conservation-minded anglers, however, take it easy on the local schools, keeping only a few fish for dinner.

Flounder moving inshore

Who doesn't love flounder? These fascinating flatfish make for superb table fare and can be caught inshore from spring through fall. Bigger flounder move out to nearshore wrecks and reefs in the wintertime, but usually head back inshore by May.

Many anglers use a simple Carolina rig consisting of a light egg sinker on the mainline followed by a swivel, about 18 inches of 20-pound leader and a hook. Mud minnows are the bait of choice for flatfish, though finger mullet and shrimp work just fine. Slowly work these rigs along riverbanks and around dock pilings, oyster beds and creek mouths. When a flounder strikes, you'll often feel a thump on the line, then nothing. Give the fish a few seconds to reposition the bait in its mouth, then set the hook.