There is a saying in fishing circles that the sport of fishing will take you to the most beautiful places in the world. That has certainly proven true with me and when I think of all the places that I have explored; Charleston ranks up there with the best and I am glad to call it home.
It’s the surrounding sea and coastal waterways that I love most about the city. Her natural beauty is most evident while on the water. She boasts her beauty from the salt marsh, to blackwater swamps, to oyster reefs, to sandy beaches with blue water beyond. The water around each area has different colors and changes by the minute. It’s like nature has her own canvas to paint constantly swirling hues of brown and green and blue. It’s a canvas that changes constantly by the interaction of wind and tide and currents. Watch out or you will be hypnotized by the sea and leave the distractions of urban living behind.
It’s a bird watcher's paradise, too. Sure, you’ll see pelicans and gulls, but there is so much more. Pink birds with spoon-shaped bills, long-legged blue ones, 40-inch-tall ones with white bodies and black heads and the list goes on.
From the waterways, I’ve seen wild pigs on Kiawah Island, otters on the Ashley, deer running the beach at Seabrook and alligators everywhere. Turtles, strand-feeding dolphins, minks, manatees, there’s wildlife at every turn of the river.
I particularly like fishing with newcomers to the city. Where else can you see Fort Sumter, Castle Pinckney, Fort Moultrie, the aircraft carrier Yorktown and historic homes along The Battery on a typical day of fishing? Is it a history lesson or a fishing trip? In Charleston, it’s usually both.
It’s interesting to see history everywhere while fishing on our local waters. For example, rock piles in the harbor are actually ballast from early sailing ships; most likely from boats exporting Carolina rice. If you take a boat cruise from the harbor to upper Cooper or Ashley rivers, you still can see the remnants of ricefields from Colonial plantations. The earthen dikes and wooden gates that controlled the flow of water to the fields are a lasting testament to the hard labor of the slaves that built them in the 1700s.
Look closely along the banks of the Wando River, too. The area was known for manufacturing bricks, and you will see old bricks strewn all along its banks. The rivers hid many artifacts from the old days, and once while scuba diving in the Cooper River, I found a 1700s wine bottle, an Indian clay pipe, a Civil War-era spoon and numerous Megalodon shark teeth - all in one 45-minute dive.
With so much natural beauty and many historical sites, are there any other reasons to explore Charleston waterways? Did somebody say, "Party"? Dockside restaurants and bars are not uncommon around Charleston, and getting there by boat is an adventure that your nonfishing friends and family will enjoy. If you lean toward quieter surroundings, take a boat ride to Capers, Morris or Bull's islands. They are all undeveloped and you can find a peaceful spot to call your own. Add the taste of a salty ocean breeze and the unmistakable aroma of the salt marsh for an experience that will not soon be forgotten.
There is so much to see and do on the local waterways, but to tell you the truth, fishing is the primary reason I explore Charleston’s waterways. From inshore creeks to nearshore wrecks to offshore runs of 50 miles or more, the local diversity of fishing habitats and fish species seems endless. Fly-fishers dream about tailing redfish on a salt marsh flat. Seatrout, flounder and Spanish mackerel are abundant on inshore waters. Coastal waters hold snappers, groupers and blackfish for bottom fishermen, while king mackerel, cobia and sharks will put up a good fight. Farther offshore, wahoo, billfish and mahi will challenge your skill and endurance.
Does it sound like you need a boat? I highly recommend it. Some of us have two or three or more, but if that’s not your thing, there are plenty of guides and water tours available for charter. Everyone has a friend or neighbor who has a boat, so get out there and explore. The world awaits in our own backyard. Hope to see you out there.
David Peralta is a former fishing tackle retail buyer, captain and manager of local tackle shops. He recently retired so he can spend more time exploring the world.